I completed my warm-up pitches and Mike whipped the Ball down to second. The Monarch infielders tossed it around the infield with Tony Fado flipping the game ball back to me.
"Good luck, kid," said Tony. "Keep it in the park, we'll snag it," he added.
The Yankee infield was filled out by Randy Moss at Short, Pat Pitts at Second, and Jon Tavy at First. The outfield was Paul Day in Left, Bernie Willis in Center, and Ruben Santos in Right. Santos would have normally be the Designated Hitter, But Red was kind enough to let me hit for my self. He really put himself on the line with that decision.
I looked in for the sign. Mike asked for a fastball and moved slightly to the outside against Ricky Henderson of the A's. I held the glove against the left side of my ribs, and then I moved it out and slid my hand into it to grip the ball. I rocked back a step while my hands and glove went back over my head. I turned my foot sideways against the pitching rubber, forced my upper body toward the plate, and, with a strong push of my muscular right thigh, whipped my right arm toward home plate. The ball sped toward home plate at 96 miles per hour, cutting the outside black, knee high.
"Stee-rike one," yelled the plate umpire. The crowd cheers seemed deafening to me. Fifty-thousand fans were a little different than the three to five-thousand the Meriden club was used to. No mind, I took the throw back from Mike and re-toed the rubber. Ricky Henderson looked down at Stanley.
"He doesn't plan on doing that all afternoon, does he," asked Ricky with a smile on his face. "If he does, it looks like I won't be hitting a first-inning dinger, does it?"
"Hope not," answered Mike, returning the same smile. "That's IS the plan, you know."
"Figured as much," replied Henderson, digging back into home plate.
My next pitch was the same only this time on the inside black. Ricky over-swung trying to catch up to my fastball and swung over the top.
"Strike two," yelled the ump.
The crowd was delirious and rose to their feet, chanting again. "Bill-eee," Bill-eee".
I, again, took the return throw and walked back to the top of the mound. I got the sign from Mike, a slider, and moved to the outside again.
I rocked and fired, starting the pitch knee high, on the outside half of the plate. By the time Henderson began his swing the pitch darted a foot outside with Stanley back-handing it six inches off the ground. Ricky could have only touched it with a seventy inch bat.
"Strike three," was the call.
The crowd was shouting the house down. Mike whipped the ball down to third and started it around the horn. Henderson was leaning against the nub of the bat regaining his balance after lunging for my last pitch. He slowly walked back to the A's dugout tapping the barrel-end of his bat, mumbling to himself.
The next two batters grounded out to short and second. I was hoping to not have to face mark McGwire in the first inning. That would come in the second with no one on. That was the best way to face him with the year he was having.
The crowd was chanting again as the Monarchs ran in from the field. It changed to mostly applause as I crossed the first base line and moved into the dugout. Jack Meyers was the first to great me.
"Great job, Billy," said Jack with a big grin on his face.
"Thanks, Jack," I said, sitting down to put my jacket on my arm and reaching for a towel to wipe down my forehead.
To open the Monarch first, Pitts walked and Moss singled softly to left. Fado tried to advance both runners, but his bunt down the third base line was so perfect no one could make a play.
Ron Darling, the A's pitcher was clearly in a jam. Jon Tavy strolled to the place with the crowd going nuts. This was an even match up. Darling knew nothing about Tavy, and Jon knew nothing about Darling. This was just going to be good, old fashioned hardball. Tony LaRussa, the A's Manager sent Dave Duncan, their pitching coach out to mound for a talk. It lasted less than thirty seconds.
Tavy got into the left-side batter's box and began smoothing out the dirt. It was mostly a nervous habit, since Fado, Santos and I were the only other left-handed hitters and we didn't dig in that much.
Darling was ready and got the sign from catcher Steinbach. He rocked and fired a waist high fact ball toward the plate. Tavy cocked, opened his hips and pulled threw a powerful, level swing. The ball touched his bat so briefly and was launched high into the right field air. Darling turned, bent over at the waist, put his hands on his knees and looked into the ground.
The crowd became silent with anticipation and erupted as the ball landed into the upper deck. The Stadium erupted! Tavy rounded the bases emotionless, not trying to hot-dog at all. He crossed home plate with hardly any emotion showing on his face. He was greeted with high-fives from his batted-in teammates. Monarchs four, A's nothing. This truly was a storybook beginning. Tavy came down the steps and was first greeted by Red. It was bedlum!
"Man, am I a great manager, or what," said Red beaming ear to ear while slapping Tavy on the shoulder?
"Guess so, skip," said Jon with a big grin on his face. "Smart enough to bring the three of us with you." They both started laughing. If wasn't always going to be like this. You had to really enjoy these moments went the came.
The score remained the same through five innings. I only gave up two scratch singles in the third and fourth innings. One was to Ricky Henderson, who also stole second, but was left stranded.
My pitch count was at seventy-eight and so Red told me only one more inning, so he sent Jack Meyers out to get warmed up.
I got through the sixth inning except for Mark McGwire. I put a perfect fastball on the outside black; knee high that McGwire just flicked into the fifth row in the right field stands. Mike walked out to the mound with a new ball.
"Bill, don't worry about it," said Mike. "That was a good pitch, and hitters like Mark, well, sometimes a good pitch is still not good enough. Forget about it and let’s get this last guy and get out of here. You have pitched one heck of a game. Stay focused."
I nodded and retook my place at the rubber, twirling the ball inside my glove. I sent a wicked dropping curveball toward the plate that was weakly tapped toward short. Velarde threw the runner out by six steps. I had done my job for today. The crowd roared with approval and admiration. My performance was more that anyone had a right to expect. The only problem was they didn't know this was norm and how it was to be and how hard I worked to make it look so easy.
The Monarch were about to be turned around. The town and the fans just needed to be ready. The rest of the year was going to be exciting.
Jack Meyers breezed through the seventh and eighth innings with an assortment off-speed breaking pitches that were in sharp contrast to what I had showed then for six innings. Jack has a ninety mile an hour fastball, too, but he kept throwing what was working.
The Monarch closer came in and mopped up the ninth with his wicked split-finger pitch. Three strike outs to close the game had the Yankee fans beside themselves with excitement. Maybe what George had done was just what was needed. One game was not a turn around, but it would be hard for the press to be critical of anything that happened today.
After the game the first thing Red did was to call Gus and tell him the news. He just had to talk to his closest friend.
"Hey, Gus, did you watch the game," asked Red?
"About ten of the players came down to the park and we watched the game here," beamed Gus. "Billy was something to watch, wasn't he," added Gus.
"He was just vintage Billy," replied Red. "And Tavy, man did that set the tone of the game in a hurry. I think I am most happy for him, if that's possible. The last couple of years for him have not been pleasant. I hope this is a big turning point in his life, for him and Chris."
"Me too," said Gus. "Jack did well, too," added Gus. "That would be something if both we and you win our pennants. That would be unbelievable."
"Who knows," said Red. "Take one game at a time. Have your replacement players shown up yet?"
"Ya, they have," said Gus. "George was true to his word. He also threw in this young, black, string-bean of a pitcher from California. He looks like a strong wind would blow him into Rhode Island. He throws ninety-plus, though. Kid's got the longest fingers I ever saw and throws a wicked fork-ball. We should be all right, after all. Buck is a good guy. Feel sorry for him. What was going on in New York was not all his fault. Taken it like a man, though. Players seem to like him."
"That's great," said Red. "Listen I got to go. Another press conference takes place. This is going to take some getting use to. In Madison the paper could have cared less about us. Here they seem to be crawling around in every one of your pockets. Take care Gus, keep in touch."
"Good luck, Red," stated Gus. "Talk to you soon."
Both men hung up. They both had their jobs to do. Gus had a night game to get ready for and some new lockers to prepare. Red had to become Mr. Diplomacy for the Monarchs. Only today was going to be easy.