The Ninth

December 1, 2010
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It was the top of the ninth inning in San Diego, California. It was a cool night at seventy degrees and a slight breeze was coming in from the ocean. It was the seventh game of the National League Championship and I was going to close out the game for the San Diego Padres. If we won this game, we would be on our way to Boston to play in the World Series against the Red Sox and make Padre History as this would be our first time to the World Series.
The Padres were one run ahead of the monstrous San Francisco Giants, and I was starting my fifth straight inning out on the mound. My arm was getting very sore and was starting to feel like jello. In my five years as a pitcher in Major League Baseball, this was the longest time I had been on the mound. I had already thrown eighty pitches and did not want to throw one hundred pitches so I knew I had to finish the game quickly.
As the ninth inning began, there was still a hint of dust in the air from the players running and sliding all over the infield. These particles of dust made it extremely difficult to breathe. It felt like my chest was burning and I found myself coughing repeatedly. I quickly warmed up before the inning, but I stopped earlier than usual so that I would be able to save my strength. For some reason the lights from the stadium were nearly blinding me to the point that I had to squint just to see home plate which was a mere sixty feet away. It was like staring right at the sun. Things were becoming very fuzzy and unclear, but I knew I had to do this. So I stepped off the mound, wiped my brow and regained my composure. Part of me wanted to get a new pitcher in the game to take my spot, but another part of me knew I had a responsibility to my team, to the people in the stands and the people watching at home. So I decided to put the disturbances aside and just focus on getting the three batters out to win the game and go to Boston.

First up was the lightning fast Juan Uribe. What he lacked in power, he made up in speed. The sheen of anger that glistened in his eyes was fueled by the burning desire from a little voice inside telling him he had to win. I could tell that he was going to do everything in his power to get on base and tie the game up at three all. I saw the catcher give me the sign. He put up one finger on the right side of his chest which meant that he wanted me to through him a fastball on the inside of the plate. I took my stance, did my wind up, and threw the ball as fast and as hard as I could. The ball whisked past him at such a high speed that he did not even see it.

“Strike one!” the umpire called with a sternness in his voice.

I looked at the pitch tracker to see how fast I had thrown the ball. The number came up on the screen and it read one hundred and six miles per hour. Then on the score board a message appeared that indicated I had broken the record for the fastest pitch ever thrown. The previous fastest pitch was one hundred and five.

I took my stance again and stared down at the catcher waiting for the sign. The sign was three fingers and a touch to the chest and stomach. That meant that he wanted me to throw my 12-6 curve ball high and inside to cause a ground ball if Uribe was able to hit it. I wound up and as I threw the ball, I changed my pitch to a side arm in hopes of getting Uribe off his rhythm. Sadly my plan did not work because when Uribe swung he hit a screaming line drive. When I saw the ball coming right next to me, it was if things were happening in slow motion. I could actually see the ball twisting, rotating and spinning in the air. So I dove to try and catch it. I fully extended my body to the point where I looked like Super Man. I actually only had three seconds of hang time, but in my mind it felt like I was in the air for much longer. Then all of a sudden I hit the ground. I hit it so hard that I was sure I had broken something. I did not know if I had actually caught the ball, so I had to look in my glove. I slowly opened my mitt and there in the pocket was the pearly white ball with one black spot on it from where the bat had come in contact with it. One down, two to go, I thought as I stood up and began to prepare for the next batter.

Up next to the plate was the hard- hitting Pablo Sandoval, who was working on a nice six game hitting streak. I stepped on the mound, took my stance again and threw my signature pitch, which was a 60 mph change up. Shortly after the ball left my hand, I heard the crack of the bat and then saw the ball heading right toward our first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez. As Adrian dove to stop the ball, I sprinted off the mound to get the relay throw at first base in order to get Sandoval out. Adrian did a great job stopping the ball; however, his throw to me at first base was so bad that it pulled me off the bag. I then had to turn around quickly and dive for the white base in order to get Sandoval out. The play was a success, but it came with a hefty price. I had dislocated my right hand’s index finger, and the pain was excruciating. It was worse than anything I had ever felt before. When I looked at my finger, it was at a 110 degree angle so I motioned to my trainer in the dugout and told him to come out. After careful and thorough examination of my finger, my trainer told me I would have to leave the game. However, I told him that I would never leave this game, so I grabbed my finger and popped it back into place. I picked myself up off of the ground and jogged back to the pitcher’s mound. The trainer followed me and said that I would risk permanent injury if I continued playing. I looked him straight in the eye and told him that if there was permanent damage, then so be it. Even if the pain was unbearable, I was not going to leave the game. I just had to get one more out for the Padres to win this game.

I looked over to see who was coming up to the plate next. When I saw who it was, my heart skipped a beat, and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. It was the enormous, steroid crazy, Barry Bonds. Everyone booed at him as he came up to the plate, but I just stood there motionless. It was as if I were a statue or a hollow shell of a man because I could not find the strength or courage to move. The sweat from my forehead got into my eyes, making it difficult to see. Almost as if I was trying to see in salt water. My heart pounding so loud it was like someone beating on a drum inside of me.
I called a time out to talk to my catcher and I said, “What are we going to do with him? Should I pitch to him or intentionally walk him?”
My catcher replied, “Don’t worry Camo, we will start him off with a backdoor slider and finish him off with some heat.”
After our little talk I returned to the mound and took my stance. I threw him my breaking slider, but my hand was sweaty. That made me lose my grip on the ball, and I threw it right down the center of the plate. When Barry Bonds saw that pitch coming, his eyes lit up like the night sky on the 4th of July. He swung and hit that ball so hard that I thought I heard it scream in pain. My Center Fielder went back to the wall and all I could do was watch in disbelief as I heard the public address announcer say, “He is going back, he’s at the track, now the wall and that ball is gone! Another homerun for mad power house Barry Bonds and this game is all tied up folks.” As Barry Bonds was rounding the bases, I was beating myself up inside that I had given up our very slim lead. Now I had to refocus on getting the final out of the inning and hope that we could score a run in the bottom of the ninth.

The next batter up was the pitcher, Barry Zito. I had stop for a moment and refocus because it is not uncommon for a pitcher who has just given up a home run to start giving up more and more runs. I took a deep breath and muscled through this, and after three straight fastballs, I struck him out.
Now it was the bottom of the ninth and the Padres had a chance to win it all. First up for the Padres was our second baseman, the sparkplug, David Eckstein. The first pitch from Barry Zito was his famous 12 foot curve ball which ended up being a ball because sometimes Zito does not have the best control over his throws. The count was one ball, no strikes on Eckstein. The next two pitches were fast balls that David took for strikes. Fortunately for the Padres, David Eckstein’s best hits in the major league came when there were two strikes against him. The fourth pitch was another fastball that David hit to center field for a single. After that, Chase Headley hit a double to the left center field gap on the first pitch that he saw. Now we had men on second and third with no one out.

Unfortunately for the Padres, the next two batters struck out on three pitches each. That meant it was all up to me to drive in the winning run. As I looked around the stadium, everyone was on their feet and chanting, “Just a single, Just a single.” Over and over again they chanted this, but I wanted to do more than just get a single; I wanted to get a home run just like Barry Bonds did in the top of the ninth. The first two pitches were fastballs that I took for strikes followed by two balls. After that I took a time out to try and make Zito nervous in hopes that he would make a costly mistake. Just one mistake that could give San Diego the chance to win the World Series. After the time out was over, I got ready to get a home run and took my stance in the batter’s box. Zito stared at me from the mound and threw the ball. The pitch was a fastball; high and in the middle of the plate. That was my pitch, so I swung and hit that ball as hard as I could. I heard the crack of the bat and then I saw the ball sore farther and farther until it made it over the wall and out of the park for a four hundred foot home run. I took off to first base, rounded to second, third and then headed for home. The entire stadium was on their feet and the crowd was chanting, “Padres….World Series….Padres….World Series.” As I reached home plate, the entire team was waiting for me.
I did it. I won the game for the Padres, and we were going to the World Series in Boston. That was the greatest day of my life not only because we won, but because I learned the importance of perseverance. I learned the importance of never giving up, not even when you are hurt or when you have made a mistake and feel defeated.
Those who don’t give up will see victory in the end!

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