Mayfield Magic

Chapter 29-Never Give Up

<Mission Sports Complex>
The Mayfield players sat in the folding chairs that had been set up in their tent, casually chatting with each other as they finished munching their snacks. Aiden noticed that Nolan and Lenny were sitting in a pair of isolated chairs talking. Aiden knew that when Nolan was slated to be the starting pitcher, he liked to get his thoughts in order, and talking pitching with his starting batterymate was one way of doing it.
Aiden also knew that Nolan didn’t go to nearly the extremes for “getting in the zone” that he did. Aiden and Nolan had talked often about their pregame preparation, especially since they had become neighbors. Nolan had gotten Aiden to wonder if he should tone down the intensity of his preparations.
If the Goats won the first game and forced the IF game, Aiden knew he was the likely starting pitcher. He also knew that with a half hour between games he wouldn’t be able to go deep into “the zone”.
He had no idea what he was going to do in that half hour time frame other than warm up his arm with the starting catcher, who Coach Hallion hadn’t announced yet, and get ready to pitch. Coach Hallion had said next to nothing about who the IF game starters were going to be. It was like he was treating the IF game as fictitious until the Goats actually made it real by upsetting Torrance in the championship playoff game. He had treated this game the same way, saying nothing about it until after the last out in the morning game. 
A big topic of conversation among the Goats was how they had bounced back after getting their asses handed to them by Torrance. They felt the turnaround came about because of their team meeting after the game and how they vowed to do the absolute best they were capable of and to never give up. They remembered the rush they felt after Cal blew the “Charge” fanfare on his trumpet and how ready they were to come back to being the real Mayfield Yard Goats. And now, five straight wins later, they were ready to face their nemesis—only this time they were ready to show them that they were more than ready to butt heads with them.
“Hey, Aiden, do you want to warm up with me?” Gordy asked. Aiden could see that his friend had a ball in his glove.
“Yeah, it’s getting close to game time,” Aiden responded.
Aiden grabbed his glove, and the boys left the field tent and ran out to the Field 4 outfield. Trent, Scott, Max, Miles, Lance and Grant were already out on the field warming up. Five minutes later all of the Goats were warming up on the Field 4 outfield except for Lenny and Nolan. They were taking their tosses in the Field 1 bullpen area. As soon as they signaled they were ready, Eric joined them and Nolan started his serious pitching warmups.
Both teams were in their routines and getting arms and minds prepped for their big game. Despite their distracting “No Mercy” noise, some of the Bulldogs knew deep down that the Goats were a better team than their teammates and coaches thought. A team doesn’t make it to the finals in a tournament as loaded with good teams as this one was without being a team with good players who did things right.
The leader of this group was LeBron, who had grown tired of his coaches’ belittling the Goats. He had already made up his mind that he would be playing for somebody else next year but he wasn’t about to let the fact that he was playing for (not to mention with) idiots get in the way of the Bulldogs winning the Brawl.
As the Bulldogs warmed up, Coach Parker asked his assistants what they knew about the Mayfield starter. While he had gone over the report his scout gave him of Nolan’s first start, he wanted to know if the assistants had picked up any scuttlebutt from other coaches.
Everything the scout had said was confirmed. He threw hard, went right after hitters, and wasn’t easily intimidated. He was a solid, fundamentally sound player. “He obviously came to the Goat losers from the league championship team,” Parker observed, although he didn’t have a clue what Nolan’s background was like.
“I understand that the Goats were the league champions,” Coach Rohrs said.
“Must have been the weakest league in the state. Which means they picked him up from a league that played in bigger towns.”
“They played in the same league. The Goats beat that pitcher’s team in a playoff.”
“You’re shitting me. There’s no way those runts stood in against a big stud like him.”
“They did. I guess they picked him up after that.”
“That means the baseball up there is worse than I thought,” Parker said. “We should be able to handle him without a problem.”
Coach Hallion told the Goats it was time to put the balls away and head to Field 1. They were soon on their way. A few adult fans and the East Harbor boys were standing to the side of the walkway connecting the fields. Along the way Grant saw Alex and gave him a wave. Alex approached Grant and the boys exchanged a quick hug and a few words before Grant broke off and rejoined his teammates.
The eleven-year-old Kendall twins, Connor and Cooper, caught up with the twelve-year-old Hazen twins, Lenny and Lance.
“Hey,” squealed Connor and Cooper in unison.
“Hey, Wonder Twins,” said Lenny. That was the nickname he and Lance came up with for the Kendall twins. They found the younger duo fun and a little bit crazy. 
“Who are they?” asked Cooper. 
“Google it!” joked Lance. They all found the play off the twins’ cheer funny. 
“It’s really awesome when you are on the field at the same time,” gushed Connor. He was crushing hard on the older boys and hoped they found time to be alone. 
“Especially when you pitch and catch,” added Cooper. 
“Well, I pitch and he catches on the field,” said Lance. 
“But, I pitch and he catches when we are alone,” explained Lenny. 
Connor caught on and was relieved to confirm that what they discussed at the hotel the day before meant what he thought it meant. “On our team, I’m the pitcher and he’s the catcher.” 
Lenny and Lance smiled at the confirmation on their end, but Cooper was confused. “Huh? We play soccer.” Connor whispered in his ear and Cooper’s face lit up like a lightbulb. “Yeah, I’m the catcher!” he gushed, happy to make that clear to Lenny. 
“Okay,” said Lance, “we’re here. We have to go in and prepare for the next game. We’ll see you later, okay?” 
“Yeah,” said Cooper. 
“Super okay,” added Connor. Both had very bright grins. 
The home plate meeting consisted of the usual routine of going over the ground rules and reminding everyone what the tournament rule differences were. There would be no coin flip. The tournament rules awarded the home team advantage to the undefeated team, who was also given a 1-0 advantage in the best of three playoff. The play-in team, in this case the Yard Goats, would be the home team if they tied the series at 1-1, forcing the IF game.
Aiden saw that one of the base umpires was Mike Lewis, the umpire the Goats had taken a liking to a couple of games ago. Not only was he a hustling umpire who called a good game, he had fun doing his job. The fun included sneaking an occasional Jolly Rancher to a player on either team.
After the meeting broke up, the lineups were announced, starting with the substitutes for the “visiting” Mayfield Yard Goats. Once the subs were lined up on the first base line, the starters were announced. They ran past their teammates, trading high fives, starting with Gordy at lead off and ending with Riley, the nine-hole hitter. After the Goats were introduced, the Bulldogs went through the same routine.
That was followed by the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by a surprise duet: Michael and Lukas from At the Majestic. Michael played his Sea Foam Green Stratocaster guitar and Lukas did the singing. They played with polish and flair that had the fans enthralled by the incredible performance. The adults had never heard anything like it before and had a feeling they never would again. It was without question a unique performance right to the guitar and vocal run up the scale as Lukas sang “Brave”.
After that last note of the anthem, the players broke out of their lines and entered their dugouts. They had learned long before the home plate meeting that the lineups and anthem routine would only occur before the championship game.
The Bulldog starter was Lewis Vaughn, a big, hard-throwing thirteen year-old. Like LeBron he was one of the few Torrance players who wasn’t full of himself. His job was simply to get every hitter out no matter who he played for or how good he was. He disliked all hitters equally.
The top of the first was quick. Gordy hit a routine grounder to second for the first out. Aiden took a called third strike on a 2-2 pitch. Aiden had no doubt the pitch was outside. He said nothing, and neither did the Mayfield coaches.  In fact, umpire Chad Sullivan knew it was outside as well. The pitch ended up being one of only six pitches Chad missed that game. Aiden shrugged off the call and returned to the first base dugout. Missed pitches were part of the game and he knew better than to complain—at least not so anybody outside of the Mayfield dugout could hear. The inning ended when Trent struck out swinging on 1-2 pitch.
One thing Aiden noted as he looked at Nolan sitting at the end of the bench was the intensity of his expression. From the glare in his eyes to the set of his lips it was obvious to Aiden that his boyfriend was deep into a zone. How he got there without isolating himself between the Mounty game and this one was beyond him. As he took his position at second, Aiden wished zoning up was that easy for him.
Nolan showed right from his first pitch, a scorching fast ball that he blew by Howie, the Bulldog leadoff hitter who swung through the pitch, that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with. Howie struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch. To show it was no fluke, Nolan blew three fastballs past Edwin, the third baseman, striking him out swinging on an 0-2 pitch.
“Nolan is dealing,” Larry said as Nolan picked up two quick called strikes on LeBron, the first on a fastball, the second on his first changeup of the game. After a waste pitch in the dirt to try to get LeBron to go fishing, Nolan struck out the Bulldogs’ best hitter, getting a called third strike on a fastball on the inside corner.
“That was quite an inning,” Arnie Dixon said. “Total dominance.”
“That may be the best inning I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Paul Moyer said after his son made the Torrance Bulldogs look sick.
“We need a better effort at the plate than that,” Coach Parker yelled at his players as they hustled out onto the field. “That was not Bulldog baseball.”
‘He didn’t say a word about No Mercy,’ LeBron thought as he took his position at shortstop.
Lewis could see that he was going to have to throw his A game and he was up for it. Muddy led off the inning and saw nothing but change ups and breaking balls. He struck out swinging on a full count to start the inning.
Lewis remembered that Coach had said before the game that the Mayfield pitcher was probably an above-average pitcher and had shown in his one game in the tournament that he could hit for power. He smiled to himself when whatever power Nolan supposedly had resulted in in a routine fly ball to center for the second out.
Scott worked a 2-2 count. Salvador signaled for a fastball and Lewis decided to put everything he had into it. He ended up putting too much into it and the ball got away from him, hitting Scott on his left shoulder, giving the Goats the first baserunner of the game. Miles became the second one when he lined a single to left center, putting runners on first and second. The threat died quickly when Lenny hit a comebacker to Lewis, who easily threw him out at first.
“Okay guys, Lewis has your backs, now let’s give him some support,” Coach Parker admonished his team. Nolan didn’t hear anything the coach said. His entire focus as he warmed up was on Lenny’s mitt.
Nolan ran his strikeout string to six after getting Maurice swinging, Carl looking, and Kent swinging. The Mayfield fans stood and yelled long and hard as Nolan left the mound for the first base dugout.
“Six up and six struck out,” Coach Parker moaned. “We hit almost .300 as a team against pitchers better than that faker. I don’t even recognize these guys.”
Riley got the crowd going again when he hit a 1-0 pitch past the first baseman for the Goats’ second hit. Gordy worked the count to 2-1 and Riley grinned when Coach Hallion flashed him the steal sign. He took off for second and made it in safely with a stolen base. He heard everyone yelling and saw that the Bulldog catcher had thrown the ball over the second baseman’s head. He took off for third and made it without a play being made on him. The steal plus the error gave the Goats a runner on third with nobody out.
Gordy wasn’t able to bring Riley in, however, as he popped up to shallow left field. Riley tagged up and feinted going home to try to force a bad throw, but Alan, the left fielder, didn’t bite at the age-old ploy. The rally died when Aiden hit a one hopper to short for the second out and Trent struck out for the second time.
Nolan earned another loud ovation by striking out the side yet again. He got Clay and Salvador swinging through three fastballs and Alan flailing away at a wicked changeup that brought a huge grin to Calvin’s face. “Dang, that was a Cal boy changeup all the way,” Cal grinned. “That dude is dealing…and I mean dealing,” he yelled out. Nolan had now faced nine batters and struck out all nine.
“Because Nolan has been so dominating, we’ve been overlooking the fact that Lewis has been pitching a fine game for Torrance,” Phil said.
“We know something will have to give eventually, seeing as this is a tournament,” Larry said. “I don’t know what Lewis’s pitch count is, but I know that Nolan threw 56 pitches on Friday. He’s thrown 38 pitches so far today and has a 60-pitch limit today.”
“Sounds like that if he keeps up the same pace we should get another inning plus from him,” Paul Moyer said. 
“And while our bullpen has pitched quite well all tournament, I can’t help but feel that the Torrance coaches and players are drooling at the thought of hitting against Lance or Grant as opposed to Nolan.”
“What about Scott?” Arnie asked. “He’s a key pitcher for us and I’m sure he has some pitches left.”
“Assuming Aiden will be starting the IF game, if it’s played, Scott will be a key pitcher in that game,” Larry responded.
“You don’t realize what a difference there is in dealing with pitching between regular league play and a big tournament until you see all of the balls the coach has to juggle and keep in the air,” Paul said. “It makes me happy to be a spectator and not a coach.”
The men’s attention turned to the field when Muddy was announced as the next batter. “Muddy has hit some mighty home runs, but overall, he’s been struggling,” Phil said. 
“The coaches of the teams we’ve played have taken advantage of Muddy’s poor plate discipline. But everybody is aware that if you make a mistake to him, he can hit the ball a long way,” Larry said.
Lewis surprised many of the observers by coming after Muddy instead of toying with him. The strategy paid off when Muddy hit a sharp grounder to LeBron at shortstop who easily threw him out.
Lewis fell behind 2-1 to Nolan and came in with a fastball up in the zone. Lewis knew he had just thrown a fat pitch to Nolan. All he could do was hope that Nolan didn’t handle it well, which was not what happened. The pitch was in Nolan’s zone and he knew exactly what to do with it. The ping created when the sweet spot of Nolan’s bat hit the ball left no doubt where the ball was going to end up.
All Coach Parker could do was shake his head and mutter, “Shit,” under his breath as he watched Nolan circle the bases. The game had not started anywhere close to how he had expected it to.
“Don’t worry about it, Lewis, we’ll get it back,” LeBron yelled to his teammate as Nolan touched    third.
“We’ll get it back and then some,” Carl called out.
Lewis recovered nicely from Nolan’s blast and got Scott to ground out to third for the second out. The next batter was Miles, who hit a bouncing ground ball to Clay at second. Clay misplayed the hop and had the ball glance off his glove for an error.
“That’s our second bleeping error of the game. We have two errors and no hits,” Coach Parker said to Coach Rohrs as if his assistant didn’t know. Coach Rohrs shrugged, happy that he would soon be free of this idiot.
“Don’t get too happy,” Carl, the first baseman, said to Miles after he reached first. “There’s still plenty of time for us to score 20 runs and you know it scares you.”
Miles pointed to the scoreboard in center field and said, “You’ve gotta score one run before you can score 20.”
Michael Lewis, the first base umpire, stepped between the runner and the first baseman. “As amusing and witty as this dialog is, how about you guys think about putting baseball ahead of the chatter,” he told the players who both figured it would be a good idea not to piss off an umpire.
Miles was pleased to see Coach Hallion flash the steal sign and took off on the second pitch. Lenny let the pitch go by for ball two and Salvador’s throw was on the money this time. But Clay, the second baseman, couldn’t hold on to the ball and Miles was safe with a stolen base.
The sloppy play by his teammates frustrated Lewis. An error and a sloppy play on a steal had placed a runner in scoring position. Lewis threw a breaking ball in the dirt that Salvador blocked nicely to prevent Miles from advancing on a wild pitch. The count was now 3-1. Lewis’s next pitch was a straight fastball down the middle which Lenny was happy to convert into an RBI single, scoring Miles. The Goats now had a 2-0 lead. Skip pinch hit for Riley and lofted a lazy fly ball to Howie in center field ending the top half of the fourth.
The spectators in the stands were buzzing. Nolan’s dominant first three innings was a big topic of discussion, but so was the fact that the Yard Goats held a two-run lead halfway through the game. Few spectators expected them to be competitive let alone ahead at this stage of the game. The “No Mercy” mantra had all but faded from memory as the fans speculated as to when the Bulldogs would score.
Many of the neutral observers, like a number of other coaches in the tournament, were not surprised by the play of the Goats. Yes, they were a team from a small town, and yes, the Bulldogs had hammered them 15-2 in their first game. Since that game, however, unbiased observers had to admit that the Mayfield Yard Goats were a solid, fundamentally sound, superbly coached team that played well together and that they had been truly playing as well as any team in the tournament since that debacle. Some had predicted that the Bulldogs weren’t going to have it as easy as their coaches and most of their players predicted. They were truly in a dogfight and the dog was going to have to work hard to keep from being butted around the field by the goat.
Nolan started out the bottom of the fourth by putting an exclamation mark on his strikeout string by picking up his tenth straight K. He fanned Howie, the Bulldog leadoff hitter, who swung wildly at two fastballs and a changeup. Howie was the toughest hitter on the Bulldogs to strike out, but he was now 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and hadn’t looked good in either of his at bats. It had become apparent to everybody that Torrance, instead of working for a run, was trying to score 20 runs in a single at bat. Miles had read the Bulldogs’ psyche perfectly when he told Carl, “You gotta score one run before you can score 20.”
“I am going to venture to say that your son has set a tournament record for consecutive strikeouts that may never be broken,” Larry said to Paul.
“And he’s done it against some damn tough hitters,” Arnie added. “I gotta admit, the kid has done a good job behind the plate.” He was referring to Lenny, who had started in place of Arnie’s son, Mac.
Skip stayed in the game, going to right field. Miles shifted to center and Grant moved to left. Coach Hallion was going to replace Nolan with Riley after Nolan reached his pitch limit and wanted to give Riley time to prepare for pitching.
The string had to end sometime and it was ended by a full-count walk to Edwin, the third baseman. It quickly came to everyone’s attention that even though Mayfield had thoroughly outplayed Torrance, LeBron, the batter at the plate, was the tying run. Coach Parker decided to put the game in motion to get Edwin into scoring position.
Kevin had a feeling that the Bulldogs were going to run on the first pitch and signaled Lenny to call for a fastball. James had given Kevin the green light to call pitches from the dugout if he felt it was needed. Edwin took off on the first pitch. Lenny threw a bullet to Aiden at second, but it was just a hair late to snag the speedy runner. The pitch was called a strike.
LeBron then hit a hard line shot to left. At first glance it had RBI written all over it, but Miles barely had to move to snare the drive that was hit right to him.
Maurice then hit a hard ground ball to the right of second that looked like it was going to go into the outfield for a base hit. One of the reasons Gordy and Aiden made such a great keystone combo, beyond their natural quickness and athleticism, was the hours of work they put into fielding on the mini-infield in Aiden’s backyard, often with the help of Larry or Phil, but more often on their own. That work had paid off often and was a big reason why they were able to execute a jaw-dropping play.
As soon as the ball was hit, Aiden broke to his right and snagged the grounder on the run. Edwin had broken for third as soon as Maurice made contact and Aiden knew the chances of throwing him out at third were slim. Since he was running away from first, Aiden was certain he wouldn’t be able to pivot and throw the batter-runner out at first. He looked at Gordy and called out “63!”. He then flipped the ball to Gordy, whose momentum was carrying him toward first. Gordy made a strong throw to Trent, nailing Maurice by less than a step. The 4-6-3 putout was a work of art that brought the crowd to their feet. Any doubts that anyone had about this being a championship baseball game were permanently erased by the play.
While Gordy and Aiden often practiced the play, this was only the fourth time they had used it in a game going back to when they were fifth graders. Larry and Phil, of course, were not surprised by what they saw. Neither was the couple in the upper reaches of the seats behind home plate, who knew the kind of work and pride the two boys put into their fielding. They were Aaron and Flo Lansing, Gordy’s parents, who had been watching the tournament since the Saturday morning game against Huntington Beach.
Dallas turned to his assistant coach and grinned. “I swear, there is some kind magic surrounding those Goats. I have seen that play executed once, and it was by high school kids. Somehow, watching those kids doing it seemed like magic—Mayfield Magic.” Dallas was certain that Aiden Miller was showing the teachings of his father, Larry. 
Coach Parker wanted to scream after the play was completed, but he couldn’t figure out who to scream at. All he could do was wonder where the kids came from who had somehow replaced the ones his team had defeated 15-2 just a couple of days ago. That team had problems making a basic play, or at least that was how he remembered it, while this one seemed to be waving magic wands.
The Bulldogs had a new pitcher on the bump—a left hander named Cooper. Gordy grounded Cooper’s second pitch to third where Edwin charged the ball but dropped it on the exchange to his glove and Gordy was safe at first on the Bulldog’s third error of the game, tying their season high. For the most part the Dogs had played solid defense all season long, but this game was an obvious exception.
“Damn it, guys, get your heads out of your asses and play ball,” Coach Parker muttered as stood by himself at the dugout railing. His head was already producing the post-game ass chewing he was going to give if his charges couldn’t turn things around. The Bulldogs were riding an eleven-game winning streak and despite the uncharacteristic bad play of the team, Coach Parker was convinced the team could turn things around IF they got their heads out of their asses and into the game.
Aiden came to the plate and on a 2-1 pitch did what he had been doing best in the Brawl—he tripled. It was the Goats’ sixth triple in eight games and Aiden had all six. Those who had been following the tournament closely shook their collective heads in amazement.
The Goats now had a 3-0 lead which quickly became 4-0 when Trent singled in Aiden on an 0-1 pitch. Muddy flied out to deep center that had Howie backed up to the fence. Nolan followed Muddy’s out with a four-pitch walk.
Cal then pinch-hit for Scott. With a four-run lead, Coach Hallion wanted to give Scott a rest. If the Goats hung on to win, he knew Scott would be playing a big role as a pitcher in the IF game. He was one of the Goats’ top-three pitchers and still had many pitches available before reaching his pitch limit. Cal lofted a soft fly ball to center that dropped in front of the center fielder for a single. The Goats now had the bases loaded with one out and many were wondering if they were going to break the game open here and maybe trade slaughters with the Bulldogs.
It wasn’t to be, however, as Emmett, who was pinch hitting for Miles, hit a hard shot to third to start an around the horn double play to end the inning. The game went into the bottom of the fifth with the Goats holding a 4-0 lead.
Nolan had reached his pitch limit. His time on the mound was over and Riley came in to replace him. The two offered a big contrast in size. Nolan was a big, athletic looking boy, while Riley was one of the smallest boys on the Goats. For the second time in the tournament, one of the Goat pickup pitchers was relieved while working on a no-hitter.
The Bulldogs sized up the petite boy and decided he was easy pickings. They were aware of his fielding prowess in the outfield, but making great catches wasn’t the same as getting good hitters out.
The pitching change meant Coach Hallion had to make other changes. He re-entered Miles, who went to right field, his third outfield position for the game. Cal stayed in the game and was sent to center field. Mac replaced Lenny at catcher. Nolan went from the mound to first base. James loved having the freedom to use his pickup players at any position in the finals.
Carl led off the inning for the Bulldogs. Riley couldn’t remember being more nervous than he felt as he faced the Bulldog captain. Carl’s pompous sneer didn’t help Riley’s state of mind. Riley walked Carl on four pitches. While he tried his best not to look at Carl as he trotted lazily to first base, but he couldn’t help but see the grin and thumbs up Carl sent his way as he took his stroll.
“Looking at the Bulldogs you would think that they were the team with the four-run lead,” Phil observed. 
“Teams have been getting a sense of false security looking at Riley, but the kid throws hard and can pitch—at least when he’s got everything together,” Larry said.
Mac asked the plate umpire for time and hustled out to the mound. He gave Riley a unique peptalk. “Come on Riley, these guys jerk off one hand at a time just like everybody else, so show them your best stuff. Remember, you got eight great gloves backing you up out here.”
“I use two hands sometimes,” Riley responded as he fought off a grin.
“But only one does the job—so now you do the job.”
Cooper was the next batter. The lefty hit a grounder through the hole between Nolan and Aiden. The ball wasn’t hit very hard but bounced through no-man’s land. And just like that, the tying run was in the on-deck circle. Coach Hallion told Max and Lenny to get ready to head to the bullpen. 
Clay then hit a grounder to Gordy at short that had double play written all over it. Instead, the steady handed shortstop booted the ball and everybody was safe. The Bulldogs had the bases loaded with nobody out and looked ready to do what many had been expecting the entire game, and that was putting the upstart Yard Goats in their place.
With the tying run now at the plate, Coach Parker decided to pinch hit for Salvador, the weak hitting and lead footed catcher. He sent up Julio, who was a solid hitter and quick on the bases. This was the kind of situation for which he’d been saving Julio. Julio generally started at second base or in the outfield, but he bruised his ankle when he fouled a pitch off of it. The doctor cleared him to play provided he didn’t stand for a long period of time, which essentially meant he couldn’t play the field. He was available to hit, however, which made him the best player on the Bulldog bench. He was determined to clear some of the traffic off the bases. He ended up doing just that, but not in the way anybody had imagined.
He fouled off a changeup on the first pitch to him. Riley’s next pitch was a fastball outside. Mac called for another fastball. Riley threw a pitch that looked like something that Julio thought he could drive to left field. Trent was playing even with third base as he watched Julio take a hard swing and send a sizzling grounder up the third base line right to him. Trent snagged the ball, stepped on third, forcing Cooper, and fired the ball to second to Aiden who caught the ball just before crossing the bag. As soon as he felt his heel touch the base for the second out, he did one of his ballet pirouettes, and threw a laser to first that popped into Nolan’s mitt just ahead of Julio’s foot reaching the base.
Mike Lewis gave his most enthusiastic big play call as the Yard Goats completed an around the horn triple play which sent all but the Torrance fans into a frenzy. Of course, most of the Torrance fans screamed that Julio was safe, but Mike had made the right call. Coach Parker knew the call was the right one, and even if it wasn’t he wouldn’t be able to change it, but he still came over from the third base coach’s box to give Mike an obviously half-hearted argument for show.
“Are you sure, Mike?” Parker asked.
“Absolutely, coach,” Mike replied.
“You could ask for help.”
“You know that’s not how it works.”
“I know, but I had to make the effort.” Mike had umpired Torrance games twice during the season along with other games Parker coached in previous seasons. Mike thought Parker was too full of himself to be a good coach. Parker thought Mike was a good umpire, at least as far as an umpire could be good. “I mean, how does one fight magic pixie dust? I’ve never seen a team as lucky as that one has been this game.”
“How about clearing the field, coach, so we can start the next inning.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry.” The stunned coach walked to the third base dugout shaking his head. “Down four, bases loaded, nobody out, and we ground into a fucking triple play.” The play went into the scorebook as a 5-4-3 triple play.
In the first base dugout the Goats were congratulating the infield on their amazing play. Aiden and Nolan traded double high fives. The fact that they were two thirds of a triple play in only their second game playing together amazed both of them.
Coach Parker had already told the team that Mike Wong would be pitching the sixth inning. Mike didn’t get quite as much time to warm up in the bullpen as had been anticipated, but after finishing his eight warmup tosses on the mound, he had to be ready to go.
He threw a quick 1-2-3 inning. Mac fouled out to third, Riley struck out, and Gordy grounded out to short. 
Riley stayed in the game to pitch a second inning. Coach Hallion did make one change, however. He had Mason replace Aiden at second. Aiden was slated to be the starting pitcher in the IF game. James felt that with a four-run lead, this was a good time to give Aiden a rest and a chance to get himself adjusted mentally.
Alan, the left fielder, led off the inning by striking out. His third strike was a swing and a miss at one of Riley’s super fast balls. Alan was surprised by the pop and movement the little pitcher got on the pitch. Howie then doubled to right on a 1-1 pitch for the Bulldogs’ second hit.
That brought up Edwin who hit a grounder to Mason at second. Mason ignored Howie running to third and made the smart play, throwing to first to get Edwin for the second out. LeBron followed that with a hard fly ball over Cal’s head in center. Cal picked up the ball and quickly got it to Nolan, the cutoff man in the infield. The well executed cutoff play held LeBron to a double. Howie scored the Bulldogs’ first run on the play, ending a string of 13 straight scoreless innings by the Goats’ pitchers.
“Is that the first run of twenty, guys?” Howie asked as he came into the dugout to some high fives. Nobody bothered to answer.
Maurice flied out to Miles in right, ending the bottom of the sixth. Parker kept Mike on the mound, hoping to get another clean 1-2-3 inning from him. Besides, he didn’t want to use up another pitcher since it looked like the IF game was going to be played.
Max started warming up with Lenny in the bullpen. With the Goats holding a three-run lead it looked like he would be coming into the bottom of the seventh in a save situation unless the offense picked up an insurance run or two.
Mason led off the inning. He hit a 2-1 pitch for a high infield popup to short that LeBron waited on for the easy catch. Trent then hit a deep fly ball to left center that Howie made a nice running catch on near the fence for the second out.
Muddy was up next, and he gave the Bulldogs a piece of information to keep in their collective memory banks. They knew that his plate discipline wasn’t the best, but they had forgotten that Muddy was a big-time mistake hitter. He reminded the Dogs of that when Mike made a big mistake and threw a fastball into Muddy’s wheelhouse. Muddy knew exactly what to do with it. As soon as he hit the ball the only question was how far over the fence it was going to sail. His fourth home run of the Brawl gave the Goats the insurance run they were hoping for. Nolan ended the inning when he took a called strike three on a full-count pitch. The Goats would be going into the bottom of the seventh holding a 5-1 lead.
Muddy’s home run meant that Max wouldn’t be taking the mound in a save situation, but he didn’t care. All he wanted was to pitch a quick half inning so his tired teammates could sit in their tent on Field 4 for a much-needed rest before the commencement of the IF game against the Torrance Bulldogs.
Coach Hallion told the plate umpire that number 18 (Max) would be entering the game for number 9 (Grant) as the player being DH’d for in the number four spot in the batting order. What he didn’t need to tell the ump was that Riley would be moving to center field, and Cal would be moving to left field. Lance was the only player James hadn’t used, but Lance understood. Eric had told him before the game that he would not play much, if at all, to give him some extra rest since he would be a key pitcher if the Goats played the IF game. Lance was grateful for the rest and expended his energy cheering on his teammates.
Max took his eight warmup pitches and felt ready to make quick work of the Bulldogs so the team could get to the business of winning the IF game. He got off to a good start by striking out the much-despised Carl on a 2-2 curve that had him bailing out well before the pitch crossed the plate for a called third strike. Mike lined a first pitch fastball that Mason made a leap for, barely snagging it in his glove. He held the precious snow cone tightly as he landed on his feet.
The Bulldogs seemed as eager to end the game as the Goats were. Rhett Brower pinch hit for Clay and went right after Max’s first pitch. He hit a pop fly that went straight up the chimney. Mac moved ten steps back from the plate and settled under it, squeezing it for the third out as it landed in his glove.
As the Goats ran off the field, they high fived each other, and exchanged a couple of quick hugs, but the celebration was subdued. All they had won was the right to play Torrance again. The Goat players, coaches, and fans had no doubt that the Bulldogs would be much more focused and motivated than they were in the playoff game. They had just learned the hard way that the Yard Goats were a good team that could not be taken lightly.
The PA announcer informed everyone that what was now THE Championship Game would start at quarter after two, which would be in just over 35 minutes.
As they left the field, some of the Goats saw what they were sure was LeBron and Lewis flashing them a salute. The Goats headed for their Field 4 tent to grab some cold drinks and snack, to catch their breath, and have a quick meeting. The meeting would mostly consist of Coach Hallion giving them the starting lineup for the IF game.
Everyone in the ballpark knew that the Goats were no longer the underdogs. They had just won their sixth straight tournament game to put themselves in position to play for the BaseBrawl championship. They had no doubt they belonged there. Since they got clobbered in their second game, they had followed the dictum of believing in themselves and never giving up. That belief was now going to carry them through seven innings against one of the best teams in baseball rich California. Win or lose, the Mayfield Yard Goats knew they would give the Torrance Bulldogs a fight they would never forget and that no matter what, they would never give up.
Next: SoCal BaseBrawl, Day 6.  Never Give Up-Pixie Dust
Mayfield Yard Goats (28-8)
  1. Gordy (SS)
  2. Aiden (2B)
  3. Trent (1B)
  4. Muddy (DH) batting for Grant (RF)
  5. Nolan (P)
  6. Scott (3B)
  7. Miles (LF)
  8. Lenny (C)
  9. Riley (CF)
Torrance Bulldogs (39-3)
  1. Howie (CF)
  2. Edwin (3B)
  3. LeBron (SS)
  4. Maurice (RF)
  5. Carl (1B)
  6. Kent (DH) batting for Lewis (P)
  7. Clay (2B)
  8. Salvador (C)
  9. Alan (LF)