I probably shouldn't have said anything. A couple of people, especially Sanjay, seemed very disappointed by the news that I wouldn't be back. I was hoping that (a) knowing that we had no shot at the post-season would allow them to play loose and have fun, since they had nothing to lose, and (b) knowing that this was my last game might inspire a "let's win one for the Gipper" attitude. One out of two ain't bad. ;)
Once I saw the opposing pitcher, my hopes sank. This guy puts some funky backspin on his pitches which makes him extremely difficult to hit. And sure enough, we went hitless the first two innings, as the opponent pitched a perfect game and staked his team to a 4-run lead. Our shortstop pointed out to me after the second inning that this guy was pitching a perfect game, and I casually said, "Don't worry, we'll break it up." Little did I know I would be the one to break it up!
I led off the third inning, my first at bat. I was nervous, because I knew how bad this pitcher could make a hitter look. I let the first pitch go by. Ball one. The second pitch came. I waited. Waited. Then decided to swing. I hit the ball sharply up the middle, just over the shortstop's reach. It rolled all the way to the wall and got caught up in a tent. Groundrule double. That got our foot in the door just a bit. My teammates managed to do just enough to get me home and put us on the board.
The next at bat was uneventful. Just before our following at bat, in the bottom of the fifth inning, I announced to the team that this would be our big inning. Again, I didn't expect to be prophetic. But our first several batters reached base without making an out. And before the inning was over, we had tied the game 6 to 6.
There was no scoring in the sixth. The other team scored a run in the top of the seventh.
Before I continue the narrative, let me just state how proud I am of the way my team played. This and our playoff win last year are by far the two best games I've been involved in with this team. Everyone played with a lot of heart and contributed all they could. Sure, players made mistakes. Our regular second baseman failed to make a catch which would have ended an inning without giving up runs. I had a line drive hit me in the palm instead of the webbing of the glove and fall out, and then I tried to will the ball to third for the force play since I failed to barehand it to make the throw. There were the almost great plays. Like when our right fielder almost came up with a key catch which just glanced off her outstretched glove. And the diving tag Sanjay almost made on a runner at home. But there were so many more great plays. Like when we almost turned our third double play of the season. Or when our shortstop made a great throw to first to get a close out. Or the chopper that Keya hustled and beat out at a time when we really needed it to stay alive.
And then there's Sanjay. This is where the narrative picks up again.
Bottom of the seventh and final inning. We're down by one. Alas, slow as I am, I led off the inning again. I grounded out. The next batter made the second out. Sanjay, our pitcher in almost every game we've played in the past 4 seasons, came to the plate. "It's all up to you, Sanjay," I shouted, "you're the only one who can help your own cause now!"
Boy did he come through! He hit the ball with authority and ended up on second. The next batter hit a ground ball to third that should have ended the game. Sanjay sprinted unwisely towards third. If Sanjay had been smart, he wouldn't have done this, because if the third baseman was paying attention she would have tagged him for the final out. But the third baseman wasn't paying attention. She bobbled the ball and, just as Sanjay neared her, threw across the diamond to first. She pulled the first baseman off first, so the runner was safe. And Sanjay wasn't stopping at third. He kept charging towards home plate. The throw from first was late, and Sanjay tied the game. On to extra innings we went.
We got the first two outs right away. But then our second baseman failed to make a catch, and the next batter hit a triple. With the game in the balance, the next batter hit a sharp line drive up the middle. Right at Sanjay. Right at Sanjay's glove. And Sanjay made a phenomenal falling down catch. We were still in this game.
I liked our chances. Our best player was batting third in the inning. And the woman batting before him was one of our best women. If any of the two batters before Geoff got on base, we'd almost certainly tie the game and stood a good chance of winning. And if we ended this inning tied, we'd load the bases and bring the three batters from the previous inning to the plate. I really liked our chances.
Our first guy struck out. Our second batter hit the ball hard, but a good defensive play meant she was out at first. So it was all up to our star player to win the game.
Remember last week I talked about managerial mistakes? Well, I committed one of them. I told Geoff that it all came down to him. If I hadn't, he might have been more relaxed at the plate. He hadn't made an out since the first inning. If you didn't hit this guy's pitches just right, you'd hit pop-ups or groundballs. Geoff tried to win the game instead of relaxing and doing his thing. He pressed and got underneath the pitch. A lazy fly ball ended the game.
But it was a great, exciting game, and I was proud to have played with these guys.
Afterwards I took the team out for dinner and drinks. I showed off a few moves on the dance floor (before the music started playing), showing them how to waltz and throwing a few showchoir moves, including lifting Ellen onto my shoulders and striking a pose. When the karaoke started, I was the first to perform and brought down the house with a rousing rendition of "Mack the Knife." This was followed by food, drink, and socializing. It was a blast!
I'm going to miss these guys. It's been a lot of fun playing with and captaining these guys the past 4 years.