Everyone in the league knows that Charlie "Crusher" Chisolm is eligible to come off the DL today but that the Longhorns' skipper is sitting him for a few more days to make sure of his strained oblique. Hell, everyone in the state probably knows that. But here he is in the top of the ninth with two on and only one out, swaggering to the plate and digging in.
Dave throws the rosin bag down with a dusty whump and thinks of course. It's not just the Kings being up two-zip that's bringing Chisolm in off the bench. It's the big, fat zero in the Longhorns' hits column.
Not that Dave's letting himself think about that.
Dave knocks some dirt from his spikes and toes the rubber. Chisolm glares out at him, taking a couple of lazy practice swings and spitting in the dirt. This guy is huge, Dave thinks, not for the first time. He looks like he might play football in the off-season, or hell, wrestle grizzly bears or something. Dave leans in.
Neal puts down one finger and pats the inside of his thigh. Dave sets and checks the runners at first and second -- his own stupid, anxious walks -- breathes in, and fires.
Ball one, but Chisolm has to move his feet.
Ball two is the same wayward curve Dave walked Alvarez on, and by the time Neal digs it out of the dirt and fires to third, Alvarez is in safely, Devin dropping the tag on him when he's already hugging the bag.
Strike one sails up out of the zone, and Dave knows he got away with one when Chisolm swings and misses.
Taking a bit of a stroll off the back of the mound, Dave thinks that if he looks out toward the 'pen, he'll see somebody moving around out there. He's not about to squint to make sure. He climbs back to the rubber. First and third. At least he doesn't have to worry about Chisolm bunting.
Dave leans in, and Neal puts down one finger again, then makes a low patting gesture. Dave learned years ago that it's no good shaking Neal off in situations like this. Neal will just stubbornly put down the same sign again and give Dave shit about it later. Dave steps off, and Neal calls time and trots out to the mound.
"There a problem?" Neal asks when he gets there, resting his hand on Dave's hip.
"He loves the fastball down, he eats those for breakfast," Dave mutters from behind his glove.
"Not if you paint the corner with it," Neal says, like it's obvious.
"Oh, right," Dave says sarcastically. "I think I can get him with my curve, I think I can--"
Neal cuts him off. "No. Your curve is getting tired, he knows it and you know it. You hang that thing one more time and he's gonna belt it out of here. Listen to me," Neal says, leaning closer, his mask almost touching the bill of Dave's cap. "He loves the low fastball, but he can't do a damn thing with your low fastball. I'm telling you, I can hear the rusty little gears turning in this guy's head. You drop that thing on the outside corner and he's gonna go fishing. He'll bounce it to Andy and we got 'em."
Dave looks at Neal. He's got that look in his eyes, the determined, confident, slightly crazed one usually reserved for, "Fuck yes, I can drink you under the table, asshole," and the like. But this time it's different. For some reason, this time it's unshakeable, unqualified confidence in David Cook and his occasionally iffy control. "Trust me," Neal says earnestly.
Dave vaguely hears the home plate ump call "Break it up!" from a great distance away.
"Okay," Dave manages. "Okay, you're the doctor, just. It's not like I'm working on a no-hitter here or anything," he adds, feeling giddy with nerves.
Dave watches with amusement as Neal tries his damnedest not to react in any way that would be visible from the stands. "Shut up. Why the fuck would you--" He stops himself and instead smacks Dave in the chest with his glove, a little harder than necessary. "Heater," he snarls, and stalks back to the plate.
Dave steps back onto the rubber, turning the ball over and over again in his glove. Chisolm glares out at him again, a nasty smirk on his lips. Dave ignores him and leans in.
Neal puts down his middle finger and Dave comes set, biting the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. He checks the runner at third, twisting his head to look over his shoulder. He can't see Alvarez, but he swears that even over the roar of the crowd chanting "Let's go Kings!" he can hear the gravel crunching under his feet as he creeps forward, almost even with the mound.
Dave takes a deep breath, eases his white-knuckle grip on the ball just a bit. And throws.
He can't track the ball through his follow-through, so his next knowledge of it is a sickening crack as it makes contact with the bat. Next second, the ball is skittering past him to his right. He tries to make a backhand swipe at it with his glove, missing.
Andy charges, the ball takes a crooked bounce off the grass, but he sticks with it, scooping it up and flipping to Kyle at second. Kyle hangs in there, then leaps in the air over a hard slide and rockets a strike to Monty at first. The ball hits Monty's glove a half second before Chisolm's foot reaches the bag, and Dave's world explodes.
The cheering from the home crowd is deafening, and Dave leaps in the air, ecstatic. He doesn't know what to do, who he wants to hug first, because he pretty much loves the entire world right now. But before he has time to make any kind of decision, he spins around toward home plate just in time to be absolutely tackled.
Dave ends up flat on his back in the grass before he even has time to realize that it's Neal who's clobbered him. He's damn near knocked the wind out of him, but Dave doesn't care about that in the slightest. He cares about Neal's weight on his chest, crushing him, and the split second Neal has to growl, "Somebody's getting laid tonight" in Dave's ear, making him shiver, before the rest of the team piles on.
Dave imagines he can identify each individual thump: There's Andy, who leaped, glove over his head, to snag that liner in the second; Monty, who launched a homer in the fifth; Kyle, with his two stolen bases; Devin, who risked life and limb falling over the tarp and into the seats to catch a pop-up. Dave even thinks he catches a glimpse of something neon orange and fuzzy, meaning that Andrew has joined the fray, even though he should probably be off partying with the fans.
His family, his team. As far as Dave's concerned, they're the ones who got the no-hitter tonight. And smothered under the happy, noisy pile of them, Dave's never been happier to be along for the ride.