By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001
Tony Moscato is playing a dangerous game, and he doesn't care.
The Tampa Catholic junior is willing to take a high school career filled with good games, take a life filled with good times, and lay it all on the table in a game of high-stakes mental poker.
He is willing ... no, make that eager to put it all in a pile, push it to the center of the table that is Legends Field in a winner-take-all battle with a kid he has never met but has thought much about the past two seasons.
Marianna pitcher Alan Horne stands between Moscato and his peace of mind.
"I can play 100 great games, but unless it's on this field, against that guy, it doesn't matter," Moscato said.
It was 1999 the last time Moscato saw Horne. He struck out three times against the Marianna ace in a state semifinal on the same field where he will seek revenge today. He remembers every detail.
First time, "outside fastball."
Second time, "curveball."
Third time, "Fastball ... looking."
With runners on second and third. In the fifth inning. One out. His team trailing 1-0.
And the infield back.
"All I had to do was hit the ball on the ground," Moscato said. "I wanted to prove to everyone at that game I could perform under pressure. Not only did I not succeed, I took the hat trick in front of all those people."
But you were just a freshman in your first state semifinal.
"I was good enough to start then," he said, "so I was good enough to hit the ball."
Since that day, Horne has been the one-armed man to Moscato's Richard Kimble; Lex Luthor to Moscato's Superman; personality to Moscato's Al Gore.
This is Moscato's way. Obsess, plot, plan revenge. He said he has done it many times in his life, and "I always get everyone back."
In Horne, Moscato has chosen possibly the state's best pitcher. When the brackets came out, Moscato was afraid Marianna would have trouble getting past maybe the state's best 3A team, Jacksonville Bolles, in the regional final. Horne struck out 16 in eight innings.
This is who Moscato wants. A future draft choice who has 143 strikeouts in 74 innings, nine wins and a 0.47 ERA.
Isn't there a kid who throws 70 and got lucky one time who Moscato could plot against?
"It's got to be him," he said. "If we had gotten back here, that would have been fine. But it wouldn't have been the same without the same guy there. I want this guy. I want the top dog."
Moscato has been Marianna's biggest fan. The morning after games, he signed on to the Internet to make sure Horne was still coming. Tuesday, he arrived, totally unaware someone was waiting.
Asked if he remembers Moscato, Horne shook his head no. Told he struck him out three times in '99, the right-hander seemed unimpressed.
"Three times, huh?"
Yes, three of the most indelible strikeouts Horne might have ever registered.
Horne doesn't need to remember because Moscato does. He refuses to watch the tape of that game and refuses to replay the game in his head anymore. Instead, he plays the rematch over and over again.
When he does, he sees the first pitch. Horne rears back, and it is a fastball. Around 93, 94 mph. And Moscato is on it, his bat slicing through the pitch and ripping the ball right up the middle.
"Base hit," he says. "Has to be."
It's a dangerous game Moscato plays.
"I have the utmost confidence in myself," Moscato said. "If I strike out three times again, I guess I have to live with that.
"In a way, it's crazy to throw all the chips in like this. But it doesn't matter. He's here. I'm here."