“We’ll get those no-good Texas Rangers tomorrow. Goodnight, Coach,” Crawford said, walking down the hotel hallway.
“Goodnight, JP,” Servais said, stepping into his hotel room.
He stayed in the entryway, listening with his ear to the door for the sound of the final door on the floor close. And once he heard it, he slipped out, quietly, walking out the front doors of the hotel, walking west, away from the city and far into the Texan desert.
He walked, and walked, and walked, until his feet were blistered, rubbing against his age-appropriate New Balance trainers. He kept walking, as his hamstrings cramped, and thirst captured his throat.
He walked until he no longer could, dropping to his knees as the barrel cactus bore silent witness to his pilgrimage. He began to crawl slowly forward in the darkness, mindless, until he found that he could no longer crawl, either, collapsing under the stars – alone.
Using all of his energy, he sat back up onto his heels, breathing heavily. He felt his forearms and shoulders cramping as he retrieved the impossibly-heavy, impossibly black knife from his pocket. He hesitated, only slightly, before picking his finger, letting a single drop of blood fall to the desert floor.
The spin rate of the blood must have been satisfactory, for in the void before him swirled a storm of pure energy, a dark, crackling smoke, slowly forming into a shadowy humanoid form. Scott gulped, and looked around him to notice that the desert, the cacti, the stars – all were gone, replaced only with a deep charcoal infinitude.
The energy seethed before him. “Back so soon, Scotty?” the form cooed.
Scott stayed silent, grinding his teeth. God, he hated the sound of that voice.
“After last time, you said I would never, ever see you again. Does it hurt to be wrong?” Scott kept his jaw clenched, refusing to be gooded.
“What, you thought you didn’t need me anymore this season? You thought that you had done enough this off-season to win a championship?” the void purred at him.
“You know damn well I don’t set the budget,” Scott snapped, finally breaking his silence. “You know why I’m here. I want to make a deal.”
“Such a brave man, to think he can make demands of the god of Chaos,” the darkness murmured.
Scott hated what he was about to say.
“Please. We’re in a hole…please.”
“Okay.” Scott whipped his head up, suspicious.
“It’s that easy? What’s the price?”
“Oh, but of course it’s not. You set the price last season – this season, I will. Goodbye, Scott.”
Scott stuck his hand out, started to shout, to bargain, but instead fell down, down, down, until he woke up in his hotel room, back in Arlington. He was exhausted. He hoped he hadn’t made a mistake.
For about three hours, the game went about as uneventfully as could be, while Scott cursed himself for believing in such a fickle god.
Things weren’t all bad. George Kirby looked rather good on the mound. The rookie, making his sixth start, delivered a solid, if unexciting performance, the third straight quality start from the rotation. He had delivered six strong innings, giving up just five hits and, as usual, no walks. The fastball looked lively, even if it was missing a bit up in the zone, and he was placing the slider well, even if it got ripped for the only two runs he gave up, two big solo home runs by Adolis García and Marcus Semien .
Scott thought back to the Lookout Landing piece he read the evening before, where Zach Mason wrote that a quality start is, really, all about giving your team a chance to win.
And, dagnabbit, Kirby did that, Scott thought to himself, apologizing to himself for his language.
Eugenio had continued to slay the Rangers, too. After a strong series, he continued to try to single-handedly pull the Mariners above water, with a massive home run to straight-away center field.
He even threw in an RBI-single one inning later, sending a joyful Julio home from second base. This run was as much Julio as it was Eugenio – Julio stealing second made it possible, and Eugenio, taking up the mantle as the 3B Tormentor of Texas from Kyle Seager, delivered.
Scott wasn’t one to complain about runs, but he had made a deal with a god with a specific skillset, and there was nothing chaotic whatsoever about this game, with three solo home runs and an RBI single.
Scott wryly wished he had prayed to a different god, as he watched Texas get favored over and over and over again in the strike zone – he wondered where Woodward had been last night.
He practically resigned himself to a night of rage-scrolling Twitter on his burner account, @ServaisStan420, as he watched his bullpen let the game slowly slip away on a sleepy Texas afternoon. Hey, at least he could look forward to retweeting the umpire scorecard tomorrow. Muñoz gave up yet another solo home run to surrender the lead in the seventh, continuing to disappoint with his command. Throwing the fastball more wasn’t working out for him quite yet, apparently.
There had been a spark in the top of the eighth inning – Dylan Moore (above average hitter?) had delivered a double down the line that bounced off an umpire’s shin, so that was something, at least. Servais began to lean forward, holding his breath, wondering what would happen next – would some chaos slip into this game? Maybe Adam Frazier would give a ball the ole’ Baltimore Chop, and Heim would trip on his feet after fielding the ball? Or maybe a bird would somehow fly away with Brett Martin’s hat, disrupting his focus, and he’d give up a home run?
Nope. Just ground out. Scott sat back dejectedly, and watched helplessly as Romo, in all of his bearded, awkward glory, gave up a two-run home run. That would do it, then, he thought, as the game went into the ninth inning.
Except that, for pretty much the first time all day, the game got exciting. Ty France, in the midst of what qualifies as a slump for Ty, launched a home run that just cleared the wall the other way to make it 5-3.
It would have been the game-tying run but for the two-run shot off Romo half an inning earlier, but Scott didn’t think like that. He stood up a little taller. His team could do this without dark forces interfering, he prayed, unsure who he was praying to anymore.
They proved him right. Julio punched the hardest-hit ball of the night, a 110 mph single. JP followed that up with the third-softest hit of the night to move Julio to third base. Scott felt his heart race as the hottest man in Texas, Eugenio Suaréz, came to the plate. His mind was racing. Was Geno due for some regression, or was he the hot hand?
The latter, it turns out.
Scott watched as Julio and JP howled with joy, the kid and the captain rounding the bases to close the gap. He joined them from the dugout, grinning ear-to-ear, delighted by his team and, most of all, that the darkness wouldn’t win today. Nothing about this inning was cheap – even JP’s soft single had a .640 xBA.
They couldn’t clinch it there, but Scott wasn’t surprised when Diego shut things down in the ninth – his last six outings had been phenomenal, and today was no different. Seven whiffs (in just fourteen pitches) later, and the Mariners were off to extra innings.
Toro jogs out to second base, the Manfred Man incarnates. Scott remembered all the mean texts he sent to Rob about this rule (from his burner phone). He regretted none of them.
Dylan Moore, who was having his best game of the year – in a couple years, really – did his job, moving Toro to third on a grounder.
Frazier came to the plate, quickly worked a 3-0 count, and stepped out to adjust his gloves. Scott was fine with a walk. He would take it.
Scott turned to his left to say something to Manny, and saw nothing. He turned back to the field, and saw, again, nothing – the same unbounded ink-blot world.
He felt cold wrapping around his back, and a whisper in his ear.
“You’re in my domain, Scotty. Extra innings belong to me, and me only. Who do you think had Rob adopted the ghost runner?” Scott felt bile rise in his throat.
“Anyway, a deal’s a deal.” the voice began to fade away. “Don’t forget, you needed me today, and you’ll need me again…”
Scott came to as ball four glanced off Heim’s glove, all the way to the backstop. Toro was running at top speed, but it didn’t matter – there would be no throw. “Chaos ball is back,” Mariners Twitter rejoiced.
Scott felt a rush of adrenaline as they took the lead, the means momentarily forgotten. He signaled to Pete to have the bullpen make sure Sewald was ready to come in to earn the save. They didn’t get any more runs, but that was okay – they had one of the best in the business coming in.
“Let’s just hang on, now,” Manny said to Scott on his way back in from the field, slapping him on the shoulder.
Scott had a feeling that it wouldn’t be a problem – he felt a cold chill run through his veins. He grimaced, praying that the price wouldn’t be too steep this year.