We were down, 1-0, in the bottom of the ninth. It was late in a bad season and it was hot as dickens, so you couldn’t blame me for nodding off on the bench. Unfortunately, my left foot seemed bent on beating me to falling asleep, and so I uncrossed my legs and shifted my position on the bench. That was when I caught sight of the goose egg on the scoreboard.
I elbowed Hodges right in his ample belly.
He grunted. I’d woken him up.
“Hodges,” I said. “How’d you do today?”
“0-for-3,” he said grumpily. “Why?”
“Me, too,” I said. I leaned forward. “Hey, Dunlap.”
Dunlap stirred. “What?” His blue eyes were wide.
“How’d you do today?”
He thought about it. “Let’s see. Struck out. Grounded out to first. Popped up to short. 0-for-3.”
“Why?” asked Hodges.
I pointed at the goose egg. “Look.”
Hodges squinted at the scoreboard through the dusk. “Huh,” he said. “How about that?”
“What?” asked Dunlap innocently.
I raised my voice. “Jackson!”
Jackson lifted his chin from his chest and looked over at us.
We gestured for him to join us.
Jackson stood up and stretched. He padded over. “What’s on your mind?”
“Any hits today?” asked Hodges.
“No,” said Jackson. “They’ve shut me out today. Why?”
“Check the scoreboard,” I said.
Jackson did. He whistled. “Is that right?”
“Guess so,” I said.
As we watched, Ripling flied out to shallow right.
“What is that?” Jackson asked. “One out?”
“Two,” Hodges said. “One more.”
Jackson cracked a grin. “Never seen one of these before. You?”
Hodges and I shook our heads.
“Seen what?” asked Dunlap.
Griffin stepped up to the plate.
He walked on four pitches.
Hodges spat. “Too much pressure.”
Jackson shrugged. “It’s tough, man. Can’t blame him.”
Dunlap tugged off his cap. “What’s tough?”
Abernathy was the batter.
“Perfect,” said Hodges, anticipation high in his voice.
Jackson laughed. “Look at him. Has no clue.”
“Good kid,” grinned Jackson.
“Just missed it,” said Dunlap.
Hodges shook his head. “Not even close.”
I agreed silently with Dunlap and took a deep breath.
Hodges clapped his hands and leaned forward.
Jackson jumped up and down.
“What is it?” Dunlap asked me. “Tell me what’s going on.”
“Look at the scoreboard,” I said.
“Come on!” shouted Jackson.
“It’s okay.” Hodges shifted nervously. “He wasted that one.”
“Hey,” said Dunlap.
“He’s choking,” said Hodges.
“He’ll be just fine,” Jackson retorted. “He’s facing Abernathy."
Dunlap pointed at the scoreboard and opened his mouth.
“Shut it, Dunlap,” said Hodges.
“Had a good swing at that one,” said Jackson.
“Sure did,” said Hodges.
I put my hand to my heart. It was beating fast.
Dunlap opened his mouth.
“Shut up, Dunlap,” said Jackson.
Jackson jumped up and down. “Come on!”
Hodges took off his cap and wiped at his forehead.
I breathed deeply.
The pitcher looked in for his sign. As he did so, Dunlap spoke up. “I don’t go in for all that superstitious nonsense.”
We stared at him, aghast.
“What? You think nobody in the stadium’s said anything about it? No broadcaster? No fan? No beer vender? No ticket taker? Nobody listening or watching the game and telling their friends about it right now?"
“Shut it,” said Hodges."
“Shut up,” said Jackson.
“I won’t,” Dunlap retorted. “It’s ridiculous to think any of us saying anything could jinx anything going on out there between the white lines. Whatever happens was going to happen, like it or not. You can have your personal nonsense, with your lucky thongs and your necklaces and your licorice sticks and maybe that somehow helps you hit the ball harder or throw the ball faster, but there’s no possible way you could say something, anything, from the dugout and affect the course of the game.”
The rest of the bench seemed to rise up like a grizzly bear roused from hibernation. In one voice, they growled, “Shut up, Dunlap.”
“I won’t,” Dunlap said. “It’s superstition and it’s ridiculous.” And he raised his voice and shouted to the heavens, “They’re one strike away from a no-hitter! A NO-HITTER!”
There was a crack! and all of us snapped our heads from Dunlap to the field just in time to see Abernathy’s fly ball disappear over the center field wall.
Silence choked the dugout.
Then Dunlap cracked a wide smile. “Would you look at that,” he said. “I believe we’ve just won the game.” And off he went, loping out of the dugout to greet an ecstatic Abernathy at home plate.
I cornered him later. “What was all that about?”
Dunlap’s blue eyes opened wide. “Lou,” he said, “I just couldn’t bear to see that two-bit journeyman toss a no-hitter against us. It would’ve been embarrassing.”
“Oh,” I said. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” he said graciously.