Author: kgregs PM
Leah Zimmerman loves baseball. She loves the Washington Nationals. She's in love with their starting second baseman. But life - and a certain hotshot rookie - are throwing her a curveball. Danny Espinosa/OC/Bryce Harper. Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Michael Morse, Gio Gonzalez.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 6 - Words: 23,024 - Reviews: 32 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 12-05-12 - Published: 09-11-12 - id: 8517619
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Here's to hoping the Nats clinch the division today!
The NL East was locked in a dead heat.
After the first game of their three-game series had been rained out the Nationals and Braves had taken one each. The Nats' record now stood at 30-22, enough to keep them mathematically atop the division with a .577 winning percentage. But with both the Marlins and the Mets with a record of 31-23 and standing a mere three thousandths of a point behind there was a virtual three-way tie for the number one spot. If that wasn't enough, the last-place Phillies were only three and a half games behind the Nats. In the entire MLB only the American League East could be argued to be a tighter division.
But despite that his team was still on top, all Ryan could think about was how poorly he was still hitting.
"Do you like the lighter blue or the darker blue?"
He broke out of his TV-induced daze and glanced absentmindedly at Heather. "What?"
She turned her iPad screen toward him. "I think I want to wear blue shoes for the wedding, but I can't decide which shade."
He smirked. "If you buy either of those you'll probably find a pair you like better in a few months."
"But what if it turns out I like these and then I can't get them in a few months?"
"Then you can blame me."
Heather met his grin with a frown. She set the iPad on the nightstand and suddenly turned serious.
"Ryan, what's wrong."
As soon as the words left her mouth Ryan's head fell back in exhaustion. He really didn't want to talk about this or anything, really. He just wanted to watch TV and pass out.
"You know what's wrong, Heather."
"You're right, I do. But you haven't talked to me about any of it. I know you like to work these things through on your own, but you really haven't been yourself lately. Just talk to me. It's what I'm here for."
She was absolutely right, and that made him feel even worse. He had been withdrawn and cranky for weeks now, but he really didn't want to burden her with everything he was dealing with – she had enough on her own plate. "I don't want to worry you with all my crap, babe. You've been dealing with stuff too… like shopping for shoes."
All she had to do was give him that look and he knew he wasn't getting any sleep until he started talking. So he started talking.
"I've been absolutely terrible since getting off the DL. Did you see what happened tonight? Two rookies got up and hit back-to-back homers in their very first at-bats, and then what did I do right after them? I grounded out, and I didn't get on base all night, just like I've done every single other night. It's embarrassing and it feels like shit, and honestly I'm still trying to work through this crap with my shoulder."
Heather's lips turned down further. She hated seeing Ryan so upset, and she had to admit she had never seen him in such a slump before. But she had to stay positive for him; it was her job. "Everyone has their ups and downs; you'll bounce back. But if your shoulder still hurts you should really go see the trainers."
"It doesn't hurt," he countered. "It just, I don't know, isn't working right. But I am meeting with them before Tuesday's game to work on it."
"Just don't think about it too much," she said. "I feel like I've lost you inside your own head these last few weeks."
"Speaking of trainers," Ryan went on, "I haven't talked to my sister in over a week."
"She's been just as busy as you."
"Have you talked to her?"
This time it was Ryan giving Heather the look.
"Well," she started, "honestly, Ryan, she hasn't been talking to you because you don't want to talk to her about the things that are weighing most on her mind right now."
"What should be weighing most on her mind right now is that certifying exam she says she's taking," he stubbornly returned. It didn't impress Heather.
"Ry, she has her father to tell her that. Be her brother."
"I am being her brother!" he argued. "I'm doing my best to try to look out for her, but she's too bullheaded to listen!"
"No she's not," Heather objected. "She doesn't listen to you because you talk at her, not with her. You try to tell her what to do rather than give her advice. There's a difference, babe. I wouldn't listen to you, either."
He smirked. "You never listen to me, anyway." Heather ignored the comment.
"Just be her friend. You two were a lot closer when you weren't trying to regulate her personal life. She's 21. Let her do what she wants."
Again, Ryan knew she was right. But he wanted the best for Leah – and even though he loved Danny like a brother, he just didn't know if he was it. "I just want her to be happy."
"Well, Leah cares about Danny; more than I think you realize."
That was something Ryan definitely didn't want to think about. Was Leah even old enough or experienced enough to truly understand those kinds of feelings? It seemed like a moronic thing to wonder, but she still felt so young and innocent to him. It seemed like only yesterday she had been a pigtailed little five-year-old cheering on her big brother at little league.
But she wasn't five-years-old anymore. She was a 21-year-old adult, and Ryan just couldn't try to shepherd her any longer.
Leah had every intention of soaking in a hot bubble bath the second she got through the door. It had been a long, long weekend.
To make up for the rain-out on Friday the P-Nats had played a double header against the Lynchburg Hillcats on Saturday, followed by the final game that night. It had been exhausting, but the boys had swept the series with an 8-0 shutout in the finale. Leah wished Morse had been there just so she could rub it in his face.
But the real motivation for a long, hot soak was the impending arrival of the morning. Tomorrow she was heading up to Frederick, Maryland with the team for the next four days, so she wanted to take full advantage of the minimal luxury of her own bathroom while she had the chance.
As soon as she opened the door, though, those plans completely changed.
For a second she thought her exhaustion was giving her hallucinations. Cupcakes and candles sat on her coffee table, a bottle of red wine… and Danny with a very sheepish look on his face.
Truthfully, she was regretting giving him a key.
"What are you doing here?"
That seemed to be the reaction he was expecting. "Trying to get out of the dog house."
She pursed her lips at him. Danny had apologized several times since their fight, but Leah hadn't exactly accepted any of them. He still hadn't said the thing she most wanted to hear.
But those cupcakes looked like red velvet, so she'd be willing to give him another chance tonight.
"I'm listening," she said. This had better be good.
He took a tentative step toward her. Truthfully, he looked the most nervous she had ever seen him – and somehow seeing that nervousness was a comfort.
"I've thought a lot about what happened the other night, and the one thing I haven't been able to get out of my head is the last thing you said to me. You told me to let you know when I figured out what it was that I wanted. Well, this is me letting you know."
Leah shifted her weight; now she was the nervous one. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, she still worried he was seconds away from breaking her heart.
"If you've ever doubted my intentions, I'm sorry. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I really haven't treated you fairly in all this. This whole time I've been doing what I thought was best without really considering how you felt about it or how it affected you; and the other night I saw how much that's been hurting you.
"That's the last thing I want, Leah. I don't ever want to hurt you, and I definitely don't want to make this relationship any harder than it already has been on you. That's why I was worried about making things official, and my schedule, and the distance during the offseason; and honestly, I'm still worried about it. I don't want to feel like an absentee boyfriend or make you think I don't care, because that's not the case at all. I care about you a lot more than I've shown, and I don't want to lose you."
Leah suddenly realized just how close he was to her now. Her heart was pounding, and she could smell his wonderful cologne.
"So," gently he pulled her closer, "if you'll still have me, nothing would make me happier than if we made this official."
Any intention of playing hard to get was thrown out the window with the bubble bath. Leah couldn't keep the ecstatic smile from breaking out over her lips.
"Is that a yes?" he grinned.
"Yes," she nodded, and she kissed him.
It was the top of the 12th inning. The Nationals and Mets were tied at five runs – and the game had become an absolute battle of wills.
The Nats had been in the lead until the top of the eighth inning when all hell broke loose. The Mets had gotten one on second with one out and Craig Stammen, the Nats' fourth pitcher of the night, had been put on the mound to face Mets outfielder Scott Hairston in a righty-righty match up to hopefully keep the runner at bay.
But the strategy backfired. Hairston walked, and right afterward Mets outfielder Andres Torres hit an RBI double to bring both runners home and give his team a 4-3 lead.
At least, they had had the lead until Ian Desmond hit an RBI single to drive Ryan home the very same inning – and from that point forward the game had continued on in exactly that fashion. The Mets would score one, and right afterward Ian – no one else – would answer with an RBI hit to tie it up.
Win or lose, there was no doubting who the Nats MVP was tonight.
But they really didn't plan on losing.
Ross Detwiler, the Nats' eighth pitcher now, was on the mound. Hairston, the perennial thorn in the side, was at bat with a full count and no outs. Detwiler threw an 80 mph slider…
And Hairston hit it out of the park. The score now stood at 6-5 Mets. Apparently they didn't plan on losing, either.
"Fuck!" Gio proclaimed from the dugout. From next to him Stras shook his head.
"Looks like Desi's gotta do it again."
It only got worse after the homer: Torres walked and then managed to steal second. All of Nationals Park was on the edge of its seat – whoever won this would be on top of the NL East, and as clutch as the Nats had been playing the Mets would be at a huge advantage if they could get ahead by two.
Third baseman David Wright grounded out to Danny, but Torres advanced to third. Detwiler still had two outs to get, and another Mets run was all too too close for comfort.
Mets pitcher Elvin Ramirez was up next, and it turned out to be a blessing. He struck out after four pitches. Just one more out now…
And Detwiler got it after just three pitches with a groundout by second baseman Daniel Murphy. The Nats offense was up once again – and once again they would have to at least match the Mets.
Morse was due up first. "Just get on base," Ian said to him before he went out. "You got this."
Morse nodded; he had this. He had to have this.
He took a few deep breaths as he stepped up to the plate. Ramirez was still pitching; he had retired three of the last four batters he had faced. Morse readied his stance and held out his bat. He had this. It was time to make something happen.
The first pitch was a four-seam fastball. Morse didn't swing – he could tell it wasn't over the plate. Ball one.
The second pitch was another fastball. Ball two. It made Morse antsy; balls were better than strikes, but neither was better than a hit.
The next pitch came and he swung away. The bat connected – but the ball fouled off. Strike one.
Morse shuffled his feet in the dirt as he took a second. So far all Ramirez had shown him were fastballs. If he could get a hold of one he knew he could get on base.
He repositioned himself, as did Ramirez. The third pitch was yet another fastball, and yet another ball. One more ball and he would walk, but one more foul or strike and the count would be full. Morse was all too aware of how crucial the next pitch was.
His eyes trained in on Ramirez like an animal's would its kill. He wound up, cocked back his arm and fired. Morse swung – and when the barrel hit the ball it was driven hard down the line to right field. It was good enough for a double.
"Still got it," he breathed to himself once he had arrived safely on second base. He had done the bare minimum of what he needed to: get in scoring position. Now he only hoped Ian could work some more of his magic and bring him home.
The fans were raucous as Ian stepped up to the plate; they had more than enough faith that he would tie it up for a third time, and even from all the way on second base Morse could see just how determined he was. After all, Ramirez was pitching nothing but fastballs – Ian's favorite. He was definitely looking for a hit.
But the first pitch was a ball. If there was one thing working in the Nats' favor it was that the Mets were tiring and becoming sloppier as the game went on. They weren't as used to playing extra innings as the Nats were: they had only done it twice this season, whereas the Nats had already done it seven times.
Morse inched further and further off base; Ramirez wasn't paying any attention to him. He threw the pitch, and as soon as Ian's bat connected and Morse saw that the ball was fair he took off as fast as he could.
The ball skidded out to Vinny Rottino in left field; Ian made it to second; and Morse made it home. The score was, for the third time that night, all tied up. Ian had done it again.
"Holy shit, man!" Ryan exclaimed as he gave Morse a high five on his way through the dugout. "Desi ate his Wheaties this morning!"
"He's locked in," Morse agreed. "Now we just need to get him home."
Danny was up next. He got a piece of the very first pitch – but it popped up and was caught by Rottino for the first out.
"Fuck," Ryan muttered. Danny hadn't been their last hope for a good hit, but he was damn well near it. The catcher, Jesus Flores, was next – and while his batting average was decent at .271, they wouldn't be receiving much support from Detwiler after him if they needed it.
"It's okay," Morse assured him. "I can feel it. Ramirez is losing it."
Sure enough, as soon as the words left his mouth Ramirez pitched a ball so wild that Josh Thole couldn't catch it. Ian stole third without batting an eye.
"See! And here comes the coach."
The Mets pitching coach and the entire infield converged on the mound in an effort to calm down their pitcher. All of Nationals Park was in an uproar – they could taste a win for the home team and they wanted to get on with the game, already.
Eventually the coach returned to the dugout and the players returned to their positions; but when Thole didn't squat back down behind home plate it became apparent that the decision had been made to intentionally walk Flores.
"It's okay," Morse said again. For some reason he felt the need to talk through everything, as if it would somehow alleviate the suspense. "Even if Det strikes out we still have a chance to get Desi home. And even if we don't, we're still in the game."
But as it turned out they didn't need to worry about Detwiler striking out; Ramirez just couldn't handle the pressure. He threw one ball, and then another – and when the second one hit the dirt Flores stole second.
"Shit we've got to get it this time," Ryan commented. "He's practically gift-wrapping the win for us."
He almost ate his words when the next two pitches were strikes. The dugout fell quiet.
Pitch five: ball. The count was full. Pitch six…
Another ball. Detwiler walked and the bases were loaded with one out. The stands erupted with cheers and the Nats dugout was all smiles, if not a bit stressed.
"C'mon, Nady," Morse urged as Xavier Nady took his place in the batter's box. For the first time that inning Ramirez pitched something other than a four-seam fastball: he threw a slider, and it went in the dirt.
"Three more and he'll walk us home," Ryan stated.
But Nady fouled off the next pitch, and the one after that was a called strike. If he wanted to stay in the game he had two options: hope Ramirez threw some more bad pitches, or get a hit.
Pitch four was another ball in the dirt. Pitch five was off the plate. Once again the count was full.
Pitch six was good, and Nady's bat got a hold of it. He hit a ground ball straight to Mets first baseman Ike Davis, but rather than tag out Nady he threw to Thole to get Ian out at home. The bases were still loaded, the score was still 6-6, and the Nats had two outs.
And Bryce Harper was the next batter.
Nationals Park was on fire – they knew The Kid was a game-changer, and they were ready to see what he could do.
But all the excitement made him overeager: he swung away and missed the first pitch. Strike one. The stands quieted, but not by much.
He stepped back from the plate to reset. The absolute last thing he wanted to do in this situation was strike out. He wanted a hit. He wanted to win. As he always did he looked to the end of his bat, took a deep breath, touched the top and bottom of the plate and squared up.
Ramirez took his sweet time; he didn't want screw up, either. He trained in on his catcher and fired. It was over the plate, and Harper didn't swing. Strike two.
The electricity in the atmosphere was likely to implode the stadium. One more strike stood between the Nats and a 13th inning.
Ramirez wound up. He fired a four-seam fastball, but Bryce saw it in slow motion. He swung, and with a crack his barrel connected.
It was a line drive to left field and everyone knew that was the game. Rottino found the ball, but by the time he did Flores was already two-thirds of the way home; he scored with plenty of time.
The Nationals dugout rushed the field. A 19-year-old rookie had just hit a two-out bases-loaded RBI single in the bottom of the 12th to give his team a 7-6 win and secure their number one spot in the NL East.
Ryan was the first to reach Bryce. "Fuck yeah, Kid!" That was all he could get out before the rest of the team stampeded in and nearly bowled them over with excitement.
It was good to be on top.
Spirits were riding high in the Nats clubhouse, but after playing 12 innings, giving dozens of post-game interviews and showering off gallons of Gatorade they were all more than eager to get home to a good night's sleep. Tomorrow was another day and another game.
Bryce glanced around the locker room as he packed the last of his things; it was almost emptied out. All that remained were himself, Ryan, Ian and Danny. He raised a curious brow at the latter two – they were on the other end of the room talking in hushed voices – but he didn't have any time to think on it when Ryan came over with a wide grin on his face.
"See what happens when you relax?"
Bryce smirked to himself. Ever since their conversation on the way back from Miami he and Ryan had been like two peas in a pod – he had always looked up to him as a mentor, but in recent weeks had also become one of his closer friends on the team.
"Yeah, yeah. You did good tonight too, man."
Ryan rolled his eyes. "I did better, yeah. I'm still working on it, but I figured something out with my shoulder today. It's a work in progress."
Bryce opened his mouth in response – but once again his attention was drawn to Ian and Danny. They were headed their way, and Ian was giving him a peculiar look.
"Come on," he mouthed as he passed; but Bryce didn't understand what the problem was.
"Hey, Zim, can I talk to you for minute?"
That cleared things right up. Ian glanced to Bryce again and nudged his head toward the door. They really needed to go.
"I'll see you guys tomorrow," Bryce said, and he followed Ian out the door.
All the lightheartedness that had filled the atmosphere was replaced with nothing but tangible tension. Ryan knew that, whatever it was Danny wanted to talk about, it had to do with Leah. He could tell just by the look on his face.
Danny looked down to his feet; he was clearly uncomfortable. "Have you talked to Leah recently?"
Ryan shook his head – that seemed like a strange thing for him to ask. "No, I haven't actually. Why, have you not either?"
"No, I have. I just didn't know if she had already told you."
That immediately worried him. "Told me what?"
Again, Danny couldn't look him in the eye. It made Ryan even more concerned about whatever it was he was about to say; but finally he spit it out.
"Okay, Ryan, look. I know you haven't approved of my relationship with Leah pretty much from the start. But I care a lot about her, whether you believe it or not, and I wanted to let you know that the other night I asked her to be my girlfriend. I want to be with her, and I really don't want this to be a cause of tension between us anymore."
Ryan didn't know what surprised him more: the fact that Danny and his sister were finally an official item or how forthright he was being in telling him the news. It took him more than just a few seconds to process it all.
But he really didn't have much to say on the matter.
"Alright," he nodded as he shouldered his gear bag. "I appreciate that you told me, and as long as Leah's happy I'll keep my nose out of it. But I swear to God if you hurt my little sister…" he let the threat die in the air, and with that final ominous word he left the clubhouse.
Danny let out a breath as he turned his eyes to the ceiling. Well, at least he hadn't objected to it.