"And David settles himself in the box and waits for the 2-1 pitch. Correia comes set and delivers. And the pitch -" The three broadcasters for the Mets television station all leaned forward in anticipation.
The crack of the bat rang through CitiField.
"Oh! He got all of that one," Ron Darling chimed in, somewhat unnecessarily.
"It's OUTTA HERE! 3 run home run for David Wright," Gary Cohen said excitedly. "Giving the Mets a 6-3 lead, and RA Dickey a chance for his 20th win!"
"And it was the walk to Torres to start the inning that set all this up," Keith Hernandez griped. "I've said it time and time again. Walks will kill you." He paused and peered down at his monitor. "Oh, no, the ball has hit the apple!"
And, indeed, the ball had hit the giant apple in center field that popped up to the accompaniment of fireworks whenever one of the Mets players hit a homerun.
"They seem to be having some trouble getting the apple to retract now," Gary continued, "but that's okay, because Clint Hurdle is going to come pull Correia out of the game, so they're going to have - "
"It's been cracked!" Keith said suddenly, pointing out towards center field.
"What?" ask Ron, closely echoed by Gary.
"Sorry to interrupt, Gar, but it looks like the apple has actually been cracked. See here. Guys, if I could get a shot of it," he said to the camera men. One of them zoomed in on the apple, and Keith went to work on his telestrator. "Yeah, see right here." White lines wandered all over the screen, but they did highlight the fact that the apple had indeed been cracked.
"Now there's something you don't see every day," Ron said. "At least they'll have the whole off-season to work on it. It's strange, though, I didn't think David's home run was hit that hard."
"What's it even made of?" Keith wondered. "Metal? Plastic?"
"Paper mache?" Ron ventured.
"Paper mache?" Gary repeated, starting to giggle. "Wouldn't it melt in the rain?"
"Well, not if it was coated in, um, something."
"Hey, guys, I can answer that." Kevin Burkhardt's voice came across their headsets, and on tv, one of the cameras focused on their intrepid roving reporter. "The apple is fiberglass with a foam core, weighs almost 5,000 pounds, and is nearly twice as big as the one we had in Shea. Oh and that weight isn't counting all the hydraulics used to raise and lower it. I'd guess those hydraulics are the issue now."
"Well, there you have it. Thank you, Kevin," Gary said when the focus shifted back up to the booth.
"How does he know all that stuff?" Keith asked.
"Not to belabor the point - "
"Too late," Ron muttered.
" - but that raises even more questions. Fiberglass shouldn't really crack that easily, not from just a batted ball. But anyway, Takahashi is the new pitcher for the Pirates, and he's just about finished his warmup tosses, so we should be ready to get back to baseball. Ike steps up to the plate. He hit a homerun in his first at bat, and popped out to third in his second, but at least there's something positive he can take from today."
"Yeah, it's just been a brutal brutal season for him at the plate. But the thing that I really like is that he hasn't let his troubles at the plate effect his defense. And that is one of the hardest things for a position player, isn't it, Keith?"
"Absolutely, Ron. So much of this game is - wait, what's going on?"
Gary started down at the field and at his monitors for a moment. "It appears that the home plate umpire, Gerry Davis, has called time, just as Takahashi was coming set, and he is now pointing out towards center field. There still seems to be an issue with the apple."
"The crack has widened and - is that a person coming out of it?" Keith said, sounding uncharacteristically unsure of himself.
Neither Gary nor Ron could find it in themselves to mention it, though. Instead, they exchanged a look, and Ron grabbed a pair of binoculars from somewhere behind him.
Gary picked up the thread of the conversation. "There does seem to be several people climbing out of the apple now, and security officers are rushing over to deal with the miscreants now."
"Idiots," Keith muttered, just loud enough for the microphone to pick him up.
"Agreed. I do agree with the MLB policy that has been in place for the last few years, not to show people like this on television. Folks at home, that's why you're just seeing the shots of the players on the field, most of whom are looking either amused or annoyed. I don't blame, really. I know we're at the end of the season, and this game doesn't mean much in terms of the standings, but there is still something to play for. Dickey is going for his 20th win, and that might make the difference in the - "
Suddenly, Ron, who had been peering through the binoculars, slapped his cough button with such ferocity that it caused both Gary and Keith to jump.
"I told you this was going to happen," he hissed.
Gary motioned for Keith to keep talking, and hit his own cough button. "What are you talking about?"
"Look!" Ron said and shoved the binoculars at his play-by-play partner.
Gary absently noticed Ron un-muting himself and picking up the filler conversation with Keith while he adjusted the binoculars to see better what was happening out in center field.
Gary looked and then put down the binoculars, rubbed his eyes, and looked again, unable to believe what his eyes were telling him at first glance.
There were indeed people climbing out of the crack in the apple, more than the two Keith had seen before. It was a steady stream now, and the security officers were having a hard time trying to corral everyone. But what really caught Gary's attention was the way the people were moving once they had hauled themselves out of the apple. Rather than running around, the way most disruptive fans did, they were shambling.
He peered again through the binoculars and saw this time that not only were the figures shambling, they had vacant looks on their faces and the clothing they wore was ripped and tattered. Really, there was only one word for them.
"Zombies," Gary whispered, not quite believing what he was seeing.
Both Ron and Keith's heads whipped towards him, but before either could say anything, he held up a hand for silence, and hit his cough button again to bring himself back on the air.
"Folks, I've just got word from our director that we're going to send you back to the studio for some updates while the good security people here try to get this mess sorted out. So we'll now send you over to Gary Apple and Bob Ojeda." Gary paused long enough to ensure that they were no longer on the air before turning to his two partners. "Zombies," he said flatly.
"Zombies," Ron agreed. "I told you."
"Zombies? What on earth are you guys talking about?"
"See for yourself." Gary handed Keith the binoculars, who used them to take a closer look at center field.
"Well I'll be. What is this, some kind of movie promo?"
Ron shook his head. "No. Those are real, honest-to-god zombies out there."
As the zombies began spilling down onto the field, causing the Pirates’ outfielders to beat a hasty retreat towards the bullpens in right field, their director said over the headset that they were going to come back from commercial and to keep doing play-by-play of what was happening on the field, no matter how bizarre.
Gary took a deep breath and wondered how he was going to explain what he was seeing. Then the light went on and there was no time to think anymore.
"Welcome back, folks. We've got something of a situation here at CitiField. What we thought were a few fans looking for a quick ticket to the police precinct actually seems to be, well, a full-fledged zombie attack. Yes, that's right. Zombies are attacking the field. It started when the apple in center field cracked open, and there have been a steady stream of them ever since. Where they're coming from, I have no idea, but I promise you, the images on your television screen are accurate."
"Gosh darnit." Gary and Ron turned to Keith, who was looking down at his scorecard mournfully. "I have no idea what color to make a zombie attack."
"Black?" Ron suggested, trying very hard not to laugh.
"But then I wouldn't be able to see what I had written."
Gary stared at Keith for a moment, trying to figure out if he was serious or not. Deciding Keith actually was, Gary reached into a bag beside him and pulled out a tootsie pop. "Here. If there ever was a time for candy, I think this would be it."
"Thanks, Gar," Keith said gratefully, and unwrapped the sweet, now looking much more ready to deal with the world. Gary wondered, not for the first time, how he managed to suck on a candy while on the air, and still be articulate.
"Actually, Gary, there is an obscure part of baseball lore, baseball legend, if you will, that deals with this very topic," Ron said, drawing everyone's attention back to the situation at hand.
"Our esteemed colleague, Ralph Kiner, told me about it maybe ten or so years ago, not long after I started working on various broadcasts," Ron explained, slipping into his professorial-mode. "Now, we're all familiar with the various so-called curses around baseball. The plight of the Chicago Cubs being the most famous one. What people don't realize is that these 'curses' are actually seals, holding back apocalyptic events."
"Sort of like the the seven seals that are broken in the Book of Revelations?" Keith asked, looking interested despite himself.
"Exactly. So when an event does come to pass, it signals the breaking of a seal. These seals are scattered throughout baseball, and they do change over time. Some are broken, others are created. Generally, even when one or two get broken, there are enough others still in place to hold back any catastrophic events."
Ron paused, and Gary picked up the description of what was happening on the field. "As you can see, the zombies are swarming all over the field and most of the players have either retreated to the dugouts or the bullpen. Actually, it looks like the two bullpens have joined forces and are coming out onto the warning track with buckets of balls. They're lining up now, about three rows deep and maybe five players across. What are they doing?"
"It's a Civil War firing line!" Keith said in amazement. "Look, Rickey Bones, the Mets bullpen coach, is giving the order to fire!"
"The first row fires, and ducks down, and the second row throws, and ducks, and then the third row goes."
"Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'chuck and duck'," Ron said.
"It seems to be fairly effective, too," Gary continued. "They're starting to thin out the stream of zombies coming down from the apple." He turned back to Ron. "So can you give us an example of one of these seals breaking?"
"Well, for example, when both the Dodgers and Giants moved to the west coast in the same year, that certainly broke one of the seals. But because there were enough other seals still in place, nothing major happened. Similarly, and this is why Ralph told me about all this, when the Red Sox finally won the world series back in '04, that was a major seal breaking. But again, there were enough others still in place that they could withstand the pressure."
"The bullpen firing squad has now been joined by a number of players, who have armed themselves with bats. They've made a mad dash out to the warning track, and now are guarding several players who are collecting all the balls that have been used. I guess it wouldn't do to run out of ammo."
"So what does this seal breaking stuff have to do with the situation we have now?" Keith asked.
"If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that there were just too many seals broken within proximity to each others, and the New York area just couldn't take the pressure," Ron said thoughtfully. "I mean, this year we've had a Mets no-hitter - that had to be a major seal. And now we've got a knuckleballer having a season for the ages, on track to win twenty games, and maybe even a Cy Young. Then we've got all sorts of pressure on other seals. There have been what? Six no hitters this year, three of which were perfect games? The Nationals secured their first title in something like seventy years? Too much pressure all over. Something was going to give. And then - " Ron hesitated, and glanced to his right.
"And then?" Gary prompted.
"I think - and mind you, this is only a guess based on circumstances - that the final straw came before the game today," Ron said, looking meaningfully at Keith's now-naked upper lip.
"What? You think my - you think my mustache was one of the seals of baseball?" Keith sounded like he wasn't sure if he should be outraged or laughing hysterically.
Gary shrugged. "It is - or was - a baseball icon. You've had it for the past, what? almost forty years? It's no more far-fetched than what's going on out there," he said, gesturing out to the field.
"Well, I have shaved it off before. But I guess never at such an inopportune time. So what am I supposed to do? Grow it back? Sorry, guys, even I can't do that in the next two hours."
"Well," Ron said slowly. "If it really was the final seal, it might still be around."
"You're nuts," Keith said flatly.
"So is the idea of zombies splitting out of the apple in center field, and yet here we are."
"It was shaved off! I brushed the bits off of me! They're scattered to the wind out in the parking lot!"
"It could have reformed," Ron insisted. "If there was enough power in it to be one of the seals holding back a zombie apocalypse, it should have enough power to pull itself back together again after being shaved off."
"There's one way to find out," Gary said, wanting to head off what was sure to be an endless argument. "Oh Ke-e-vin," he sing-songed into the headset. "You following this?"
"That I am," Kevin's voice came back loud and clear. "I'll go see what I can find."
"Well, while Kevin tracks down Keith's errant mustache, let's bring everyone up to date on what's happening on the field. Our bullpen firing squad is currently providing covering fire for some members of the grounds crew, who are making a run for the apple. They're carrying several tarps with them, the kind that are used to cover the mound and home plate areas, so I guess they're going to try to seal off the crack in the apple that way. If it works, that will definitely help the situation. Further down the field, some of the zombies are just wandering aimlessly around the infield, while others seem to be trying to get into the dugouts."
"The players have armed themselves with bats and balls and are defending quite successfully."
"Oh, Ike!" Keith lamented. "He took a huge hack at that zombie, and his fanny went flying out. It's a good thing a zombie is a much bigger target than a baseball, or he never would have made contact. He's got to remember his fundies. What?" he asked when the other two men looked at him incredulously. "Fundamentals are important. You don't want to get into bad habits, when you're in the box, or in the cage, or hitting off a tee, or defending yourself from zombies."
"I suppose that is a fair point," Gary conceded.
Just then, another zombie took a run at the dugout steps, only to be beaten back by several bats. All three men in the booth winced at the ferocity of the counter-attack.
"Reeeeee-jected!" Gary and Ron chorused, and Keith gave them a sour look.
"And speaking of bats," Gary continued, "Dickey is wielding his to great effect. He's currently single handedly defending the entrance to the clubhouse, which is allowing the batboys to keep a steady supply of balls and other projectiles coming up."
"But which bat is he using?" Ron wondered. "Orcrist, Hrunting, or what's his current one? Herugrin? Any of those would be appropriate."
"For those of you at home who haven't heard this story, Dickey has named his bats. That's not a new thing, but most baseball players don't tend to name them after mythological swords. Orcrist was the sword carried by one of the dwarves in The Hobbit, and Herugrin was the King of Rohan's sword in the second part of Lord of the Rings."
"And Hrunting, of course, was Beowulf's sword."
"How do you guys remember this stuff? Especially now?" Keith asked.
"The benefits of an ivy league education," Gary replied, and high-fived Ron, before turning back to the carnage on the field.
"Actually, given the splinters around him," Ron said a few moments later, "I suspect he started with Hrunting, but discarded it and moved to one of the others."
"Hey, guys, look what I found." Kevin's voice came to them, not over the headset, but from the doorway to the booth, and everyone turned. "It was signing autographs in the Rotunda." He held his hand out proudly, and sitting in it was what could only be Keith's mustache, whole and surprisingly animated.
"I - how - wha - but -" Keith spluttered.
Kevin gently placed the mustache down on top of Keith's scorecard. It bristled and skittered away slightly as Keith moved to touch it.
"What?" he asked it. "Look, I'm sorry. It was for charity, okay? We raised a lot of money."
Ron hit his cough button before succumbing to helpless laughter. Gary gave him a sour look, and firmly tamped down on his own desire to laugh and instead kept up a steady description of the on-going argument between Keith and his mustache.
"Look, we did a good thing raising the money, right? You agree with that?" Keith ask, and the mustache rustled. "But now we've got a situation at hand," he continued, gesturing out to the field, "and we think this might put a stop to it. Don't you think that's worth it?"
The mustache paused for a moment, considering, and then scampered over to Keith's outstretched hand.
Gary watched as Keith brought his hand up to his mouth and then the world seemed to grey out for a moment.
Gary shook his head to clear it.
When the roaring in his ears stopped, he found himself saying "3 run home run for David Wright, giving the Mets a 6-3 lead, and RA Dickey a chance for his 20th win!"
He shook his head again, and peered at the field. David was in the middle of his home run trot, and the ball was bouncing around the stands in right-center, safely away from the apple.
Gary glanced at his broadcast partners. Ron was looking as stunned as he felt, but Keith was smiling broadly, commenting on how the walk to the lead-off batter set up the whole inning, like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Gary cleared his throat. "Clint Hurdle is coming out and signaling to the bullpen. He's going to bring the lefty Takahashi in to face Davis, so we'll be back after this pitching change. Don't go away, folks, we've got a good one."
As soon as the "On-Air" light dimmed, indicating that they were in a commercial break, Gary pulled off his headset and rubbed his temples.
"Did we just...?" He trailed off, not even sure how to ask the question.
"Yes," Ron said firmly. "We did."
"No idea. But it definitely happened."
"What are you guys talking about?" Keith asked.
Gary could only stare, for although Keith sounded honestly bewildered, his trademark mustache, still adorning his upper lip, seemed to rustle smugly.
It was too much for Gary. He started to chuckle, which soon gave way to a full out belly-laugh. Ron stared for a moment also, before joining in.
Keith merely shook his head at his partners. "Loony toons," he muttered, and turned back to his notes.