Ep 3: Practice Match
After practice, Momoe finds out from Mihashi that the other pitcher at Mihoshi throws forkballs. Guilt washes over Mihashi as he recalls how his former catcher, Hatake, often stayed after practice to work on catching forkballs with Kanou, yet they never got the chance to be paired because of him.
Back at the rest house, Momoe announces that they are going to have an exercise to train their observation and coordination, which will help them quickly process the things happening around them as they see it. She shows them a small board and explains that they must point numbers 1 to 25, which are randomly placed inside a 5×5 grid, in order as quickly as they can.
Tajima, as usual, is the first to raise his hand when Momoe asked for volunteers. Tajima clocks in at an amazing 7.9 seconds! Momoe is shaking out of sheer gratitude and happiness that Tajima decided to come to their school. She then instructs the others to pair up to do the exercise and that those with the best times get first dibs on the batting order.
Abe and Mihashi end up being partners for the exercise. Mihashi, however, is obviously out of it because he lacks sleep again. Abe wonders if Mihashi is having a good time being on the team, since it has been 4 days, but it seems that they have not bonded at all. On top of that, Abe is disappointed that despite his worry for his pitcher, Mihashi still manages to lie to him. Before Abe walks off, he gives a stern reminder to Mihashi that he should follow his signs tomorrow and not attempt to throw the power pitches or else they will lose. To Mihashi, everything he says only seems to anger Abe, thus he refrains from talking. He fears that if Abe will stop giving him signs, there would be no point in having left Mihoshi.
The day of the practice game has finally come. Momoe is slightly surprised that the rest of the team, except for Mihashi, does not look nervous at all, despite this being their first game. Abe notices that Mihashi’s is so freaked out that, even without using the power pitches, his control is way off.
As the Mihoshi team make their way onto the field, Kanou, Mihoshi’s pitcher, waves a friendly hello to a familiar face - Mihashi, who quickly escapes to the bushes. Hatake, Mihoshi’s catcher, did not expect Mihashi to be pitching still, much less come back to Mihoshi to play against them. He tracks down Mihashi and tells him bitterly that they will never forgive him for making himself an ace and for making them lose for 3 straight years. Abe walks in on them after Hatake tells Mihashi that it would have been better if he had broken his arm.
Abe approaches the sobbing Mihashi and tells him that he should not stay quiet about what just happened. However, Mihashi defends Hatake, in that he only wanted Kanou, who everyone in the team likes and is a better player, to pitch. Momoe’s words flash before Abe’s mind and he clutches Ren’s hand and tells him that he is a good pitcher. Mihashi’s initial reaction, though, is disbelief and calls Abe a liar.
Abe cannot believe how easily this worked on him with Momoe but not on Mihashi. His thoughts are momentarily disrupted as he notices Mihahshi’s cold hand. He shifts his attention to Mihahsi ’s callouses, evidence of his hard work and self-training to fine-tune his control. Mihoshi booted Mihashi off the team without even knowing and realizing how hard he had worked. Mihashi ’s sobbing stops as he looks at Abe’s trembling hand.
As Abe wipes his tears from his eye, he tells Mihashi, once again, that he is a good pitcher and that he likes him, not just as a pitcher, but, as a person because he has worked so hard. A feeling of wanting to help Mihashi and wanting to become his strength overwhelms Abe.“Is this what it means to be a catcher?” he asks himself. Mihashi’s hand begins to warm up as he finally pours his heart out to Abe, telling him that he loves being a pitcher and that he wants to win. Abe reassures Mihashi that they will win. Relief sweeps over Mihashi knowing that Abe truly acknowledges him. Mihashi goes on to say that he likes Abe as well!
On their way back to the dugout, Abe and Mihashi meet a tall Mihoshi player with a Kansai accent. Mihashi shares that Mihoshi has athletics scholarships, thus recruits players from other areas. At the dugout, Abe promptly asks for Mihoshi’s lineup and asks Mihashi to pinpoint the players whom he does not know, which totals to 4 players.
Kanou calls out to Mihashi and shows him his forkball grip, which gets the attention of the other Nishiura players, and proceeds to showoff his forkball pitch. Abe asks if Tajima could hit a forkball. Tajima, with confidence, answers that there has not been a pitch he could not hit. Momoe comes over and emphasizes how important this game is, as it will decide whether Mihashi will be part of the team or not. Abe is the first to say he wants Mihashi as their ace. The rest of the team agree.“Let’s win and get our ace!” Momoe shouts at the team huddle.
Since Abe will be batting soon, he tells Mihashi to practice catch with Izumi. Hanai talks to Abe while Abe's taking off his catcher's gear. Hanai comments on how Mihashi's former teammates hate him. Abe, being rather unsympathetic, says they're right to bear a grudge considering what Mihashi did to them. Mizutani says it's okay if Mihashi yeilds to his old team, since they'll never play Mihoshi in an official game, but Abe says it's not okay for him to have a loser attitude. Abe ponders on the impact of the result of this game. If they win, it means that Mihashi will truly become one of them. If they lose, then Mihashi will never be able to get over what has happened to him in the past. Consequently, Mihashi will not be able to take that step towards changing his personality and it will be too troublesome to handle him day in and day out. Thus, Abe pleads to the team to win this game for Mihashi’s sake. Hanai tells Abe that the team never had any intention to lose, but he also understands what Abe is driving at—this game will decide their pitcher’s fate. One after the other, each expresses his intention to give their best during the game. Momoe looks on, happy that the team sees the bigger picture and the purpose of setting up this particular match up.
The game finally starts with Sakaeguchi first at bat. He bunts the first pitch towards third base after noticing the third baseman is too deep at the field. However, Kanou rushes towards the ball and throws the ball in time to the first baseman, thus giving Nishiura their first out. The Nishiura players are impressed at how calm Kanou is on the mound. Next at bat is Oki, who also retires at the first pitch. Abe is third at bat. After delivering 2 strikes and 1 ball, Kanou switches to his signature forkball pitch, which Abe easily misses. Nishiura switches to the defensive.
On the way back to the dugout, Abe silently admits that Kanou truly is a good pitcher, but he swears that next time he will hit his forkball. Mihashi is already waiting for Abe and offers to help him put on his catcher’s gear. While Mihashi assists Abe put on his shin guards, Abe tells him not to hide behind him because once he is on the mound, there will be no place to hide.
Forkball - Related to the split-fingered fastball, the forkball is held between the first two fingers and thrown hard snapping the wrist. The forkball differs from the split-fingered fastball, however, in that the ball is jammed deeper between the first two fingers. The result is that the forkball is generally thrown slightly slower than the splitter, but will have more of a 'tumbling' action akin to the movement of a knuckleball. (from wikipedia)