Tale of the Toppled Hurler: A Peter Hartwell Story
by Bruce A. Kauffman
c 2017 All rights reserved.
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Readers will recall that intrepid journalist Peter Hartwell was en route to a watery grave when Russell, the Fat Man’s partner, shows up, a girl in tow. The Fat Man, concerned about the presence of a witness, puts the brakes on the operation. Russell retrieves Hartwell from the back seat of an Infiniti, which is teetering on the muddy bank of the Charles River and about to fall in. Russell deposits him in the Mustang he had stolen from Hartwell. The girl gets tossed in, too. “That bastard,” she says.
We could hear the fat man and Russell hissing at each other, but it was hard to make out the exact words. It was clear they were agitated, especially so our rotund ubermeister. I was hoping for enough of a stage whisper from them to confirm my suspicions; that is, the fat man was jealous because Russell was towing along the woman, and Russell felt the same way because of McSweeney.
She pressed her nose against the window, fogging it up, and she dabbed at her eyes.
Russell was shouting at the fat man to calm down. I thought that if Russell became more agitated, he’d open the car door, lean in, fire a cartridge or two into me and say to the fat man, “There, are you happy now?”
Me, I would die wondering why I was the guy who got shot when it was the fat man he was angry with.
The woman continued staring out the window, reporting back that the fat man had pirouetted and stomped toward the boathouse. Russell yelled, “And where are you going?”
“He’ll get his,” she said of Russell.
She told me that they’d met for the first time that very night. He sat down next to her at the bar of the Dugout Cafe and bought her a drink. Now, ten or so hours later, she hated him. “He’s already manhandled me, and he hardly even knows me,” she said.
Anyway, she went on, he’d waved two tickets for the game in front of her and asked if she’d like to join him. “He was polite then,” she said. “Besides, I had a few drinks in me. Never mind that it’s a Sox game…and the Yankees are in town. Did you hear any of it?”
“The game, silly.” she said.
“The fat guy wouldn’t even punch out a score for me on his fancy radio,” I said. “Just to be mean.”
“Sorry,” she said. “You would not believe what you missed.”
She proceeded to fill me in: There’d been an extended rain delay early on and when things picked back up in the bottom of the fourth, it was already well past 10 p.m., with the score tied at three-three. An inning later, it started raining hard again. The Red Sox were threatening, with two men on base and only one out. It started puddling around the plate and, before you knew it, the grounds crew flew out onto the field and laid down the tarp.
Wouldn’t you know how in New England you can wait a figurative minute if you don’t like the weather? Indeed, a half-hour after it burst, the storm cloud lifted and the skies cleared and the fifth inning resumed, with Red Sox second baseman Kevin Brennan, brother of catcher Beannie Brennan, in the batter’s box. There were runners on first and third, and only one out.
Too bad for us, though, Marie said, because Kevin grounded sharply to short and sparked a very nifty double play, if she would be permitted to say so herself, exquisitely executed by the New York Yankees. “That Derek Jeter,” she said, as if all her troubles would be over if only he was sidelined.
On and on it went, until the seventeenth inning.
“It had to be coming up on 1 in the morning,” she said. “So by now, they’re running out of arms and in went this kid, a southpaw, not long up from Triple AAA Pawtucket, a knuckleballer.
“Some pinch hitter gets up off the bench for New York. Our newbie tosses one down the middle – it looked like a grapefruit, for Pete’s sake — letter high, and up it goes, lofted, and just barely clears the wall. The crowd is sucking air into their lungs to pull the ball back into play. Shades of Bucky fuckin’ Dent.”
She was talking about the afternoon of October 2, 1978, when the Yankees met the Red Sox at Fenway to decide who can go on to play in the World Series. It was a one-game playoff. In the top of the seventh inning, with the Red Sox ahead by two runs, Bucky Dent, the Yankee shortstop, stood in. There were two runners on base.
Dent popped a pitch high up into the swirling breezes. At first, it looked like a routine pop-up to deep short. The crowd, just like tonight, undertook a deep, collective inhale in an effort to suck the ball back and keep it inside the park. Instead, it advanced and rose, bouncing around in the crazy currents, looking like it was about to land in left field, or even be caught there, as it dropped downward.
But then it would rise on an updraft, stay aloft by some freak act of nature, and barely clear the left-field wall, the Green Monster. In my recollection, the ball just perched there on the shelf at the top. It was a home run and the end to the Sox’s bid for the championship that year.
But we digress.
“So of course we couldn’t put together anything in our half of the inning,” my companion said. “After all that, hours and hours, we lose by one goddamn run. I’m Marie, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Peter.”
I told her how the fat man had dialed Russell’s cell over and over again, leaving message after message, and never heard back a thing. This went on for hours.
She said Russell let all calls go to voice mail because the game was on, but he couldn’t figure out how to shut off the ringer, which played an E-minor chord incessantly.
At one point, the home plate umpire shot both arms into the air, yelled time out and pointed toward our section near the foul line in right field. Someone in plain clothes arrived immediately to demand that Russell surrender the phone or leave the park. He gave up the cell.
“Did he happen to be wearing a nice belted trench coat?” I said.
“In fact, yes,” she said.
I recalled how a similarly-clad man had shown up and dropped a cell phone in the fat man’s lap. “They’re onto them,” I said. “It won’t be long now.”
The door opened and Russell grabbed both of us. He led us onto the muddy bank and, with the front fender about chest high to me, we pushed the Infiniti forward and up. The fat man rammed it in and out of reverse until the tires found traction and the car conquered the slope, held the edge, and bounced backward onto the grass.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” the fat man said.
Bruce Kauffman was a longtime North County Times editor and writer with emphasis on business and sports. He now operates a writing consultancy and authors creative works. This is is from his latest effort, a work in progress, exclusively at The Grapevine. For more visit Oceanside Scribe.