The rain had not come. It would, soon enough, and now González watched as Nieves took back his kingdom in right field. Govea, the best remaining outfield arm for Rincón, graciously moved to center for his elder, and everyone present was promptly treated to the spectacle of a forty-year-old man, on knees that had suffered more than their share of abuse, chasing down a hard-hit flyball down the fair line and catching it with a single hand.
When Nieves next came up to bat, Govea was on as the winning run. This time, rather than simply straighten the bat, he practiced his swing, pointing it directly at first base, and González could have sworn he was looking directly at his teammate, whose lead had become a bit preposterous.
Nothing changed, and Nieves stood in the box as normal. Two pitches later, Espártaco Chagoya, who had never been anyone’s idea of a good cutdown man, made Rincón pay for the mistake in communication by throwing Govea out at second. More than the regulation nine would be required.
By this point, both sides had become teams of Theseus, replacing players each inning until most of the original eighteen were watching from the third benches. The rain, apparently enthralled with the game, was still holding off, though its clouds burgeoned, heavy and gray.
Nieves remained at bat in the tenth, and when that straight swing of his found a Ramos curveball that had begun falling far too early, he would have likely put the winner aboard for Rincón—had he not, like the man he replaced, hit the ball straight at the opposing shortstop.
Before he took the plate again, he was twice called upon to garrison his corner, and twice he rose with habitual brilliance to the occasion. In the eleventh, he sprinted forward at full tilt from his midfield spot to face a blazing line drive, securing it in the right hand he casually stretched out at the last moment, to end the inning; in the twelfth, with Barceloneta’s putative winning run at third on two errors, he had all the time in the world to find the ball against the clouds, determine its path, and stroll leisurely to its terminus. It landed, rubbed soft with mud, in his cupped hands, and Barceloneta had wasted an inning.
Nieves would be second in the next half, and with a man on second and no outs, there was only one play any manager in 1882 would call.
He rolled the bunt out to Ramos, who threw him out by a mile—and then danced his way out of trouble, engineering a failed squeeze that stopped the run from scoring. Báez, ever placid and unflappable, simply shook his head.
An exhausted Guerrero, after a hundred and fifty pitches, gave up a single to open the thirteenth inning, erased the runner on the very next pitch, and signaled to the benches that he couldn’t go on. They would have to win the game or finally, at long last, pull an arm from the second bench.
It happened in nine pitches, the first of which Mario Rodríguez dropped just past the second baseman for an infield single. Ramos fought Flavio Juárez to a two-strike count—and then lost him to a gap liner that moved Rodríguez, the winning run, just ninety feet away without an out.
A long fly ball; a fire-drill grounder; almost anything other than a popout would likely bring the run home, and González prepared himself to call it, even as Juárez stole second without a throw.
This story was not rare in the 1880s. Domingo Godoy, whose gifted hitting had not completely succeed in disguising his considerable deficiencies as a third baseman, saw Ciriaco Triana‘s ground ball spurt to his left.
Godoy knew, as he readied himself for the scoop, that it would hop into the outfield if he did not properly secure it. He knew, as he placed his hand to await the ball, that he could throw home and prevent the run, though it would likely be too late for a double play.
He knew, as the ball bounced and rolled under his curled fingers, that he’d once again forgotten to put the rest of his body in its path, and as it bounced onto the outfield grass, looked up to see Rodríguez—his opposite number, to add insult to injury—tap the plate with his leading foot.
González waved his hands three times. It was over.
As the sides met at the pitcher’s mound to shake hands, González saw Nieves tarry, talking to one of his fellow elders. It would be Tito Feijóo‘s next-to-last season in the Liga Nacional Puertorriqueña, in a career that had taken him from unheralded fourteenth-round pick, to the most error-prone shortstop in Liga Hostos, to second-bench warm body, to a surprisingly competent right fielder.
For him, this game had been a microcosm of his career: he had entered it in the tenth as the former, and left it two innings later as the latter.
Though Nieves talked warmly with some of the others, there was something different between men who knew that the sport they had played for so long was, at long last, exacting an irrevocable cost from their bodies. Feijóo’s gait, never graceful, now halted every few midsteps; Nieves held his left shoulder stiff, like he did at the plate, but now there was none of the energy that coiled the muscles when they held a bat.
González had been so engrossed that he had failed to realize the two men were walking towards him, or that the brim of his own hat was wet. At long last, the clouds were releasing their treasure.
“Señor González,” Nieves said when they reached him, “Tito tells me it is your birthday, and you do not have a place to stay in town. Why not come with us? We can surely find you a bed, and there will be good food and rum. Tomorrow we can leave you in Arecibo on our way to Guánica.”
González smiled at Nieves, stuffed the scorecard in his pocket, and went to pack. For the first time all day, he felt as if his burdens had lessened.