The Gading Green Sox and Mudville (not *the* Mudville) Musketeers were nearing the end. "The Sox are running out of outs," said the Gading play-by-play man, which didn't sound as stupid as it looks.
In a must-win game, Gading had made up most of their early 8-0 deficit — the score was something like 16-14 in the middle of the 7th, and if the Green Sox couldn't complete their comeback on the scoreboard, Marty Martinson was working on Plan B: dusting vampires in the Mudville lineup until Mudville forfeited for inability to put nine players on the field.
The commissioner of baseball was appointed by the owners to clean up baseball in the wake of one gambling scandal after another. The owners thought the hanging judge would command respect — they didn't suspect he was commanding the vampires.
In the bottom of the 7th, Marty smoked another vampire. Scotch picked the ball out of the dirt, and flung it to third to start that infielders' ritual following a putout where they weren't involved.
As the ball moved around the horn, the home plate umpire said to Scotch: "How do guys do that?".
"That disappearing number with the hitter. Alakazam! and then he's gone!"
"You promise you won't tell nobody."
"You have my solemn oath, Scotch."
"I'll have your solemn oath the next time Lardass Studier comes down the line aiming for my face."
"I believe that's Lubosh Stoodeeay, Scotch. It's Czech and French."
"You just Luboshed your last chance to hear about our magic trick."
Another pitcher from the Mudville bullpen was summoned from the bullpen as a pinchrunner for the dusted vampire. The two remaining Mudville pitchers walked out with him on their way to the dugout. "Screw this. They's all alone over there. We's all alone out here. We're gonna go sit in the dugout."
When the commissioner of baseball saw the Mudville bullpen vacated, he understood The Slayer's scheme.
"No! This is an affrontery!" the comissioner hissed. "Rule 4.17 must not come into effect!" With a swirl of his cape, the commissioner hastened from the Mudville owner's box to the owner's office, and started making phone calls. Three of the owners voted to suspend the game in progress, and allow Mudville to refill its roster — for the good of baseball! A majority of the owners rejected the motion with words like "have your assistant call my assistant first thing in the morning" and "go sit on the barrel end of a bat".
When the commissioner returned to his seat, he was so hot with rage that his demon aspect glowed on his face and hands. Then Red, Greenville's slugger, launch a two-run homer into the center field bleachers. The Green Sox had come all the way back from 8-0 in the first to tie the game 16-16 in the ninth. The Greenvile dugout was jubilant; on the home team's bench, four men observed silently. One of them coughed up and spit a great wad of tobacco slime and vampire lung.
A member of Mudville's upper upper class saw the commissioner's demon face flicker. "Mr. Commissioner, I had no idea you were such a Mudville booster."
The commissioner of baseball reached out like a flash and slashed the man's throat. He gurgled and fell. The commissioner snapped his demon head around to look for witnesses of this gratuitous scene of violence, but the others in the luxury box were slumped in disappointment, watching Red join the party at home plate.
The Green Sox couldn't score again in the 9th, but ran out to the field the bottom with renewed zest. Marty tugged his cap securely on his head — it would be his eighth inning of relief, while his longest previous appearance was two innings pitched and five vampires dusted.
"Marty, we have a whole crew of rested pitchers," said Barks the watcher.
"My arm never felt better, Skipper."
"Then be careful 'bout putting any runners on base."
Marty blinked at Barks' implication that they were temporarily out of the slayer business. The watcher was suddenly more concerned with plunking batters than with slaying vampires. "Skipper, you're trying to win this game on the field, aren't you?"
"Rule 4.17 was always the fallback plan, Marty. We ain't gonna help them by giving them a baserunner in the bottom of the 9th."
The game went into extra innings and more extra innings. Before the top of the 21st inning, the scoreboard keeper removed all the numbers from the board to make another set of 10. From the 21st through the 30th innings, Gading couldn't build a run. Mudville had six pitchers in the field, four of which had never played those positions before. Their composite batting average was .087 — the Mudville lineup was like those Marty faced in high school.
When the 36th inning was complete, the game was nine hours old. In the top of the 37th: a Green Sox hitter doubled, then moved to third on a slow grounder to second. The pitcher on the mound for Mudville was in his 20th inning of relief, but as a starter, he had occasionally worked two ends of a doubleheader. The Mudville manager called for two intentional walks to set up a force play at every base.
"Howzabout I just blast a couple of *their* guys?!" the pitcher shouted at no one in particular, evoking scattered laughs.
The Mudville pitcher made the intentional walks. Waiting on deck was Gading's #8 hitter, the good-field, no-hit shortstop, Alvarez.
In the third base coaching box, Barks turned to the bench coach in the dugout. "Who've we got to pinch-hit for Alvarez?"
"Feldman could bring home that run, Skipper."
"Would Feldman also have to play short in the bottom of the inning?" Barks asked rhetorically.
Barks and the bench coach clapped and whistled encouragement at Alvarez. "Be a hitter now, Alvarez!" "Adios, pelota!" Barks flashed through a set of signs to the batter and the baserunners. The encoded message was: "Don't do anything stupid."
Alvarez tapped the far edge of home plate, and as the Mudville pitcher started his motion, the veteran shortshop shifted his weight forward then back, ready to step forward again into his swing. Alvarez guessed first ball fastball to the middle of the zone, and smacked a fly deep to center.
The Mudville centerfielder started back to the fence. A knowledgeable fan who'd been in his seats for more than 10 hours thought "he's got one home run in his life, and he's going to hit a grand slam *now*?".
The flyball seemed to get caught in the breeze, but it would be deep enough to score the run from third.
In the on-deck circle, Gading's #9 hitter — Marty Martinson — spoke firmly enough to be heard above the crowd: "Skipper, hold the runner."
Barks didn't take his eyes off the fly. "Come on, come on, get out of here … What?! Marty, have you gone daft?"
"Skipper, look beyond the right field fence," Marty said, urgently.
Barks got the idea. Then the watcher had a split-second to think that if Mudville went on to win this marathon, his baseball career would be over.
Standing on the warning track at the deepest point in center field, the Musketeer made the putout. With his back to the fence, he couldn't gather momentum before the catch. He had to gather himself after the catch, then run a few steps to get behind his throw.
At third base, Lancelot Banks held his arms straight up in the "stop" position, holding his runner at third base. The relay throw would've been late by 20 feet. The Green Sox runner would've scored easily to take the lead in the top of the 36th. The hundreds of diehards who remained hooted and jeered at the Gading manager's insane decision.
With two out, the Sox needed a base hit from their pitcher Martinson to score. Marty didn't take the bat off his shoulder, and struck out in five pitches.
The Mudville fans were cheering as joyfully as they could muster after a dozen hours at the ballpark. They knew they would be luckier than those losers from the Mudville in literature!
Marty returned his useless bat to the rack, and doffed his glove for the bottom of the 36th.
"You've got to hold them now, son," Barks said.
The first Musketeer to bat grounded to Red, unassisted. The Muskie was hitting 1-for-17 for the game, and he'd left nine runners on base — the crowd was so sparse that he could hear their individual curses while he dragged his feet back to the dugout.
The second hitter had taken a hard fastball to the ribs many, many innings before. He didn't implode, but for his next 15 at-bats, he was jumpy and trepidatious in the batter's box. In the 36th, he let himself be fooled by Marty's curve, and he tapped out weakly to short.
The third Mudville man worked the count favorably to 3-1, and pulled Marty's next pitch hard down the third base line. The liner fell fair, and rolled toward the corner. The left fielder's pickup plus the relay throw to third didn't have a chance. It was a triple for Mudville — the winning run stood on third base with one out!
Barks called time. He and Scotch met Marty at the mound. "Hit the next two men, Marty."
"If they don't go to dust…" Marty began. Scotch chimed in. "If they don't go to dust, then the bases will be loaded, and you'll have to get some motherfucker out, kid."
Nothing more was to be said. A few hundred fans roared like the thousands who saw the first pitch. Barks returned to the Gading dugout, Scotch settled back behind the plate. Scotch didn't bother to hide his signal from the runner at third — he called for the duster.
From the stretch, Marty reared back and fired. His delivery was a fraction of an inch faulty. The fastball sailed behind the batter — a wild pitch!
Scotch sprung out of his crouch in an instant. He ripped the mask from his face to make it easier to spot the ball while it skipped to the backstop.
The Mudville third base coach judged to send the runner home. He windmilled his arm, and the runner broke for home.
Marty did not have time to complete his thought "oh no". He sprinted off the mound to make the play at the plate.
The boosters were going crazy. Both dugouts were on their feet, watching the runner dash for the plate. He was halfway down the line, and the Gading catcher was still chasing the loose ball!
A sliver of dawn broke over the right field fence. The runner from third hit a shaft of light, and imploded into a puff of smoke. The vampires remaining in the Mudville dugout fled for cover. A couple of vampire fans disappeared from the stands. So did a hot dog vendor.
When order was restored, the umpiring crew saw a handful of Musketeers, and did a quick head count. There were fewer than nine.