April 20, 2000
Many thanks go to Rachel for beta reading, and LizardChyck for IM story sharing and beta sessions.
Takes place after April is the Cruelest Month
A Better Game
Life was good. The video archivist with the plastic smile who never remembered his name (it was a deliberate thing, he was sure of it; she knew him, she knew who he was) was away from her desk, and he was raiding the old game coverage tapes unseen by her beady blue eyes. And it was quiet down here, which meant no people. And no people was a good thing, because there was nothing like another person to ruin a perfectly good mood.
Of course, life would be even better if he could find the copy of the 97 Baltimore/Cleveland game in which Mike Mussina had pitched a perfect game. An almost perfect game.
"Yeah, Case," he said, not turning around. Now why wasnt the tape with the other 97 games? That would be logical, wouldnt it? He stared at the row of white, peeling labels. Perhaps they were in alphabetical order. That would be logical, too. He started looking for the Bs.
"Dana wants us in the conference room."
"Thats nice, Case," he replied, with the vague air of someone on the steeper edge of annoyance. Someone whose good mood was in danger of being ruined by another person.
"I think she meant now."
Dan turned to him, noticing a smudge of dust on the back of his hand at the same time. He brushed it off. "*Now,* now?"
"Im pretty sure."
"Does Dana know what Im doing right now?"
"I dont think so." Casey paused. "Do I know what youre doing right now?"
"Three words, Casey. Orioles. Mussina. Perfect game." He turned back to the wall of tapes, scanning the next row down.
"Thats four words. And he didnt pitch a perfect game."
"Im thinking conceptually. And thats beside the point. Casey, Im feeling good."
"So you want to watch Mussina blow his perfect game in the ninth?"
Dan stood up straight and looked over his shoulder. "Youre making me feel not so good."
"Good, 'cause Dana wants us in the conference room."
"In fact, I think youre kind of bringing me down."
Casey smiled. "Thats what Im here for. Are you coming?"
Danny thought about it. He had serious doubts about Danas toleration for his current quest. And there was a good chance he could con Dave into finding the tape for him, later.
"Right behind you, big guy."
The lights were hot on his face and life was still pretty damn good, even with the eyes of millions of viewers on him. He liked the idea of all those people out there; it pumped him up, made him want to tug at his tie for effect. But when he thought about it some more, like now, it was hard to imagine anyone out there at all. He just thought of sitting in front of the t.v. in his apartment, checking himself out on the screen and wondering: Is this what I look like when millions of viewers are watching? Well, that and listening to Casey talk. He would never tell him, of course, but he liked to listen to Casey talk.
" and when we come back, well be jiving with the men who put the madness in March, the oop in the alley-oop, the look in the no-look pass. So stick around."
"Back in two," Elliot called.
Dan swiveled his chair to his left and leaned back. "The look in the no-look pass? That doesnt make any sense."
"Some things are beyond sense, my friend."
"Yeah, like the look in the no-look pass."
Casey glanced at him in quick assessment. "Still in a good mood?"
Dan smiled. "The best."
"'Cause if you werent, you could tell me. I wouldnt judge you or anything. It would be decidedly okay with me if you werent in a good mood."
Something was up. Dan put on the serious, listening face he reserved for Casey; it was marred by the fact that he couldnt stop smiling. "I take it youre not in a good mood."
"Laura hasnt called me back yet."
His smile faded. He swiveled his chair back and turned his attention to the script in front of him, shuffling through the papers as if looking for something. There was nothing like looking busy when you didnt particularly want to be talking to someone about something.
"Which one was she?" he asked, because he couldnt really get away with not asking.
"Light brown hair. Kind of ." Casey gestured vaguely in the air just above his shoulder. "Shortish. Not short-short. But not really long." He paused. "She was wearing one of those thingies."
"One of those clip thingies."
"Ah," Dan said wisely.
"So it was hard to tell how long her hair was." Dan wondered about Caseys sudden hair fixation. "But the point is, she hasnt called me back."
"Give her a few days. No one calls back when they say they will."
"No, Danny, men dont call back when they say they will. Women almost always do."
"Are you absolutely sure that she was a woman?"
Casey blinked. "Ive gotta ask you something, Dan, and believe me when I say that Im as surprised as you are. What am I doing wrong, here?"
Dan reflected that the great thing about Casey was that even when he knew he was saying something stupid, that he was laying himself open beautifully for a multitude of abuse, he still kept asking stuff like that. It was a quality that he appreciated.
"You dont feel it, Casey."
Casey stared at him and leaned back, tapping his pen on the edge of his script as if it were directly connected to the thought centers of his brain. Dan wondered if it was some kind of code like Morse and if so, would he one day find himself understanding it? Frightening.
"I dont feel it? What am I supposed to feel?"
"*It* Casey. The thing youre supposed to feel. Women can tell when you dont feel it."
Elliot called from the control room, "Ten seconds."
Casey was on the verge of a reply; something witty in mauve. But then he just raised his left eyebrow at him and turned back to the desk. Danny shuffled his script some more, then looked up because the signal was there and they were on.
"Welcome back," Casey said to the camera. He said it like he really meant it. "First, were going to take you to Bobbi Bernstein, whos standing with the head coach of the University of Florida, Billy Donovan ."
"What do you mean, I dont feel it?"
Dan sighed. Casey was a step or a half-step behind as they navigated the backstage corridor, looking at Dan with a worried expression not particularly well-hidden by his veneer of indifference. Casey never could pull it off---he had the kind of voice that got higher when he was anxious about something and trying not to show it. Higher and a little more nasal.
Hearing that particular tone, Dan was beginning to wish he hadnt said anything in the first place. In fact, he was beyond beginning and right in the middle of wishing.
"I meant what I said," he said.
"But what you said makes no sense."
"Yknow, Case, some things are beyond---"
"Words to live by, Danny, though this could very well be the exception." He was silent for a beat, then: "So what did you mean?"
They reached the office and Dan shrugged out of his suit jacket, tossing it onto the couch with a satisfied flip of his wrist. It was good to be on, but sometimes it was good to be off, too. He was already feeling the signs of a post-show crash, like the hum of caffeine-induced jitters.
"I meant that you date these women, you show them a good time whatever it is kids are doing these days. But youre not really there."
Casey had halted in the middle of the doorway, looking nothing so much like an overgrown boy in his older brothers suit. It was a good look on him, Dan decided, even with that youre killing me, Danny expression on his face. Maybe even more so. "Yeah," Casey said after a pause. "That clears things up wonderfully."
Dan pulled at the knot of his tie and glanced at Casey impatiently. "You date like youve read a freakin manual. If theres a cliché out there, youve done it. But youre not really there. And women can sense that."
"I dont know that you do."
"No, I think I do. And you think this is because of Dana."
"I didnt say that." He hadnt said it, and he hadnt even thought it. "But maybe it is." Maybe it was. Dan looked at Casey more closely, feeling uncertain and a little bugged by the thought. But Casey wasnt looking at him anymore.
"Yeah." Casey drew the word out thoughtfully.
"Can we talk about this later? I, for one, have an Orioles/Indians game to watch." He picked up the tape Dave had left for him on the desk. It was a blow-off, but the show was over, there was nothing else that needed doing, and he wanted to kick back, unwind, and watch Mussinas perfect game. His almost perfect game.
"Im going to go change, then Im gone."
"Okay," Dan said, already leaning over the VCR.
Mussina had the first two Cleveland hitters out in the first when Casey returned.
"Bye, Case," he said back. There was a stretch of silence along with a tickling feeling on the nape of his neck. He glanced over from the t.v., and Casey was still standing there, dressed in his street clothes, looking at him. "You want to watch the game with me?" he asked, because it was the kind of thing they asked each other.
Casey shook his head. "Um, no. Not really. Just wanted to tell you to have a good night."
Dan nodded. He wondered if there something else he was supposed to say. He couldnt think of anything. "Okay, then. You too. See you tomorrow."
"Yeah. See you." Casey pulled the door closed behind him.
Dan turned back to the television. "Come on, Moose," he said softly to the screen as the third batter went down.
He could hear the sounds of Sallys crew outside the door---fragments drifting above the hum of voices and the occasional fax-machine; a shout; a quickly cut-off laugh---but all in all it was only a mild distraction. Hed turned the lights off in the office, so the only thing in his immediate line of vision was the steady, projected glare of the screen. Baseball was a stable kind of sport. All of the action focused on that one stretch of ground between mound and plate, camera veering sharply to trace a small white dot swallowed up by the vaguely-colored horizon of grass and dirt, the patterned shades of the crowd, or the grey haze of the sky. And then it would start all over again. It was the kind of thing that took years of watching to sit through a sport this damn boring and love it.
The Orioles were up three to nothing in the top of the seventh, and Cleveland could barely get it out of the infield. Mussina was looking unearthly up there. He looked like he couldnt quite believe what was going on, himself. His teammates were shunning him whenever they came off the field, because you never fuck with a streak. It was something that danced on the periphery of your vision until you looked straight at it, and then it was gone. Like Lot and the pillar of salt. Or was it his wife?
He hit pause as the players jogged in from the field. He sat for a second in front of the frozen scene; got up and went to the bathroom; and, coming back, grabbed another beer from the small fridge they kept in the office. He sipped it through the next inning and a half---
---until it was the top of the ninth. Camden Yards was a cathedral of sound, fans on their feet as the players trotted back onto the field and Mussina went through his warmup. Tony Fernandez walked up to the plate, and Sandy Alomar was on deck. The crowd fell silent. Mussina got Fernandez on a ground out, and the din returned. Twenty-five outs; no runs, no hits, no walks. Two more outs to go, and Alomar was up.
Dan hit stop and flipped off the t.v. It had been an almost perfect game.
But right now, it was absolutely perfect.
"I think youre wrong, Danny."
He and Casey were sitting in the conference room waiting for the run-down. Mysteriously, no one else was there. Dan was beginning to think it had overtaken mysterious and was nose to nose with conspiratorial when Casey continued,
"I think I feel it, Dan. Ive got a definite feeling here."
"Did whats-her-name call you back?"
"Laura. And yes she did."
"Thats great, Casey. Im really happy for you."
"Im not feeling a lot of happiness from you right now."
Dan looked down at the draft of his script. "Im exuding happiness. Brimming with it, even." He crossed out the second sentence, then crossed-out the cross-out with a squiggled line through the middle. He drew an arrow to it from the margin of the page and started writing the sentence over again. "Are you going out with her again?"
"Must have been a great conversation. Must have been almost as good as this one, even."
"It was a clear conversation. Things were said clearly. Distinctly."
Dan glanced up, rolling the pen lightly between his fingers, poised above the paper. Casey had the look of someone who thinks he has the right to be upset but wasnt quite pulling it off. "Did she call you to tell you to stop calling her?"
"I only called her twice."
"Thats good, Casey, because three times might have made you look pathetic." He began doodling on the margin. The conference room door opened, and Dan looked over quickly. Anyone who interrupted this particular conversation was going to be his new best friend.
It was Jeremy. "Hey there, my friend," Dan called across the table.
"Hey." Jeremy nodded to him, then to Casey. Even after a year and a half here, he still had that peculiar streak of ingrained civility. "Im just passing through. Im not stopping. I just came in here to tell you Ill be late for the noon run-down."
"You came to the run-down to tell us youre going to be late for the run-down?" That was Casey.
"Jeremy, I want to ask you something." Casey again.
Jeremy looked over his shoulder, sighed, and let the door close behind him. "Okay, but I cant stay. I cant even make the run-down meeting on time."
Dan muttered, "Neither can anyone else, apparently."
"Jeremy, do you think I feel it?"
"Do I think you feel it?" Jeremy looked baffled, as well he should. He was also showing polite interest, which was the kiss of death where Casey was concerned.
"Dating. Relationships. Do you think I feel it? 'Cause I gotta tell you, I think Im definitely feeling something."
Dan let out a muffled snort and began drawing a decidedly lopsided spiral on the top right corner of the page. Casey ignored him. Jeremy looked back and forth between them. "I dont think I want to be a part of this conversation." Dans pen stilled and he raised his eyes to watch him go, the door gliding shut behind him.
Score for Jeremy; he didnt think hed had it in him. "Is *anyone* going to show up for this meeting?"
"Im just telling you, Danny, I think youre wrong."
He was going to kill someone. The next person who walked in here was going to be nothing more than fresh bait.
Natalie appeared in the doorway.
"Whoa," Dan said immediately and with some alarm. No way was he taking on Natalie.
"Hi guys. The noon run-down is going to start late."
"Really," said Casey. Dan was glad to see that hed finally realized the crux of the problem.
"Really. Jeremys going to be late, which personally I dont think is a good enough reason to postpone the meeting. But Danas having her hair done."
"Danas having her hair done?" asked Dan, surprised.
"I gave her the number of my stylist." She was very carefully not looking at Casey. "Its going to look great. Flashy and cute."
Dan looked over at Casey. Casey seemed amused. Natalie was smiling brightly. "Back here in a half-hour." She hugged her clipboard to her chest and disappeared.
"Flashy and cute, Case." He made the dot in the middle of his spiral bigger until the ink began to bleed through.
"You think this is about Dana."
"I didnt say that."
Casey smiled at him. "Its not about Dana."
On the whole, Casey was an easy guy to figure out. It was okay; he loved him for it. But it didnt make him any less transparent. There were people in this world for whom that would have been a distinct disadvantage, but Casey wasnt one of them. Life had pretty much found a way to take care of him, and Casey knew how to work that to his benefit.
But something was going on with him, and Dan couldnt figure it out.
The show had gone well. Natalie and Jeremy had kept their sniping at each other to a minimum, and Dana had looked both flashy and cute. It had put her in an unprecedented good mood, even if she did reach up to touch her hair every two minutes. And Casey had been well, Casey had been a little quiet. Thoughtful, even. And Casey was the kind of guy who kept periods of deep, obsessive thinking to an absolute minimum, and only when it was something important.
"Do you want another shot? I think Im going to get another shot."
They were at the bar, it was nearing two a.m., and Dan decided that after two shots and four beers, neither he nor Casey were thinking much of anything at the moment.
"I think my shot-taking days are over," Dan replied.
"Premature retirement, Danny. You look like you need another shot."
Dan shrugged, and Casey went up to the bar looking pleased; he was clearly experiencing the kick-in of a post-show high. Which was very different from a post-show crash, and had the potential to be far more dangerous. Dan watched him flirt with the bartender, who just smiled as she laid out the Jim Beam.
A half-hour later, she was giving them a look that said, Its late, Im tired of pouring drinks for other people, and Ive got a warm, studly man waiting for me at home. Well, Dan added the studly bit. He had no idea if she even had a boyfriend, but there something in the way she was looking at them .
"Theyre kicking us out, Danny." Casey seemed rather peeved.
"Its a sad state of affairs."
"You have beer at home, right?"
Dan did a mental inventory of his refrigerator. Unless his memory was a week old and he had already consumed it, there was definitely beer in the fridge. Casey was still in the middle of his high, probably as compensation for too much deep thinking, and Dan decided that he himself could drink at least a couple more beers before the thought of another one became revolting.
Twenty minutes later, they were exiting the elevator onto his floor. Dan reached out without thought to steady Casey on his feet; he left his hand on the back of his arm to guide him to the door.
"Im not that drunk, Danny," Casey said, as they entered the apartment.
Dan snorted. "Yeah, and neither am I." He crossed the room to the kitchen. Memory had been correct; there was a welcoming, new half-case of beer on the bottom shelf. Casey was sprawled out on the couch when he returned with two opened bottles.
He liked his apartment. It was perhaps a smidge more expensive than he could really afford, but it was a decent size with a decent view. The couch was brown, the obligatory arm chair just a shade lighter. The off-white walls were bare except for a blown-up poster of the cover of Rain Dogs hanging by the window. It was why he rarely brought women back here. They always wanted to know why he didnt have more stuff, and usually looked slightly worried when he tried to explain it to them. Casey understood about stuff. Sometimes there was just too much of it, and it was nice to keep it out of his apartment.
"I meant what I said back there," Casey said as Dan handed him one of the bottles and pushed his legs aside to make room on the couch.
"Back where?" He took a sip of beer. It was more bitter than what they had been drinking at the bar, but in a good way.
"About soccer." Casey had kept up a running commentary with the cab driver about his superior picks for the tournament (he was well on his way to winning the pool) and the immaculate beauty of soccer as a sport. Dan rolled his eyes. "Its a very pure kind of game. And you cant deny that its the worlds most popular sport. Theres gotta be something in that."
"Casey, any game that can end in a tie is not a sport." It was an old debate, but a comfortable one.
"Hockey can end in a tie."
"Yes, but hockey players carry big sticks."
"So if soccer players carried hockey sticks, that would make it a real sport?"
Dan took another sip of beer. It tasted even better than the last one. "No, it would make it a ridiculous sport. Theres no use for hockey sticks in soccer."
"Exactly," Casey said in a very satisfied way, and Dan wondered what point Casey thought he had been making.
They finished their beers and another one after that, though Dan wasnt sure what exactly they talked about. He just liked listening to Caseys voice. It was like slipping into sweats at the end of a long day. Like the buzz in his veins in the locker room after some three on three, when he couldnt even remember who won.
So it took him a minute to realize that Casey was asleep and he had been staring over at the window next to the television for so long his eyes were dry. It was still dark out---as dark as New York ever got, that is---and it was dark in the room as well with only the kitchen light on. It was peaceful. It was different from a good mood; it was the kind of mood that didnt care if it was good or bad, only that it was there and alive. He closed his eyes. He could still hear Caseys voice in his head; it was comforting, lulling.
He woke, suddenly and without awareness that he had been asleep. The light in the kitchen was still on, and the darkness of the room had lightened only a little with a deep, blue glow from the window. He needed to go to the bathroom. He needed a drink of water. It seemed a rather vicious cycle at the moment.
Bladder relieved and glass in hand, he stood in the kitchen and sipped the water astonishing how something his body craved so much could taste so awful. Over the halfwall of the kitchen he could see the shadowed outline of Caseys head sticking out over the sofa arm. There was definitely something up with Casey that he hadnt figured out yet. He prodded the feeling absently, then went over to the couch and sat down on the arm opposite to where Casey lay sprawled, his knees drawn up in an undoubtedly uncomfortable position.
Casey was awake. He looked at Dan, then at the glass of water in his hand. Dan leaned over and gave it to him; Casey tipped it forward in thanks then drank half of it in three swallows. "I have to go to the bathroom," he declared.
Dan laughed. "I know. Thats what makes it vicious."
He took the glass back and held it cupped in his hands. The shadows had pulled the outlines of the room into unrecognizable shapes; he traced them as he listened to the sounds of Casey in the bathroom.
Casey returned and sat down on the edge of the couch, massaging the muscles of his neck. "I should go home."
Dan shrugged. It wasnt like they hadnt crashed at each others places before, and Casey didnt look like he was about to leave. He just sat on the couch, staring across the room with an attention that was likely as blurred and disoriented as Dans own.
"You know, Danny, Ive been thinking."
"I know," Dan said. He said it seriously, and Casey looked up at him with some surprise.
"Right." He fell silent.
"Is this about the rebuilding?" Dan hadnt wanted to bring it up. They had said what theyd said, and it was done. It wasnt going to do them any good to go back and analyze it, or even to talk about it. But it seemed to be where Casey was heading.
"It just seems like a good time. Since were rebuilding and everything."
That was the part Dan couldnt figure out. "A good time for what?"
"Im just saying that there are a lot of options here."
Dan had to laugh. Casey looked to be in the throes of deep confession, and at the same time like someone who had no idea what he was talking about. His eyes were abnormally wide and open, like he was trying to transfer to Dan whatever meaning he was brewing up inside his head without having to put it into words.
Casey didnt laugh back. He started to speak then cut it off in mid-stride, glancing around the room again. "I should go home."
Dan was about to protest, then realized he wasnt sure if he really wanted to know what was going on inside Caseys head. "Okay," he said quietly.
So Casey left. And Dan found himself lying on the bed an hour or so later, staring up at the ceiling. He wasnt sleepy and he wasnt particularly alert; it felt like dead air-time, when you turned on the t.v. and nothing came through but static because there was no signal to give and no one awake to receive it. There was an undercurrent to it all, as if the static wasnt so much mindless noise but the buzzing of a persistent fly veering always out of reach of the swatter.
There was this time, the winter before he and Casey had started working together. He was writing for the Sporting News in Dallas and doing some freelance field-broadcaster work, and Casey was working full time at WFAA on extras and insider interviews for the Sports Special. Theyd known each other casually for a few years---it was hard not to in this business---and met up at the usual functions; Casey with a sour, draping Lisa on his arm, Dan with the girl of the week. It had been a period of superficial but not entirely unpleasant dating in his life.
They were both covering the Southland Conference tournament finals. All of the broadcast reporters were milling at the side of the locker room entrance waiting for the game to end, because Northeast Louisiana was up 75-60 on U.T.-San Antonio with less than two minutes to go. Hed happened to be standing next to Casey. San Antonio had the ball, and Casey leaned over to him and said, "Holdens going to drive it to the basket." And Holden took it to the basket, making it 75-62.
"Nice call," Dan had said somewhat grudgingly. It wasn't a tremendous feat of prediction---anyone who studied the game would know a team's offense well enough to take a decent guess. But Casey had seemed absolutely sure of it.
"Look at his eyes." Casey answered what he hadn't asked. "He knows his team is going to lose, but he's not thinking about that right now. He just needs to have the ball."
At the time, Dan remembered thinking that it was a pretty vapid thing to say---the kind of cliché commentators yapped on about endlessly when there were really no words to express something like that. But then Casey had turned to him, and Dan could see immediately that however inadequate the words, Casey knew what he was talking about. And it wasnt just in the way a sports reporter understands the game.
The ceiling hadnt changed much in the time that hed been staring at it. It was a lighter shade of blue-tinted cream, perhaps. Dan looked at his watch, squinted to make out what time it was. It was pretty much time to get up, just as he was starting to feel the effects of too little sleep and a night of moderate to heavy drinking. Funny how things worked out that way.
"Youre late, Dan," Dana said as he walked into the conference room.
She gave him a look of steel on slate, but that was just Dana. If she were really pissed-off at him, she wouldnt have looked at him at all.
He took a seat next to Casey, who---unlike Dana---wasnt looking at him. He continued to not look at him during the rest of the meeting, which was more than a little worrisome.
Following him back to the office afterward, Dan fought an internal battle. He knew he should say something, had a good idea of what it should be, but couldnt quite get over his disinclination to say it. Abruptly, the stronger and more neurotic side won.
"Were okay, right?"
Casey raised an eyebrow as he sat down behind his desk. Dan was still standing, hovering over his own chair but not sitting down.
"In the Im okay, youre okay sense?"
Dan shook his head. "No, in the were okay sense."
Casey looked thoughtful, and Dan felt suddenly queasy. "Yeah, were okay," he said at last.
"Good," Dan said. But he didnt believe that Casey really meant it. "Because Im feeling a little rocky."
"Too much alcohol, my friend."
"Maybe. But Im still feeling some rockiness here."
Casey looked tired; Dan reflected that hed likely had as little sleep as he himself had, and had certainly had as much to drink. That could account for it. It could. He wasnt one hundred percent confident in that explanation.
"Okay." Dan sat down. Casey still hadnt sounded like hed meant it.
"Im going over the coverage tapes with Jeremy," Casey announced. He stood up and started collecting papers from his desk.
The queasiness returned. "Ill see you later, then."
Casey nodded, smiled vaguely, and left the office.
Dan turned to his desk and stared at the computer screen. He had a script to write. The Final Four was tomorrow, marking what was arguably one of the more exciting moments in college sports. They were showing game clips on the show tonight from previous years, just ripe for writing about sports the way he loved to do it: big moments, nice plays, and young players on the verge of either making it big or disappearing into the vacuum of old highlight reels.
Dull. It was dull, dull, dull. Right now he couldnt remember who won the tournament last year, much less find the inspiration to once again revisit Christian Laettners last minute basket against Kentucky.
He realized, suddenly and with some surprise, that he was angry. He didnt know when it had started---it seemed to have crept over him slowly, until he could no longer even see the screen properly. He was angry because things were pretty good right now. He was in a good place. They were in a good place. Maybe Casey thought they could be in better place, but maybe Casey was wrong. It was quite possible that Casey was wrong.
The outer case of the Mussina tape was still on his desk, resting precariously on top of a stack of papers and miscellaneous junk; hed forgotten to return the tape to the archives. He looked around the office, then stood up to retrieve the remote from the desk.
Someone was sleeping with someone elses husband on One Life to Live. Intriguing, perhaps, but he wasnt really in the mood for it. He hit play, and the screen went momentarily blank before flickering back into life.
Mike Mussina was wiping the sweat off from underneath his cap, and Sandy Alomar was scruffing up the plate, establishing his ground in an age-old, territorial ritual. He looked exactly like someone whose team was on the losing side of a perfect game.
Mussina stared him down, sized him up, and threw the first pitch was high and outside for a ball, but the second one blew right by Alomars hips. It was a one and one count. Mussina took off his cap, swiped the back of his hand across his forehead, and settled it back on. Alomar just kicked the dirt at his feet some more. Mussina threw again---a fastball, high and inside. It was a good pitch.
Alomar got around it and sent it off to left field for a clear hit.
Dan had to give Mussina a lot of credit. He just hung his head a fraction, eyes shaded by the rim of his hat, then raised it to face the next batter. It would have been the thirteenth perfect game in Major League history if not for Sandy Alomar, but Mussina knew how the game was played and the Orioles were still going to win.
He heard a sound behind him, or it might have just been a vibration in the air. He turned away from the screen just as Mussina struck out Brian Giles for the second out of the ninth.
"Hey," said Casey. He was standing in the doorframe of the office.
"Hey," Dan said back. Casey still seemed tired, but at least he was there and looking at him again.
"Mussina didnt blow it, Danny. That was a great pitch. But Alomars a good hitter."
"He had to throw the ball, Danny. And Alomar had to hit it. Thats what makes it a game."
"I know that, too." Casey was looking at him as if wondering if he really did know. But he did. More importantly, he knew what Casey was saying.
He turned back to the screen. The game was over, and the crowd was giving Mussina an even louder ovation as he walked off the field than they had before the perfect game had become something that might have been. He stopped the tape, and someone's husband was still being slept with on 'One Life to Live.' He turned the television off and took out the tape.
"I should get this back to the archives." He turned to the door.
"There are a lot of good hitters out there, Danny," Casey said as Dan passed through the doorway, only a few inches away.
Dan paused and turned his head. He could feel the heat from Caseys body on the skin of his cheek, and there wasnt anywhere else he wanted to be. Maybe Casey wasnt wrong after all.
To hell with perfect games. Mike Mussina might have missed his shot at being the thirteenth pitcher to throw a perfect game, but he did become only the tenth pitcher to have a perfect game blown in the ninth. And maybe he was okay with that---maybe it made for a better game.
"I know," he said quietly.
Casey put his hand on his back as they entered the bar that night, and Dan thought it odd that it didnt feel strange at all. It was the kind of comfortable gesture they made to each other all the time, but it was something else as well. And the something else felt much less strange than he would have expected. Which, when he thought about it some more, didnt seem that odd after all.
"Is Dana meeting us here?" he asked as they found an empty table.
Casey nodded. "And Jeremy. It was a toss-up between him and Natalie, and they seemed to have battled it out. So Natalies working late."
The waitress came by and they placed their orders, Casey making her recite all of the beers on tap even though theyd been coming here for two years. Dan could have told him what was on tap without thinking twice.
"It was a good show tonight," he remarked.
Casey smiled at him. "The best."
"I liked the old game highlights you and Jeremy put together. Very classy."
"We run a classy operation here, Dan, and dont ever let anyone tell you otherwise."
Their beers came, and Dan took a sip of his. Life was good.
"You coming over tomorrow?"
Casey looked at him like he was dancing on the vaguer side of sanity. "Its the Final Four tomorrow. Of course Im coming over."
"Good, 'cause Ive got a good feeling about Wisconsin ."
"What are you, on crack? They couldnt beat Michigan State all year; what makes you think theyre going to do it now?"
It was an old argument with new team names every year. It was the kind of argument that made his blood tingle and his mouth stretch into a grin, because he couldnt believe that some people went through life without someone like this to argue with.
"Now Florida, on the other hand ."
Dan sipped his beer, sat back, and listened to Casey talk.
*Note for sports purists: I had to take some guesses at some of the stats in here. The 1993 Southland conference final had N.E. Louisiana beating U.T.-San Antonio 80-66, so I took an educated guess that 75-60 would be a reasonable score with two minutes to go. Holden isn't the name of a real basketball player for U.T.-San Antonio; I felt odd about using a college basketball player's name, although it didn't stop me from using pro player names. Sandy Alomar did have a hit to left field on a one and one count, but I guessed at the order of the ball and strike, and that the strike was a pure strike and not a foul tip. Just so y'all know.