An aging Rocky faces a midlife crisis--in a tightly crafted baseball novel about a great pitcher who ends his career while brooding about the woman he might lose. Billy Chapel, 37, pitching for the last-place Hawks, has been Carol Grey's lover for four years. The first half of the story is slow-moving but necessary foreplay before the big game and its play-by-play: Billy, amidst a slew of faces and voices--fans, mostly, and hotel employees--waits fruitlessly in his room for Carol but, instead, gets a visit from an in-the-know sportswriter: Billy is going to be traded, it seems, after 17 years with the same club. When he finally meets Carol, he finds her at the end of her own midlife crisis: "I was drinking too much. . .You know, Billy, honest, I sometimes drink too goddamn much." Once she has her mock-Hemingway say, she tells him she's quitting her job, going home and getting married. Billy's stunned: "Parents can't trade you," he manages, and then Carol walks into the sunset while he heads for the ballpark. He's decided he's pitching his last game that day, then going home himself--and the rest of the book is very good on mound-strategy and rising tension. A direct allusion to The Old Man and the Sea is too much, but, still, Shaara finds a taut rhythm, juxtaposing the game to flashbacks--Billy's affair with Carol, the death of his parents--as Billy pitches a perfect game. After celebrating, he calls Carol, tells her he loves her--she reciprocates--and salutes his God. Fade to black. Shaara (the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Killer Angels, 1974) writes in the morally uncluttered spare style of the genre: it's not The Natural or Shoeless Joe, but it stands above most staples on the sports-fiction racks.