“Cliff Lee touched home plate, looked toward the visitor’s bullpen 360 feet away, brushed his right hand with his left hand like a bank teller counting cash and smiled.
It was not a home run celebration. It was a message to Kyle Kendrick, who was sitting in the bullpen, to pay up.”
Kyle knew it as soon as the ball sailed off the bat. Cliff had done it again.
“Woohoo!” David Herndon exclaimed. ”This is great! Pitchers hitting home runs!”
Mick Billimeyer took his traditional celebratory swig from the flask he had duct taped to the bottom of his folding chair. ”Siddown, Herndon. Nobody paid to see you.”
Herndon obeyed, while pouting. ”But what if I go into the game?”
The 20 minutes of hoarse, hysterical laughter from the bullpen coach seemed to indicate that he believed this was not possible tonight. ”You see the way Cliff’s pitching out there? Looks like he made a deal with the devil. And the deal is that Cliff Lee never gets to be nothing but awesome at baseball, the end.”
“Why do you hate us long relievers?!” Herndon shouted back. The outburst was rare, but not totally unexpected.
Mick stood up. ”Because seeing you freaks in a game means something’s gone horribly wrong. You’re like starters nobody trusts enough to start. Now, fight each other for an inning and half for my amusement!”
Herndon sighed and broke a bat in half, leaving a jagged, splintered weapon in his hand. He turned haphhazardly to Kyle, his traditional forced sparring partner. But Kyle was sitting with his head in his hands, white as a sheet. The crowd’s raucous applause from Cliff Lee’s home run had just died down, leaving a joyful calm that was everywhere but the bullpen.
“Come on, Kyle, Mick’s watching,” Herndon whispered. ”I don’t want to get brained by a folding chair again.”
“What’s the point?” Kyle asked. ”Cliff’s gonna get me anyway.”
“Cliff? Cliff Lee?” Herndon asked, taking a step closer but leery of Mick’s lingering stare. ”What are you talking about?”
“I’m in too deep!” Kyle shouted. ”I don’t know what happened. We were talking about hitting, and then pitchers hitting, and the next thing I know I’m wagering this season’s paycheck that I could hit more home runs than him.”
Herndon’s eyebrows arched inquisitively. ”Why… why in the hell would you do that?”
“I though it would impress him! But now he’s making me honor it, and I’ve been moved back to the bullpen, and it’s never going to happen!”
Herndon briefly considered why Kyle would think he could win such a wager even if he was batting multiple times every day, but the young pitcher appeared far too upset to be questioned on the logistics of his dumb plan.
“Look, he can’t possibly think that you’ll–”
“Did you see him?! He signaled to me when he crossed home plate! All I can do is hope the TV cameras aren’t around when he starts back-handing me in the locker room!”
Herndon sighed. It was hard enough getting appearances on this team, let alone solving the gambling problems of the inexperienced. He put a comforting hand on Kyle’s shoulder.
“Don’t worry, buddy. We’ll think of something.”
Kyle looked up, desperate. ”Really?”
“Of course. We long relievers have to stick toge–”
He was cut off by the folding chair that collided with his skull and sent him very quickly to the ground. Mick nodded conclusively at his toss, then answered the ringing phone.
“Hello?!” Mick yelled into the line. ”Damn it Oswalt, I need this line clear!!”
Slamming it down, he stared at Michael Stutes until he surrendered his seat to him.
“When I say fight for my amusement,” Mick reminded Kyle as he got comfortable. ”I mean it.”