Chapter 8 - Part 3: The Enemy is Yourself
It was the top of the fifth, and the first pitch was thrown at Kino.
The catcher had signed for a low ball. It was a good plan, after all, to let Kino, Inuyama, and Shizu pass with intentional bases on balls.
And Totsugawa was intent on following that plan. But his focus failed him, and the ball flew straight for the center. It was an awful pitch.
Without a hint of pity, Kino swung nonchalantly.
The verdict was clear the moment she struck the ball—or, from Totsugawa’s perspective, the moment the ball was hit.
Even Sara and Elias cried out as the ball flew into the distance.
Inuyama, who had been waiting his turn from next to home plate, chuckled.
“She hit it.”
Shizu and Chako-sensei commented cooly, drinking tea out of their thermoses.
The ball rocketed into the sky like a firework.
“Wow, it’s an out-of-the-pork home run!” Hermes cried.
“…You mean, ‘out of the park’?” Kino wondered as she ran.
“Yeah. That.” Hermes replied, and went quiet.
After a very long flight through the air, the ball crossed far over a white line drawn on the grounds, which indicated a home run boundary, and landed. And it rolled away somewhere where no one was around to pick it up.
It was a splendid solo home run by Kino.
“Don’t forget to step on every base, or you’re going to be out.”
As Hermes instructed, Kino carefully ran the course and returned to home plate.
“That was incredible.” Inuyama said, welcoming her back.
“Yeah. Thanks!” Kino, who usually gave him the cold shoulder, replied cheerily.
After all, it was a cause for celebration.
Take Action Now Club 1, Baseball team 0.
With his hands over his knees, Totsugawa hung his head.
The home run was his fault. He could not blame the fielders.
“It’s all right, man!” “It’s just one run!” “We’ll just make it up later!” “Cheer up!”
The teammates behind him cheered warmly.
But in spite of the vibrations on his eardrums, his brain registered nothing.
The catcher quickly called for a time-out and jogged over to the mound.
He reminded Totsugawa that all they had to do was send Inuyama and Shizu with bases on balls—he had to calm down.
“Don’t talk like that, man. Be positive—it’s just one run. We’ll catch up.”
“The crazy coach isn’t even around. You gotta relax.”
As the catcher returned to his position, Totsugawa kicked at the mound with all his might. His face was set.
“Totsugawa-senpai…” Yuri whispered, concerned.
“It’s almost time… but not yet.” Chako-sensei muttered to herself.
Sara and Elias tilted their heads adorably.
The game resumed.
Inuyama got to first base on a walk. The catcher just didn’t have to stand.
Inuyama calmly let the balls pass by, quietly heading to the base.
Next was Shizu.
It wasn’t even a match at this point. The catcher stood. Two bases on balls in a row.
The corner of his mouth twitching in frustration, Totsugawa pitched. All four times, as though he were playing catch.
Shizu never got the chance to swing. Inuyama headed for second base, and Shizu for first.
What came next was obvious.
Sara struck out. Totsugawa ended up throwing three balls and almost sent her to first base, but when he finally threw a strike,
It wasn’t Totsugawa, but Sara who sighed in relief.
Elias was next. But—
“I wanted to get a hit…”
He feebly tried his best and ended up getting a grounder, but it was a foul. Totsugawa’s throws had grown noticeably weak.
The last throw was a curve ball. Elias struck out.
“It’s time for me to shine! And that time is now! Ah, as the teacher I shall hit a home run and bring my students home! Now! Prepare yourself! Prepare to worship me! Prepare to greet me with that million-dollar smile!”
Chako-sensei spoke theatrically as she headed for the plate.
“Let’s get ready.”
Kino, Elias, Sara, and—
“We should get going.”
The three kuroko put their gloves on.
To no one’s surprise, Chako-sensei struck out.
It was fabulous.
As she returned to the bench, Chako-sensei complained out loud.
“It feels like the ball is always dodging the bat. D’you think it’s haunted?”
No, that’s not it.
“Or maybe the earth’s magnetic fields are tampering with my eyesight?”
No, that’s not it.
“The bat’s probably busted. I bet it wobbles when I swing it.”
No, that’s not it.
The kuroko were the only ones who deigned to reply.
“Sensei. We have to get ready.”
Inuyama came running from second base to get her moving.
The bottom of the fifth. The baseball team was on the offense.
So far, not one member had made it to first base.
In other words, Kino was throwing a perfect game. She pitched with the determination to let no one pass.
The stubborn fourth batter finally hit the ball. It flew to the left. But unfortunately, it was just a fly ball.
Kino watched a kuroko catch the ball.
“Doesn’t have to be a delicacy. I like fried horse mackerel, too.” She mumbled to herself.
Batter 5 hit a grounder toward shortstop. Inuyama quickly caught it and threw to Shizu. It was a very fast one, low to the ground, but—
Shizu caught it with ease.
Batter 6 hit a foul pop-up toward the catcher.
“All right, so bright, delight, tonight, aye aye aye~♪”
Taking off her mask, Chako-sensei hummed along after the ball. It felt like she was going to pull off something funny, but she did not.
“Fried oyster is fine, too.” Kino said to herself. That was when Chako-sensei grabbed the ball perfectly normally. Time to switch again.
The baseball team returned to defense. Had they been discouraged by the Take Action Now Club’s performance? Not really.
“Man, they’re good.”
“It’s only one run. I think we’re having a decent match—I’m even having fun.”
“Me too. As long as we let those three go, we won’t lose any more points.”
They even seemed to be enjoying the neck-and-neck game. Their annoying coach was absent, and they were playing against famous people and newbies.
The baseball team was beginning to rediscover their love of baseball.
“Do your best, guys!”
At least, that’s what it looked like to Yuri. Well, except for one person.
“You’re doing really well too, Totsugawa-senpai!” She grinned at him.
But he did not respond.
He departed for the mound with all the enthusiasm of an office worker putting in overtime with no extra pay.
The top of the sixth.
The Take Action Now Club was on the offensive.
The first kuroko struck out.
The second hit an infield grounder. The Take Action Now Club had two outs.
Has Totsugawa gotten a hold of himself? Has the ace finally returned?
Yuri was starting to get embarrassed about her worries.
“It’s just about time…” Chako-sensei mumbled from the opposite bench.
“For what?” Sara wondered as she reached for some chocolate.
Elias, who was stuffing his mouth with his eighth baumkuchen, also turned. As a result, both he and Sara missed the action.
The third kuroko was hit by the pitch.
Totsugawa stood in a daze.
He was so shocked that he forgot to take off his cap and apologize, just standing pale on the mound.
He was not supposed to let anyone on the bases before Kino, Inuyama, and Shizu. Just one person on a base, and he couldn’t pitch three intentional walks.
The kuroko dressed like a kuroko rubbed his arm, sore from the hit, and headed to first base. He stepped on it.
That was supposed to be the baseball team’s buffer. It was supposed to prevent Kino and Inuyama and Shizu from scoring any runs.
The hit by pitch was his own fault. No one else’s.
Sweat covered his face like he had a fever.
The catcher couldn’t bring himself to go up to him.
“All right. Let’s see if I can get another home run.”
Completely ignoring the pitcher’s plight, Kino skipped over to home plate.
To Totsugawa, the girl in school-issue sweats with a gun belt around her waist probably looked like a ghost or a devil or a demon. He wasn’t exactly wrong.
The catcher signaled for a ball.
In other words, it was okay to let all three hitters get walks with bases on balls.
The Take Action Club already had two outs. The baseball team could just give them one more run, then strike Sara out. They could close a two-point gap.
If Kino managed another home run, the baseball team would be giving them two runs. That would make the score 3 to 0. Everyone knew it was best to minimize their losses.
Totsugawa pressed his cap lightly onto his head. As though hiding his eyes.
After such a long pause that the catcher began to worry, he finally nodded.
Then, Totsugawa threw the first pitch.
It was clearly a bad throw. Violently so.
And of all places, it was heading in a straight line for Kino—a perfect dead ball to her face.
Was this another walk? Totsugawa wondered. But at that moment—
“Nice throw!” Kino cried.
Hey, don’t you think you’re being just a bit—
Before the author could finish, Kino hit the ball.
She had pushed it away with the tip of the bat in her left hand, which she had stuck out in front of her face.
Oh yeah, she said earlier that she was really good at billiards. Yes, that was foreshadowing.
The ball bounced off the tip of the bat and flew over the shortstop’s head. He leapt as quickly as he could, but he could not catch it. The ball flew into the outfield.
While the center fielder and the left fielder desperately chased the ball, the kuroko made it to third base and stopped. Kino, who ran as soon as she made the hit, reached second base with ease.
That was two outs with two bases filled.
The catcher walked up to Totsugawa again and said something.
Although no one could hear him, it was clear that he was trying to calm Totsugawa down. Actually, they were still all right. Kino was supposed to get a walk from a base on balls anyway.
Inuyama took the plate. Naturally, it was a base on balls. Inuyama headed to first base.
Two outs. The bases were loaded. Shizu was the batter.
The catcher stood again for the base on balls. This was their only option now.
Totsugawa said nothing and threw. And again. And again.
“That’s right. Keep pitching.”
Chako-sensei grinned boldly at the bench.
Then, she turned to Sara beside her and whispered,
“Could you do exactly as I say next time, Sara?”
Shizu reached first base on a base on balls. The kuroko on third base returned to home.
That was one more run for the Take Action Now Club. The score was 2 to 0.
But the game wasn’t finished yet.
The baseball team would have gotten this result even if Kino hadn’t made the hit, so their losses had been minimized. Really, at this point it was just a matter of pride.
That was what the catcher had told Totsugawa.
Totsugawa had the look of a forty-something office worker who had just been laid off. He did not react to anything.
“It’s all right. Sara’s up next—she’s never gonna hit. Just throw like you usually do. Like you’re playing catch.” The catcher said to him, returning to home base.
That was when the kuroko standing near third base whispered something to Kino.
Kino was flabbergasted.
“Really? Donuts from that super-popular place? They’re already here?”
The third baseman sighed.
Sara was up.
This was her fourth time at the batter’s box today. She had struck out every time.
“I’ll do my best.”
Ignoring her helmet sliding down, Sara courteously bowed.
Then, she stared at Totusgawa’s form thoughtfully. And the moment the ball left his hand—
—instead of swinging, she held out the bat horizontally in front of her. Yes. It was a bunt.
At the same time,
Kino launched herself forward to home base.
Her goal was the donuts she would receive when she reached the plate. This is the greatest sprint of her youth.
In other words, this was something called a squeeze play—where the batter bunts in order to get someone on the third base to home. Like the name says, it’s a play where you squeeze out a run.
But right now, the Take Action Now Team had two outs. The bunter was almost always guaranteed to be taken out, so what were they thinking? (To be fair, there is something called a bunt single, where the batter can be safe.)
The pitch had been a slow one, focused on getting a strike. It hit the bat Sara held out with all her courage, and bounced up. Right at Totsugawa.
Sara broke into a run.
Though it was a coincidence, the ball, which bounced right off the bat, rolled directly at Totsugawa—and quickly.
Although he could probably not get Kino out at home base, he could grab the ball and easily take out the batter heading for the first. There was no need for panic.
Totsugawa picked up the ball. And with his gaze on Sara, who was less than halfway to first base, threw without hesitation. But—
The throw was wild. Yuri screamed.
The first baseman leapt up as high as he could, but the ball passed one meter over his outstretched hand and flew.
Kino threw herself at home base as though she were sliding. Inuyama made it around third base, followed by Shizu at second.
Oblivious, Sara ran as hard as she could. She sprinted. Her helmet fell off her head.
The ball rolled away, past the smiling Chako-sensei, hit a storage shed, and bounced back toward the field.
The right fielder rushed in and leapt on the ball. Now, which way to throw? He wondered, looking back at the diamond.
Inuyama made it to home base. Shizu was just passing third. Talk about fast. A kuroko was spinning his arms so hard it looked like he was trying to fly off.
“Please get there!”
The right fielder threw desperately.
The ball flew toward the catcher at home base. It was a little far to the left, but not a bad throw overall. The catcher could grab it and get Shizu out.
The catcher caught the ball and turned to Shizu, who was running toward home base.
Certain of success, the catcher reached out—
Shizu disappeared. From right before his eyes.
The catcher’s glove touched nothing but thin air.
Right over the catcher’s head like a lone dove in flight.
With his left hand he held down his katana so it wouldn’t fall out mid-flight. And with his right, he landed in the middle of home base.
And he finished with a forward somersault.
He made landing nearly two meters from home plate.
“SAFE!” The home plate umpire declared.
To make sure they gave away no more runs, the catcher turned to the infield.
“Wow, I hit it!”
Sara was standing alone at first base, her eyes wide as she clapped her hands.
Three runs for the Take Action Now Club.
In other words, the score was 5 to 0.
Totsugawa, standing behind the cacher, fell to his knees.
His face was whiter than the clouds that failed to show today.
His mistake had cost them three runs.
The fielders’ usual mistakes were nowhere to be seen. They were playing perfectly. In fact, without their coach around, their defense was doing better than ever. The throws back to home plate, too.
Totsugawa was the only one messing up today.
Like a lethargic zombie, he returned to the mound.
“C’mon, we’re still at two outs.”
The ever-encouraging catcher tried to speak to him, but received no response.
“Man, this isn’t good.” The catcher mumbled. He decided that, once Elias struck out, he would have a good pep talk with Totsugawa.
The game would continue whether the pitcher was traumatized or not.
And there were no substitutes to stand in his place. There was no one else on the team capable of pitching. It was a cruel reality to face.
In any case, the Take Action Now Club had two outs and one person on first base. The next batter was Elias—there was enough cause to be calm.
If people could shake off their frustration so easily, the world would be a better place.
Totsugawa had lost momentum. Though all Elias did was stand there hesitantly, he threw three balls in a row. The next pitch was just narrowly a strike, but—
The fifth pitch veered far off mark and he ended up giving away another walk.
Elias, whose eyes went wide for an instant, strode to first base at the home plate umpire’s urging. It was his first baseball game, and his first trip to first base. Sara headed to second base.
Two outs, with first and second bases filled. It wasn’t looking good, but thankfully the next batter would change things.
“Three runs, three runs, lalala~♪ Hit and hit, but not a hit-and-run~♪”
Singing a carefree but somewhat morbid song, Chako-sensei stepped up to the plate. She was tone-deaf.
This lady rotated like a fan at whatever the pitcher threw, so any three throws would strike her out.
Certain of this, the catcher signed for a strike.
The ball flew at the catcher, as instructed. And just as he prepared to catch—
Chako-sensei hit it. The triumphant impact shook the grounds.
The ball flew clear over the right fielder’s head, and landed just past the line Kino’s ball had made it over.
“Sorry.” Chako-sensei apologized, ordering the stunned Sara and Elias to run.
They circled the diamond and all stepped on home base. It almost felt like a funeral.
Take Action Now Club, 8. Baseball team, 0.
When the kuroko who had taken the plate for the second time that inning struck out in the blink of an eye, the Take Action Now Club’s long, long offense was over.
Seven runs were scored in the top of the sixth, cycling through all of the Take Action Now Club members in the lineup.
The baseball team was on the offense starting in the bottom of the sixth, but there is something called a ‘called game’ in baseball.
No, it has nothing to do with phone calls. Or predicting the results. It’s when the umpire makes a call to end the game.
In some cases, a called game occurs due to bad weather. But it also occurs when there is a very large point difference. This second case is better known.
In the case of high school baseball preliminaries, a seven-run difference or more past the seventh inning automatically results in a called game.
In other words, unless the baseball team got at least two runs in the next two innings, they were finished.
Batter 7 from the baseball team took the plate.
Kino was pumped up. She threw one strike after another.
Could they get two runs in the next two innings to avoid a called game? And even if they did, could they pull off nine runs to take victory?
“I doubt it.” “Probably not.” “Yeah.” “Yeah.” “Pretty much.”
Something like resignation began to fill the team.
But the fact that they still looked at the bright side was the good thing about this baseball team—or maybe not, but anyway, they were used to losing.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” “Although we always lose.” “Don’t remind me.” “Not like anyone needed a reminder.” “True.”
They were surprisingly calm.
The catcher wanted to try and cheer up Totsugawa. But,
“He’s not here.”
Totsugawa was nowhere to be found.
The catcher finally went to the manager for help.
“Hey, Yurippe. where’s Tot-chan?”
Tot-chan is Totsugawa’s nickname. Wait, did I even need to explain that?
“He said he had a stomachache and went to the bathroom. He asked the umpire to put the game on hold when his turn came up.”
The catcher turned away, but stopped. Then he spoke again.
“Yurippe. You’re the one who planned this game, right? So we could just have fun without worrying about the coach.”
“The others are fine, but Totsugawa’s the type to let it bother him. Could you go talk to him? Tell him to have fun and not to worry if we lose.”
Yuri nodded firmly.
“All right. But it’s a bit weird to tell him in front of everyone, so I’ll go look for him.”
“I’m counting on you. Give him a good kick in the pants if you have to.”
“Haha! All right.” Yuri replied, jogging over to the school building.
Then, she added,
“…I should tell him.”
In the school, which was deserted because it was a Sunday, there was a boy with a grimace on his face.
I don’t think it needs to be said, but it was Totsugawa.
He was in a hallway. It was very quiet.
Pressing down on his stomach and looking very pale, he stepped out of the bathroom and turned to the entrance, where he had left his cleats—
He heard a lovely voice. He turned and saw Yuri, running from further inside the building.
“There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you.” She said, stopping in front of him with tears in her eyes.
“I was just in the—”
Just in the bathroom, he tried to say, but he stopped.
Yuri was hugging him tightly. From the front. A very warm embrace.
“Don’t push yourself, senpai!”
“Even if we lose, it’s not your fault!”
“What? But I—”
Totsugawa was so baffled by the situation that he was reduced to stammering. FYI, they’ve never dated or anything of the sort.
“You know… I was going to confess to you after the game. But… I’ll tell you now!”
Was this a dream? Totsugawa gaped stupidly. He tried to get a hold of himself, but thinking that Yuri wouldn’t notice as she buried her face in his sweaty uniform, he decided against it.
“Senpai, I love you! Please go out with me! I don’t care if we win or lose… so let’s talk, okay?”
“So don’t give up. Do your best! Everyone else is giving it their all, right? The ace isn’t supposed to go weak in the knees!”
What better encouragement could there be? Totsugawa could feel his nerves tingling.
“I can’t play with you, but I want to help the team… no! I want to help you!”
“Th-thank you, Yurippe!”
“Senpai, could you… just call me Yuri?”
“Thank you, Yuri!”
“I’m so happy…”
They embraced again.
They were practically shooting a teen romance drama in the deserted hallway. If this were a TV show, the camera was probably spinning around them and the main theme was playing in the background.
But Totsugawa had work to do back on the mound.
“Yuri… I have to go. Everyone’s waiting.”
He was the main character. With a dramatic line, he left Yuri’s arms. Although he wanted to stay a little longer.
Yuri also took the love interest role in stride, her eyes watery.
“You can do it! If you lose heart, just remember that I’m with you. Accept me, and I’ll cast a spell for victory!”
“I will, Yuri!” Totsugawa nodded.
“You should go ahead, senpai, or people will think something’s up.”
So the teen drama came to an end. Totsugawa put on his cleats and skipped into the sunlight.
After the match, a new life for him as Yuri’s boyfriend awaited him. It may have been November, but it was springtime. They could go watch a movie together. Welcome to adolescence.
As Totsugawa passionately ran for the grounds,
“Are you feeling better, senpai? I wanted to tell—”
Someone tried to speak to him.
“Sorry, can’t talk gotta go!”
But Totsugawa ignored the person and ran off.
“Hmph. What was that all about?”
The baseball team’s manager, Yuri(Note: The real Yuri. Refers to a person who does not shoot cheesy teen dramas) puffed up her cheeks.
By the time Totsugawa returned to the bench, the eighth batter had struck out and everyone was waiting for him.
Totsugawa apologized and took the plate.
“I can’t lose!”
With all the passion he never had the previous inning, he shot Kino a fierce glare.
“I like that look. But don’t think you’ll win that easily.”
Kino sounded like a real villain.
“I’m gonna do it!”
A blueprint for his turnaround victory popped into his head.
First, he would hit a home run and lift the team’s spirits!
Now! Raise the flag of rebellion!
Totsugawa struck out in the blink of an eye.
He swung at three completely unnecessary throws with passion.
What? What? What?
He stood in a daze on the plate.
“Just one more inning, I guess.” “Wanna go for some ramen after the game?”
Although they didn’t mean to hurt him, the teammates’ words broke Totsugawa’s spirit.
Totsugawa headed for the mound. He looked like a different man.
His impassioned drive had deflated, leaving lifeless pallor. He stood at the top of the mound with all the tension of a walking corpse.
He found himself muttering helplessly.
‘It’s over. This game was supposed to help bolster everyone’s confidence, but I messed it all up and now people will call us weaklings who lost to a bunch of newbies.
‘I’ll go down in baseball history as the world’s worst and most idiotic captain.’
The thoughts that had been circling his mind soon ran down his spine and began to run wild in his stomach.
Hanging his head, Totsugawa pressed on his gut.
If only someone would take the mound instead. If only someone else would be captain instead.
It felt like his heart would lose before they lost the game.
That was when he remembered.
“If you lose heart, just remember that I’m with you. Accept me, and I’ll cast a spell for victory!”
He remembered her voice. Her warmth in his embrace.
“That’s right… I’m not alone…”
Gripping the ball tightly in his right hand, Totsugawa whispered to himself.
“Yurippe—no, my Yuri is with me.”
Using possessives so soon?
“She’ll cast a magic spell!”
His eyes glinted.
“I’ll do it! I’m going to give it my all until the very end!”
Raising his head, Totsugawa turned and called to the other teammates, minus the catcher.
“Guys! Let’s all pull through to the end! Let’s enjoy baseball together!”
It was a rousing speech, but the teammates did not understand.
When Totsugawa turned around, he was a two-meter-tall demon. And because,
“Guohh! Graaaah guoooah grrrrroar! Groarrrrr guohhhhh roaaaaaar!”
That was the only thing they heard out of his fearsome maw.