Jan 21, 2014

Lucky 13 serial - Five

fiction by killre

From a column printed in the Kessington Herald on June 10th.  Credit is given to a "Lief Scrivner," who is bylined as a "Staff Writer."

I could be wrong, but I have never held with the common bandied notion that baseball bugs go to the field of a customary afternoon to see something they have never seen.  That is not to say they are not hoping, nor is it to deny they would rejoice if they did, but it is not their foremost reason.

The game is a venerable one.  It has been played for more years than anyone can remember.  It has been played in razed cornfields and on cobbled streets and on prime pieces of property so green your mind's eye has yet to dream of such a color.  It has been played with rounded rocks and broken broom sticks, with old rags tossed down as bases, and it has been played with stuffed, stitched, and stamped horsehide and masterpieces of ancient ash that have been machine turned and fire branded.  It has been played by boys of every stripe, more than a few of whom were otherwise full-grown, and it has even been played by the occasional rough and tumble girl who was not afraid to skin a knee testing the rightfielder's arm from first to third, or stand steady in the face of an inside pitch.  So the odds, if you will pardon the implicity, of seeing something true novel on any given day are as long as the foul lines at Kessington Field.

Those of you who read this Herald three days ago might remember I stated much the same thing.  My point then was that while the Knights have been hitting well, scoring in bunches, winning often, and have the whole town talking, they are not threatening as many league records as you might think, and the ones they seem like to threaten at season's end are still a long, hot summer away.  Pitching, I stated, is what will or will not keep this team in first place through the Fall Equinox.

My point today is a related one, and a bit more specific.  As I stated, I do not believe most bugs, of which I am one, go to the field to see the unexpected.  Rather, they go to see if their expectations, from one pitch to the next, one batter to the next, one game to the next, one series to the next, are right or wrong.  For example, long before the Knights roused themselves from their sleeper and stepped squinting in the sunlight on the siding at Kessington station, I knew who would pitch today's game.

If Silas Uebel had his way, it would be that soft tossing beanpole, Jupiter Black.  In a way, it makes sense.  Silas was a junkballer for most of his career.  So is Black.  Silas was a crafty magician of a junkballer, however, and Black is not.  Silas has taken a shine to the man child.  Dell Schmittinger has not, and he has the final say.

Schmittinger, like most managers, does not trust knuckleballers.  He has good reason.  Knuckleballers have the immoral habit of throwing the knuckleball, and managers do not trust the knuckleball.  It is a gimmick pitch, unreliable.

On top of that, Schmittinger has frank reason to trust this knuckleballer less than most.  Anyone who has ever met Jupiter Black can attest, he is an odd egg.  As scrutable as a totem pole, and half as affable.  He mixes the knuckler with a right handed screwball that serves better as a description of the man himself than as a means of inducing putouts, and a fastball that has all the zip and life of an eighteen year old dog.

By contrast, Randall Moran throws the hardest straight ball on the team, and backs it with a second fastball that sinks just enough on reaching the batter that somebody on the infield is sure to get a hopper.  He also has a hard curve that tends to slide sideways more than duck down.

To date, Schmittinger has given the third day starts to Black.  This is part because Uebel is whispering in his ear, and part because he knows Uebel is whispering in the beanpole's ear, and Uebel's whispers are thought to be like those of the Oracle at Delphi.  It is also part because keeping Moran in reserve, to come in late after any of the other three, usual has the effect of making the opponent look like a gaggle of schoolboys against men.

Some of the results are hard to argue against.  To his credit, and Uebel's, Black has managed to junkball his way to a record of three wins, no losses, and two no decisions.

Closer inspection, however, reveals a house built on sand.  Black has averaged more than five earned runs for every nine innings.  Not once this year has he retired more men on strikes than he has issued free passes.  Most of his starts have been against clubs that will struggle to secure winning ledgers.  He has benefitted from a lineup that has been knocking the horsehide every which way but into someone's glove.  The one decent opponent he faced, Gerryowen, knocked him out of the game before he could finish the first inning.

Now the Knights face the close of an important set with the Beardsley Eagles, a team they know well, a team that knows them, and Black, well, a team that looks to be their primary competitors for the pennant.

I could be wrong, but I think today's starter should be, will be, Randall Moran.


Records show Black started the game.  He pitched seven scoreless innings, walked one, struck out three.  Moran then held Beardsley scoreless for two innings.  Kessington won the game 1-0, completing a three-game sweep.  Black was credited with the win.  Shortstop J.P. Sinclair drove in the run.

A quirk in the schedule sent Kessington on a nine-game road trip after the Beardsley series.  They held a three-game lead over Gerryowen.

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