Episode 70— Chapter 79
Atlanta @ Pittsburgh
In the top of the ninth inning, the Braves extended their lead to 4 to 1. Due to the late-inning rally, it came time for Cobb to bat. His timing was off—he couldn’t remember, in all of his playing days, having experienced such a prolonged batting slump. Although he was making contact, his swings usually resulted in ground balls that didn’t have the speed to make it through the infield. He was too anxious at the plate; too tense to get his first base hit in some time. Though his fielding had become superlative since his vision returned, he sensed that would not be enough to keep him in the majors much longer.
Cobb had recently lost his closest teammate, Brian Brugge, who had been shipped back to the Gwinnett Stripers, the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate, after several less than stellar pitching performances, and Cobb feared he was next on the list.
Never before, during all the years he had played the game, had Cobb seriously questioned his ability to hit. The fiery determination which had always accompanied his appearance at the plate was a thing of the past, try as he might to work himself up. The overwhelming, unquenchable desire to prevail at all costs, no matter what the odds, had been replaced by a tentative hope that he might avoid embarrassment at the plate. Approaching the plate in the top of the ninth inning, a terrified unprecedented feeling surfaced: I am overmatched. I can see the ball now… but my bat is impotent. The ball no longer jumps off my bat; now it strikes with a dull and hollow thud and dribbles onto the grass. I’m a failure. These are my final days in the big leagues… this is how my career will end.
“Steee-rike one!” the umpire yelled, bringing Cobb back to his senses.
I can’t endure it much longer… my performance is so pathetic… It will forever tarnish my legacy. To hell with that anyway, I need to put my energy into finding my way back. Once I’m back, all will be well.
Cobb stepped out of the batter’s box. He tried to remember the feelings, the thoughts, the intensity that had accompanied him to the plate countless times before—when he had been able to demonstrate his mastery over the game and the pitcher. But his thoughts were now disjointed and lacking in confidence. Though unseen, he felt his father’s presence watching from above, and he sensed his father’s exquisite pain now that he had become a failure.
The pitcher went into his wind-up and Cobb swung late at a pitch six inches outside. The ball was topped weakly and rolled toward third base, just inside the foul line. Dropping his bat, Cobb raced toward first base. The third baseman, playing two steps in front of the bag, stormed toward the ball picking it up barehanded and fired a strike to first.
The ball and runner arrived at the same precise instant in time. The umpire extended both hands outwardly, demonstrating that the runner would be granted safe harbor at the first stop on the diamond. Cobb was credited with a single. It was his first base hit in fifteen official at bats.
Cobb saw action only in the outfield as a late-inning defensive replacement in the remaining three games, except for one ninth-inning plate appearance, where he reached first on a base-on-balls. The Braves ended up splitting the four-game series with the Pirates and traveled to Philadelphia for a three-game affair. Now that a quarter of the season over, the Braves record stood at 17 wins and 24 losses.
With the article submitted for publication, Savannah returned to her apartment while the sun was still in the heavens for the first time in days. It was a pleasant luxury having time to relax, and her thoughts turned to her friend; she hadn’t talk to Cobb since leaving for Japan. Upon her return, she had tried reaching him multiple times, unsuccessfully. It troubled her that Ty hadn’t returned any of her calls.
I’ve let him down. I haven’t been there for him when he needed me the most. Savannah knew Cobb’s teammates had responded to him with jealousy and indifference, and that his play had suffered during the past few weeks. She was surprised Cobb hadn’t yet been released and she hoped that he would remain on the team long enough to redeem himself and prove he could compete at the major league level. She wondered what would happen to him if he were released? Where would he go? What would he do?
Suddenly, Savannah’s cell phone began ringing. She hoped it was Ty, but another name was displayed on the screen: Ike Hughes.
Why on earth is he calling me? Savannah had already concluded that there was no longer any possibility that Ripley was Cobb.
“Coach Hughes. How are you?”
“Could be better. Team’s in a tough stretch now.”
There was a brief awkward silence as Savannah waited for the coach to explain the purpose of his call.
“Hey, I thought I’d give you a call. When we last talked, you mentioned Ripley and Ty Cobb in the same breath. I heard something that kind of made my hair stand on end… and think of you.”
“Really,” Savannah’s antennae suddenly went up. “What was it?”
“Well, I was talking with Garcia about how much we were missing Chase’s bat this year. His response caught me off guard. He said, ‘Yeah, it’d sure be nice to have Ty Cobb back in the lineup.’”
“He said that?” Savannah felt her spine shiver.
“Yeah, but that’s not what blew me away. I asked him what he meant; I’d never heard anyone refer to Ripley as Ty Cobb before. What he said next floored me.”
Savannah waited breathlessly.
“He said that Chase once told him: ‘In my house, Ty Cobb is God.’”
Savannah was stunned. “Really? What an odd remark.”
“That’s what I thought. In light of our previous discussion, I found it kind’a strange.”
“I wonder if I might be able to talk with Garcia?” Savannah asked.
“I don’t see why not. I don’t have it handy, but I’ll text you his number and let him know you’ll be contacting him.”
“I’d appreciate that. Thanks for calling, coach.”
Had she given up too quickly on her notion that Ripley had assumed Cobb’s identity following the terrible accident?
Savannah pondered the coach’s words: In my house, Ty Cobb is God.
What could that possibly mean?