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The pitcher was a good-natured youngster who threw BP for the Royals when they were home. He wanted none of this confrontation. He stared down at the mound and scuffed the dirt with his feet. "Throw the ball," Otis yelled. The youngster hesitated, but Boros echoed Otis: "Throw it!" So the kid threw.
Even seven years as a third baseman for the Tigers, Cubs and Reds, stopping grounders with his arms and body, could not have prepared Boros for that moment. The pitch whistled past his left ear; to the alarm of everybody behind the cage, Otis swung.
The ball rocketed up and ricocheted hard off the overhead rail of the cage, bounding away harmlessly.
The color must have drained out of our faces. No one doubted that Otis had intended to hit the pitch to rightfield, but the pop-up had started toward second base. The same swing, mistimed, might have shattered Boros's skull.
Boros, standing close enough to feel the wind from the bat, not only didn't flinch, he didn't even blink.
The players behind the cage, scared now, called quietly for Otis to bunt. "Come on, do it," LaCock pleaded. Someone raced into the clubhouse, presumably to find Herzog. Out in right-field, the Royals' third-base coach, Chuck Hiller, looked in, trying to figure out what was happening in the cage. The infielders waited, gloves on their hips. The kid on the mound looked around nervously.
And there we stood, the other Royals and I, panic in our guts, but standing there while two proud men flirted with tragedy. Why weren't we doing something? I started to yell "Stop!" But it was too late, the pitch was on its way.