[This is an answer to the question: "What if, instead of Tom McCarthy, Cormac McCarthy called Phillies games?" Specifically, what if Cormac called the top of the 9th Monday night?]
See the Man. He is lean and taught, he dons stripes and stitched cap. He stands athwart second and turns to center. Surrounding him the stands of light clear the deformed triangle from the city encroaching out of the void. Starless night pallattes the yard but only those who look beyond the artificial horizon can see the artificial abyss within whose auspices the ball may soar and the glove may pop. As the inning begins, the outfielders spread across the field. They look to one another silently and the Man watches them settle into the sod. Behind him now the diamond staves.
We will retake the East, Sandberg had said. The Man nodded. He tosses the ball to Jake and strolls back between second and first. From his right Rollins caws frivolity smiling. The Man nods and pumps his fist twice into his glove.
The team possesses a slim margin over their rival Braves who tarry from box to dugout. The Braves wait on their opportunity when the ball will be released, unstrung, and hung before home. They expect the ball prone to strike. And Jake hopes to cage them strikeless, to vanish the ball behind them, to send them home hapless.
From the dugout herd emerges the first Brave armored with helmet and bat. He strides the line away from the circle, bits of dust drag from his heels, as if he recalls the savagery that birthed the game. Within the confines of the foul lines he wears a batting helmet and carries a bat for hitting balls but evokes what dwells ever outside the foul lines. The helmet suggests a conquistador’s crown smithed to deflect arrows and lances both native and divine, the bat a defanged mace lathed smooth and branded not to prevent the maverick searing and absconding with rangy owned steers but to announce the contracted bond between craftsman and warrior, and the uniform tunic a hide indigo-soaked to mask the uneven knife strokes that separated sinew from flesh so that the Brave can reembody it and tattooed with a nickelodeon memento of an international war that when settled ensconced an interurban game. In an era when electric lights did not glower at the night, the Braves might have charged on horseback, swayed with the trodden beat, and confounded the patetic Phillies with spumes of yieldless dust. Tonight they advance apace.
Oh my god, says Jake.
The blood beneath his scalp warms. As the sweat turns to steam the points of his hair curl dull and the cap puffs around his head. The first pitch slips through his fingers. When the ball returns his left shoulder slackens. The onslaught begins. Like a line of shielded infantry the Braves observe the rattling droves of balls slung at them eager to strike only when the darts subsided. As the Braves advance, the Man, foreseeing fallen Phillies strewn over the field braying, tries to cut down the lead Brave at second. He is late. He looks at Jake and nods but sees in Jake’s caged eyes the blood bubbling in his tinged irises. The Man returns to second. He knows what will be. Jake scratches his inflamed scalp and slings more balls. The team is now surrounded by Braves, one at every base. The shrinking horizon has descended from the stand of lights down to the diamond where Braves stamp arms akimbo anticipating the decisive strike. A bile meridian encloses the killing floor. Jake struggles and summons a wild surge. As the Braves strangle the Phillies, he flails fastballs for a final defense insufficient. He throws one last pitch. He slides it high seams spun obscuring the ball’s porcelain hide so that it appears to be bleeding and calling the batter to strike. The Brave batter vanishes the ball behind the outfield wall, and they trot home. They pump their arms and flap their feet and the slim margin has been inverted. The bases cleared, the horizon expands. Jake removes his cap and looks up. His boiling blood stretches his scalp to the brink of popping as if each step of the Braves runners had pulled harder and harder against the mat of blood, hair, skin, and sweat, stanched only by the floating dust bestirred. The Phillies stood amidst the slaughter like witnesses to an unrisen martyr and everywhere the watchers groaned.
The Man spits. He stands between first and second. He nods at Jake and turns his mind back to baseball. In him broods a taste for striking balls.