Ash runs over to a cliff and sees Petalburg City up ahead, however May begs for him to wait up for her to catch up. Later the pair sit down in a park, and Ash is quick to bring up the Hoenn League. He asks May if she is wanting to compete in the League, but she is startled and laughs off the idea. Ash wonders what the Petalburg Gym Leader is like, and May replies that she is sure "he" is a nice guy. He is immediately suspicious by May's odd familiarity with the Gym Leader, but she admits that she has heard a lot about him on the streets. Ash suggests they go to the Gym together, though May rushes off to take care of things. Ash doesn't mind, however, and tells Pikachu that they are going to the Gym for his battle.
Ash soon reaches the Petalburg Gym, steps inside, and reaches the main arena. He tries introducing himself to present a challenge, but there is initially no response. Ash tries again, just as a young boy carrying books walks into the room. The boy recognizes Ash and asks him if he was in the Silver Conference. Ash confirms this and says he got all the way to victory round. The boy tries to remember Ash's name and guesses it is :Alf". After Ash corrects him, the boy goes onto criticize Ash’s performance against Harrison's Blaziken. Ash becomes infuriated by the young boy's sharp comments and orders him to call out the Gym Leader. In a surprising twist, the boy claims he is the Gym Leader. Ash doubts it, but immediately asks if he could challenge him and the boy accepts. As both of them prepare battle, the boy says that they will each use three Pokémon, though Ash only has Pikachu to fight for him. At that moment, May peers through a window and returns with two other people, her parents. May asks the boy, who turns out to be her little brother Max, what he is doing acting like the Gym Leader.
May formally introduces her family to Ash. It is revealed that Max is too young to be a Trainer, and Max and May's father, Norman, is the real Gym Leader. May's mother, Caroline thanks Ash for helping escort May home. Caroline then turns her attention to May's missing bicycle, and she explains that Pikachu shocked it to a crisp. Max asks to see which starter Pokémon May chose, and she sends out Torchic. Max is disappointed that May picked Torchic, and states that he would have picked Treecko, which causes Torchic to start pecking him, much to Ash's amusement. Caroline doesn't mind the extra company, so Ash decides to enjoy lunch with the family. Over the dinner table, Ash reveals that he used to travel with his friends. During the meal, Ash asks about the rules Norman uses for his matches; Max makes a comment that it was the same rules as he stated before, a three-on-three match. When Ash is dismayed by this, Caroline tells him that he can have his Pokémon sent to the Pokémon Center. However, Ash replies that he wants to start fresh and only use Pokémon he catches in Hoenn. Norman is impressed by Ash’s ambitions and offers him an unofficial match, but Ash doesn't mind. Just after lunch, everyone goes back to the arena for the battle.
As the battle starts, Ash uses Pikachu and Norman sends out Vigoroth. Ash looks it up on his Pokédex to see how to handle the Pokémon. When the Pokédex tells him that Vigoroth is both powerful and quick, Ash feels he has an advantage since he emphasizes on speed. Unbeknownst to everyone, Team Rocket has been spying on them through a window. The villainous trio plan their next move to see if they can snag Ash's Pikachu, and maybe the Gym Leader's Pokémon. The first strike is a Thunderbolt from Pikachu, but Vigoroth uses its quick reflexes to easily jump away. Vigoroth soon runs towards Pikachu at high speed and Slashes him. As a result, Ash switches from Electric moves to physical attacks, and Pikachu sprints into a Quick Attack. Even so, Pikachu's speed is still no match for Vigoroth; Pikachu ends up being tossed around, and is eventually defeated.
Suddenly, Team Rocket blows a hole in one of the Gym's walls. Unaware of the threat, Caroline thanks Team Rocket for assisting May on her journey so far, thinking they are friends. Team Rocket scoffs at the idea and launches into their motto. Jessie then sends out Arbok and James calls on Weezing to attack the group. Weezing uses Smokescreen, as Arbok use Headbutt on Pikachu. Vigoroth decides to help, but when it cannot see through the Smokescreen, Max suggests that May should use her Pokémon. Nervously, May calls out her Torchic, but as she pauses to think, Arbok lands an attack on Torchic. As Jessie gets ready to steal Vigoroth and Pikachu, Ash has Pikachu use Thunderbolt on them, but it hits Max by accident. As Ash checks to see if he is okay, Team Rocket escapes in the Smokescreen. Once the dust settles, May realizes she has lost her Torchic.
The Rocket trio flee in their balloon. They soon land, and Jessie reaches into the loot bag to find Torchic instead. Torchic retaliates and lands an Ember attack on James's face. Jessie is upset, admitting that Torchic is definitely not Team Rocket material. Meowth comes up with a backup plan and suggests they use Torchic as bait to get Pikachu. Meanwhile, May's family and Ash decides to split up to cover more ground in their search for Torchic. Caroline and Norman search together, leaving the children on their own. Max first attempts to use a magnifying glass to find footprints, but May reminds him that Team Rocket fled in a balloon. May’s parents soon return with good news; they've located Team Rocket nearby. They reach the clearing, and Ash confirms that the balloon is unmistakably Team Rocket’s. May spots her Torchic stuck in a cage, so she and little brother rush forward. Ash tries to call them back, but it is too late as the pair fall into a hole. Norman and Caroline run after them; Ash tries to stop them as well, but they fall into another pitfall trap. The Rocket trio emerge from hiding to laugh at the family’s predicament.
Ash reaches for Bayleef's Poké Ball, but he quickly remembers that he only has Pikachu with him. As Ash peers into the pitfall trap, Jessie calls for Arbok to attack. Ash sends Pikachu out to confront the Rocket trio while he helps May and Max out of the hole. Caroline and Norman make it out on their own. Norman is infuriated at the Rocket trio for stealing his daughter's first Pokémon and he sends Vigoroth into the fray. James calls on Weezing to even things out. Meanwhile, Max sneaks passed and reaches Torchic's cage, freeing it. Torchic returns to May, who tries to use its attacks at Max's suggestion. Meanwhile, Arbok wraps itself around Vigoroth, so Ash has Pikachu help it by using Quick Attack on Arbok. Then, May tries to use Torchic's "Amber" attack, but Max corrects her, saying she meant "Ember". When May commands it again, Torchic attacks Max by mistake. This time, she tells it to use Peck, but again it attacks Max. Meanwhile, Arbok Headbutts Pikachu and Vigoroth tackles them both into the balloon. Then, Pikachu finishes it off with Thunderbolt, sending Team Rocket blasting off.
Despite the theft, some good has come of the situation; May and Torchic are already showing signs of bonding. Later, back in front of Norman's Gym, as May and Ash are about to resume their journey, Max insists that he is traveling with them. Norman notes that Max will be a good help thanks to his wide knowledge, while Caroline says it will be a lot less trouble for her. Despite May's clear irritation, Norman asks Ash, who quickly agrees to the idea. As a gift, Norman gives Ash and May a Badge case each and Max is thrilled to receive a PokéNav. With his new toy in hand, Max rushes ahead as Norman directs Ash to Rustboro City for the closest Gym.