Episode 57 — Chapter 64
“I’m Bud Emberg, coming to you from beautiful Marlins Park in Miami, Florida on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky and just a light breeze; perfect day for a game of baseball between the Marlins and the man who has ignited a firestorm of interest in the national pastime, claiming to have walked out of the last century. None other than Ty Cobb, considered by many to be the greatest player of all time. He leads the revitalized Atlanta Braves against the struggling Miami Marlins. And there are a lot of similarities between the two players. Cobb uses a split grip on his bat, just the way the Detroit star did a century ago. We’ll be showing some very rare footage of the great Ty Cobb swinging the bat, and boy, is it hauntingly similar to the Braves’ new star. He’s about same height and weight, bats left, throws right, and is a dead-ringer for the Detroit Hall of Famer, though it has been widely reported that the new Ty Cobb underwent extensive facial reconstructive surgery after a serious accident last November, insisting that his face be rebuilt in the image of the Detroit great. Just who is this mystery man? Nobody seems to know, but the man can sure play ball!”
Prior to the game, the network was disappointed to learn that Cobb was not in the starting line-up. Nevertheless, the decision to telecast the game nationally had already been made and the mere presence of the Ty Cobb-lookalike had provided a unique game perspective, which dominated much of the pre-game chatter among the commentators.
As the game progressed, the lead changed hands several times. Numerous pitching changes were made as fireworks erupted off the bats of both teams. At the end of regulation, the score was tied at 9, with nearly fifty thousand fans and millions more viewing the telecast, anxiously awaiting the drama of extra innings.
By the tenth inning, there only remained two position players on the Braves’ team who had not yet seen action—Arlin Concade and Cobb. With two outs, the Braves had runners at second and third with the pitcher’s spot due up. Concade was sent to pinch-hit, much to the chagrin of the NBC brass and the viewing public. Concade hit the ball hard, but it ended up in the deepest reaches of Marlins Park for a long out. Miami went down in order in their half of the inning.
The score remained tied at 9 as both sides threatened but failed to score in the eleventh inning. In the top of the twelfth, Martinez doubled after two outs, with the pitcher Michael Semton, the next scheduled batter. Carpenter had earlier determined that he would let Semton finish the game. However, Semton had now gone four innings in relief, far beyond his normal quota—and Permak advised Carpenter that Semton was tiring. With Earnest Johnson warming up in the bullpen and ready to go, Carpenter knew that he’d look like an utter fool on national television if he didn’t pinch hit for Semton.
Reluctantly, Carpenter turned to Cobb, “Okay, prima donna. Let’s see what you’re made of.”
The fans and the announcers in the booth didn’t realize who the pinch-hitter was until number 8 walked onto the field, wielding three bats.
“It required Carpenter to use every player he had, but it looks like we’re going to finally see our mystery man, after all…”
“Looks that way, Bud. Here he comes, the reincarnated Ty Cobb, warming up…”
“Listen to the fans. They’re just starting to realize that they’ll have the opportunity to see Cobb in the flesh—and boy are the boo-birds out in full force. It’s clear they don’t want him to succeed. It’s been quite a game; a dramatic moment for Cobb to be making his national television debut with millions of fans across the country watching.”
Cobb concluded his practice swings and advanced toward the plate. Before the first pitch, the Marlin’s catcher called time and walked toward the mound. Looking to the pitcher he said, under his breath, “It’s open season on him. Gates sends his respects. Let’s paste the son-of-a-bitch! We’ve got an open base.”
The Miami reliever smiled. “With pleasure. Just make sure you’re ready for it high and inside… I don’t want Martinez on third if it misses.”
Cobb dug in at the plate on the left side. The Marlins’ reliever, Milt McMahon, came to a stretch, checked Martinez at second and fired a high hard fastball, aimed at Cobb’s right shoulder. Cobb collapsed to the ground at the last second, narrowly missing the speeding projectile. The crowd cheered the brushback as Cobb got up and dusted himself off.
Cobb was furious, but he willed himself to refrain from charging the mound.
McMahon stretched again, and this time the burly lefthander let go of a round-house curve that began at Cobb’s head, but broke over the plate. Cobb bailed out and looked in disgust as the umpire yelled, “Strike One!” The crowd roared its approval.
McMahon didn’t dare risk another throw at Cobb during this at bat, knowing he’d likely be ejected if he did; his next pitch creased the bottom of the strike zone on the outside corner. With the count 1 and 2, McMahon couldn’t resist the temptation of striking Cobb out. He came to a stretch, kicked and dealt a blistering pitch shoulder high, a couple inches above the strike zone. Cobb stepped into the pitch, sliding his left hand down to meet the right for additional power as he swung, the bat colliding forcefully with the ball. The ball exploded well over the second baseman’s head and continued to gain altitude. The center and right fielder gave chase, but finally slowed their pace as the ball disappeared just beyond the 380-foot marker.
The two-run homer was Cobb’s first circuit clout of the season. Rounding first, Cobb looked over at McMahon, who was cussing himself out.
“Next time it’s down your throat!” Cobb yelled at him.
McMahon’s cursing transferred over to Cobb, the two engaging in verbal hostilities as Cobb continued to round the bases, his hands gesturing wildly as he ranted at McMahon.
“…absolutely unbelievable, Joe. He smashed the ball out of the park! What an introduction to the sports world. I hope a good part of our viewers have stuck it out to witness this electrifying moment.”
Instead of remaining at home plate to congratulate Cobb, as was customary, Martinez jogged straightway into the dugout. The next scheduled batter, Anthony Adams, also turned his back on Cobb. There was no high-five, no handshake, no congratulations.
After touching home plate, Cobb continued into the dugout. No one in the dugout acknowledged Cobb’s feat, including the bat boy. Carpenter looked the other way. Cobb’s teammate, Brian Brugge, had long since departed to the locker room to ice his arm after toiling earlier in the game.
“I’m sure most of our fans are aware of the baseball tradition to playfully snub a player on his first home run, and it looks like Cobb is getting the royal treatment.”
The players in the Braves’ dugout continued to ignore Cobb, as he went to his spot on the far end of the dugout.
“Well, that’s got to be some kind of a record for a snub, Bud. It usually doesn’t go on this long. My gosh, I don’t think they’re even going to acknowledge his clout, period. This is a potential game winning-blow and no one is giving Cobb the time of day!”
Throughout the nation, texts were sent from television viewers to friends and the number of viewers in the national audience spiked up within seconds of Cobb’s home run clout.
With the Braves on top 11 to 9, Adams singled and Rhodes grounded to short to end the top of the twelfth. Carpenter pulled a double switch, as a precaution against his pitcher having to come to the plate too soon. He yanked Rhodes and inserted Cobb into centerfield. He wanted that third straight win, even if it meant keeping Cobb in the game. The new pitcher, Johnson, would bat in Rhodes’ spot.
As luck would have it, Cobb’s heroics also reawakened the Marlins’ bats. They scraped together two runs in the bottom of the twelfth, on a walk and three hits, to tie the score at 11.
The thirteenth inning passed without either team scoring, as the game approached the five-hour mark.
In the top of the fourteenth, Todd Searling led off with a bunt single. Martinez attempted to sacrifice him to second, but was unsuccessful when Searling was thrown out at second on the fielder’s choice. With one out and Martinez at first, Cobb came to the plate for the second time.
By now, nearly half of the sell-out crowd had vanished, but the fierceness of the boos by the remaining contingent suggested the souls of the missing twenty thousand fans were still present. McMahon remained on the mound, laboring in his third inning of work since the Marlins had nearly run out of pitching arms.
With first base occupied and the game on the line, McMahon pitched carefully to Cobb. His first two servings were low and outside, and Cobb’s bat rested on his shoulders. The next pitch was a screwball that sliced the outside corner for a strike. Having set him up outside, McMahon elected to throw a curve that would start toward Cobb, but then break on the inside corner of the plate.
The instant he let it go, McMahon wanted the pitch back. It hung for what seemed like an eternity. To Cobb, the ball seemed to arrive in slow motion. Creating all the power he could muster, Cobb thrust his bat into the pitch, his split hands coming together again as the swing reached over the plate and the resulting collision of bat and ball caused the sphere to rocket toward right field. The moment he connected, everyone in the stadium knew the ball would clear the fence by a substantial margin. The only question was whether it would be fair or foul. As the ball glided over the fence, it appeared to start slicing foul. Just then, a wind current caught it short of the pole and whisked it a couple inches as it barely struck the barrier and veered to the right.
Watching the ball carom off the foul pole, McMahon threw his glove at Cobb in disgust, unconcerned that his action would result in his immediate ejection and fine.
Taking his time jogging down to first base, Cobb refrained from yelling threats at the twirler. Rather, he laughed derisively, taunting McMahon, “How long ya been pitchin’ up here, grandpa. Next time, I’ll try swingin’ with one hand tied behind my back, just to make it fair. That way, maybe you can keep it in the ballpark!” The crowd noise prevented Cobb from hearing McMahon’s obscenity-laced rejoinder, as the home plate umpire escorted the raging reliever off the field.
The Miami fans were in disbelief. Two circuit clouts from the man who claimed to be the Detroit Hall of Famer. Although boos dominated, there was a small smattering of cheers from fans applauding the spectacle and wondering, Who the hell is this guy?!
The accolades from the NBC booth were generous. “I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing more from Mister Cobb, Joe… Never seen anything like it! Stunning, absolutely stunning…”
Rounding the bases this time, Anthony Adams did not turn his back on Cobb as he reached home plate. Instead, caught up in the unfolding drama, he extended a hand and spoke two words, “Nice poke.” The Braves’ dugout, however, remained subdued, although one unfamiliar player gave Cobb a brief thumbs up.
This time, the Braves held the Marlins in check in the bottom half of the inning, winning the game 13 to 11. Having clubbed two extra-inning home runs in his only two plate appearances, the Sunday morning papers were full of Cobb’s heroics.