Three Balls, Two Strikes, One Out by Ed Collins/Sept., 1996
Vin Scully on the radio:
Gwynn will stop at second and we’re all even––one, one.
I’m fishing in the Eastern Sierras, just west of Bishop, California. The mid-afternoon sun is strong as it hits me flush in the face. I’ve positioned myself behind a tree, between my van, with its radio on, and a slow-moving stream.
There’s a high drive deep to right field, and she is gone–– three-one, San Diego. Steve Finley hits his third homerun of the series and each pitch was up, as Finley is a low-ball hitter…Here’s the one-two pitch to Caminiti: he swings, and down he goes...Hideo winds and Joyner strokes it into centerfield, the Padres’ fourth hit of the inning. And Nomo may be tiring.
With my hands holding pencil and notepad, my pole rests against a shoreline bush. My line is taut as it enters the water.
Nomo winds and misses wide, ball four. This is where Nomo is virtually on the ropes.
Baseball, fishing and writing––three pastimes at once (although, given my divided attention, the chances of catching a fish are nil). The autumn leaves rustle in a gentle breeze. Shadows creep down the mountain backdrop above the stream. Jutting rocks create a gurgling whirlpool of water.
And this is the first time the Padres and Dodgers have contested for the title this late in the season. The three-one pitch to Mondesi: swing and missed, three-and-two. Tim Worrell, in one hundred and fourteen innings, has only allowed eight home runs…The pitch to Wallach, fouled back into the crowd.
Mondesi, Worrell, Wallach––each name rolls smoothly, rhythmically––musically––off of Scully’s tongue. Like a Maya Angelou poetry reading, a Paul Harvey monologue or a Frank Sinatra song, his style and command of the language are spellbinding.
It’s a packed house at Jack Murphy Stadium––the third sellout in as many games…Piazza on deck. The pitch to Kirby, high––two balls and a strike…Seventh inning, two outs, Padres, three-one…Fifty six thousand people cheer
when Finley singles to open up the Padre’s seventh inning. Fifty six thousand people cheer when Ken Caminiti, the Padres candidate for league MVP, is announced.
There’s a harmony of voice and nature––Scully’s play-by-play compliments the scene.
The Dodgers move one closer on the home run by Karros, but the Padres still lead three-two. Here’s Jody Reed, he’s got a single in three at bats.
With the sun just peeking over the mountain, shadows lengthen. White puffy clouds appear against a clear, almost royal-blue sky.
Three-two Padres, bottom of the eighth, with Reed on second…Three and two to Henderson––and the pitch is outside, ball four…The two guys battling for the batting title are standing at home plate: Tony Gwynn and Mike Piazza.
Illuminated by the low sun, tiny knats fill the air. A solitary mosquito hovers like a helicopter above the steam. The shadow inches forward. The distant clump of willow trees is now back-lit. The tip of my pole remains as still as the air.
Hoffman kicks and fires––strike two…DeShields caught looking for a third strike…Now the Dodgers are down to their final two outs…Breaking ball outside, one and one…There’s a bouncer to third, flagged by Caminiti, picks himself up and throws him out. Hello…Now the Dodgers are down to their final out.
A welcome breeze returns as the shadow reaches the far side of the stream.
Two and one––the pitch outside, three and one…The crowd, all of them on their feet now…And Hoffman is waiting. The pitch––high, ball four…Hold everything, the Dodgers are not done…Hollandsworth is oh-for-four this afternoon… The pitch underway, it’s a strike…This crowd will go nuts if Hoffman can close it out…Everyone on their feet; there’s not a seat occupied. And Hollandsworth swings and misses. Three to two, Padres…And we’ll be back from Jack Murphy Stadium.
Game over. The Padres have clinched a playoff spot.