BY ALAN WAHNEFRIED
Copyright is held by the author.
ANYTHING CAN happen in a baseball game, like what happened to our team. We had a problem with our pitching. None of our starting pitchers were available. That never happens, but it did.
Our starting pitchers were friends. On the road, the pitchers roomed together and usually shared a rental car. Today, on the way to the stadium, some yahoo T-boned them. Two guys were admitted to the hospital with possible concussions. The other two managed the police, the rental car company, and the wives. As a result, we had to play with no starting pitchers.
Our manager, “Slinky” Slininski, told the team about the pitching situation before the game. The shock was huge. Slinky announced our middle reliever, John Glucke, would start. John didn’t have time to get mentally ready to pitch.
The game started after a moment of silence for our pitchers. We batted first. We went out in order. Glucke took the mound, and the pounding began. By the end of the first, we were down 5-0. Glucke just didn’t have it. Slinky had another middle reliever, Jose Ortez, warm up for the second inning.
I’m an outfielder and wasn’t in the lineup. I walked over to Slinky.
“Skipper, this game is weird and probably hopeless. If the game gets too far out of hand, remember I pitched in college. If you don’t want to destroy the pitching staff’s confidence, I’m willing to pitch,” I told him.
Slinky gave me a fisheye. “Thanks, Underwood. I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Slinky replied.
It came to that real quick. By the bottom of the third, we were on our third pitcher and were down 12-2. Slinky sent me to the bullpen to warm up. He called the bullpen coach with instructions for me to warm up and report if I was hitting the plate.
I warmed up. Thank goodness for muscle memory. I had reasonable accuracy. In college, I had a fastball and a curve. I found I had a changeup and a curveball. I might get away with something.
In the bottom of the fourth, I was the new pitcher. Both dugouts were surprised. I conferred with our catcher, Bill Friehand.
“What have you got?” Bill asked.
“A change up and a curve,” I replied.
“Let’s see what we can do,” Bill said without much enthusiasm.
Bill called a great inning. The other guys believed I had a fastball and were surprised by my changeup. I got out of the inning without further damage. I doubted my success would last.
It didn’t. In the fifth, the other team started waiting on my changeup and teeing off. They drove the score to 14-5. I did something desperate. My daughter pitches for her softball team. I had worked with her and had thrown some underhand. When the next batter stepped into the box, I threw underhand. The home dugout erupted. Both managers charged toward the plate screaming.
“That pitch was illegal!” Joe Bronti, the home team’s manager, shouted. “He should be ejected.”
The umpires checked the rulebook. Baseball’s rules don’t require pitchers to throw overhand. I kept cranking my windmill. I got out of the inning with two quick strikeouts.
Friehand came up to me.
“Your daughter pitches softball?” he asked
“You guessed it,” I answered.
“Mine too. I have caught for her, thank goodness. I was having a hard time seeing the ball. The point of release is different. The batters are going to have big problems.”
Our guys were surprised by the underhand pitching. They relaxed. Our guys started hitting and having fun. The score was 16-9. Going into the bottom of the sixth. I kept throwing underhand. I tried another stupid idea. I started mixing up my motion. Some pitches were thrown overhand others were underhand. Bill came to the mound.
“Have you lost your mind?” Bill asked in exasperation.
“Maybe. If we’re going to have a chance, I have to keep them off-balance,” I replied.
“You’re keeping me off balance, and I am on your side! I’ll do the best I can,’ he said with a smile.
For the rest of the game, no one knew if the next pitch would be underhand or overhand until I came out of my stretch. The guys in the dugout started calling me “Underhanded”. The nickname stuck.
I pitched the rest of the game. Slinky was not going to waste a real pitcher on this game. My ERA was under two. In a movie of the week, I would have a hall of fame career as a pitcher. That didn’t happen. My ERA was low, but nine runs were scored off me. No one got solid wood on the underhand throws resulting in hard-to-handle grounders or weird dribblers. In the last four innings, we had six errors. The guys were throwing off balance or couldn’t handle bad hops. That I walked six. Uncorking a wild pitch didn’t help. We ended up losing 24-17. I know it looks like a football score.
I was on every sports show that night. Excerpts of the game are on multiple highlight and blooper reels.
I spent my big-league career warming the bench for multiple teams. I still get introduced as Underhanded Underwood. I know I’m a trivia answer, not a member of the Hall of Fame. At least I should be remembered for doing something cool.
Alan Wahnefried lives in suburban Detroit with his charming and understanding wife. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan. After a career in IT, he is either an experienced programmer or an old hacker. His stories have appeared in As You Were: The Military Review, Vol. 16, Round Table Literary Journal, Aphelion Magazine, Sci-Fi Shorts, State of Matter, 101words.org, commuterlit.com, halfhourtokill.com, CafeLit.uk.co., and SuperFastStories.com.