Episode 3 — Chapter 2

| Jun 4, 2020 | Baseball Immortal | 0 comments

Episode 3 — Chapter 2

by Roland Colton | Baseball Immortal

Chapter   2

 

Two hours before the game, men in lounge suits with top hats and ladies in high-heeled boots with full-length dresses and bustles, lacy gloves and sweeping hats, began streaming into Bennett Park to welcome their team home. As the stadium began to fill, ladies’ parasols began popping open like mushrooms sprouting in a field, providing relief from the blazing sun. On the sidewalk of Trumbull Street, a makeshift band of cornets and drummers played Daisy Bell while peddlers hawked Tiger buttons, pennants, pins and caps—one vendor even offering a Hughie Jennings whistle.

An explosion from a nearby cannon heralded the coming contest, covering the air with red smoke, while the bleachers began to swarm with boisterous and hopeful fans. Unable to hold the paying throng, thousands more spilled into the outfield, forming a human fringe against the outfield fences where Officer O’Rourke and two other mounted policemen readied for the task of keeping the mob from straying too far into the playing area. Several venturous fans, denied a ticket, climbed to the top of the first-base pavilion, the first time any spectators had scaled that edifice since the world’s series of 1908. The wild-cat bleachers behind the left field fence and across the street were packed with fans who had paid half-price for a view of the game. Thousands more, who were turned away, congregated in the streets, anxious to hear the sound of cheers and catch glimpses of the scoreboard once the game began.

 

***

 

With the third out of the top of the fifth inning finally registered, Cobb dropped his glove on the ground and jogged toward the dugout, shaking his head in disgust to the thunderous chorus of boos cascading onto the field.

A small contingent of fans departed the outfield fringe, seizing empty bleacher seats abandoned by deserting spectators.

Cobb would have loved to shuffle off with the lot, if it were only possible.  The thrashing was bad enough, but he cursed himself for failing to deliver on his promise; his wife had asked him countless times before, but he had always declined, telling her that the best team on the field would carry the day.

Arrangements for the funeral had been completed. It was a case for the coroner, not the ambulance surgeons. A man who had offered to bet 5 cents against $1000 on the Jungaleers at this time would have been taken in charge by the ushers until the doctors came with a straightjacket.

There was nothing but gloom painted across the face of the distraught Tigers seated in the dugout. Manager Hughie Jennings stood in front of his troops as Doc White warmed up for the bottom of the fifth inning.

“You buggers think you’re a first-place team! You ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of lilly-livered sissies.”

Catcalls coming from the mutinous Tiger fans were so loud that Hughie had to raise his voice for the players to hear.  “EE-yah! I’ve never been so damned ashamed in all my life. You should all be shipped off to Kalamazoo.  It wasn’t bad enough to be swept in New York? Twelve tallies down and the game’s barely half over. I’ve sent word to the morgue. Told ‘em we need eighteen caskets—make that nineteen once I put a knife to my gullet. Been told they’ll be arriving shortly.”

Shaking his head in disgust, a crestfallen Cobb confided in teammate Sam Crawford, who was seated to his right. “I promised my new-born baby girl a victory today.”

Crawford winced. “Ty, you know better than to make promises you can’t keep. Tough luck. We’ll get her a win tomorrah.”

Cobb nodded, but it was today that mattered.              

The first Tiger batter in the bottom half of the fifth inning was George Mullin, batting for relief pitcher Ralph Works.

Mullin singled.

Jones popped up for the first out.

Ownie Bush followed with a walk. 

Before jettisoning two of the three bats he had been swinging in the on-deck circle, Cobb turned to Crawford. “Let’s try and keep it a-goin’. Wake ‘em up,” Cobb glanced at his lethargic teammates.

“You start us off and I’ll keep it a-goin’,” Crawford replied with nod of his head.

Cobb hit the first pitch foul into the grandstands; a fan caught the ball and threw it back into the field of play. The same baseball had been used all game; it had been soiled with spit, and pounded into the dust and dirt, turning the once-gleaming white sphere gray.

Cobb readied for the next pitch, his eyes primed to ascertain the speed and spin of the ball at the earliest point possible. It became harder to pick up the spin in later innings as the stitches began to blend with the darkened horsehide. The second pitch came in fast, waist-high over the inner portion of the plate. Cobb swung, his left hand sliding down the bat handle to meet the right as he connected, smashing the ball deep into right centerfield; the thinned crowd scattered to avoid a ground-rule double. Before the dust had settled, Cobb was standing on third and two runs were in. Cobb raised a clenched fist in the air to the sound of random cheers, though the cheers were soon eclipsed by a chorus of boos reminding all that the Tigers were still ten runs down.

From third base, Cobb made eye contact with Crawford as he approached the plate. “Your turn, Wahoo,” he mouthed.

Crawford subtly nodded to Cobb. A moment later, there was a crack of a bat and Wahoo Sam was sprinting around the bases, also ending up on third. Cobb scored but waited near home plate for the play to end. On his way to the dugout, he held his arm out and pointed at the smiling Crawford. Modest applause greeted the second consecutive three-bagger, but the taunts returned after Crawford scored on an infield out and the side was soon retired.

 

 

The White Sox were held scoreless in the top of the sixth. In the bottom half, O’Leary, Casey and Covington singled in succession, the last a bunt, filling the bases. A wild pitch let the first man home and moved up the other base runners. One more run scored on an infield out, and a single by Cobb brought in a third, cheers supplanting the crowd’s jeers for the first time all game. After finally retiring the side, Sox starter Doc White was dismissed for the day.

One man even announced openly that the Tigers would win, whereas a dozen swarmed around to ask him where he found the place that sells it on Sundays.

With the deficit slashed to five after six innings, a glimmer of hope sprouted within the remaining multitude, as random voices urged the Tiger players on.

Unfortunately, optimism soon turned to disappointment when White, McIntyre, Lord and Bodie all singled, resulting in two more White Sox runs. The Tigers went down meekly in the bottom half of the seventh inning, and any thoughts of a miracle comeback began to fade.  

 

 

The White Sox failed to score in the top of the eighth inning and the Tigers remained seven runs down as the bottom of the eighth inning opened.

Detroit catcher Joe Casey came to the plate. He hit a hard ground ball to short that took a bad bounce and deflected off the head of Rollie Zeider, dribbling into centerfield. Facing a seven-run deficit, Jennings didn’t see the point of pinch-hitting for the pitcher, Clarence Mitchell. To the surprise of the fans, Mitchell smashed a ground ball that struck the third base bag, preventing Captain Lord from making a play. There were two runners on, when there should have been two outs and none on. After an out and a walk, Cobb came to the plate again, this time with the bases full. He promptly struck a single to left field that netted two runs.

The string of walks and hits continued and the Tiger bugs began to entertain visions of an historic comeback. Though the crowd had now willowed down to 5,000 spectators, the remaining horde made the noise of 50,000.

Still batting in the bottom of the eighth, five Tigers had already scored.

15-13.

With the players’ and fans’ hopes taking flight, Sox manager Hugh Duffy trudged toward the mound. He grabbed the ball from Olmstead and the pitcher began his ignominious trek back to the dugout. Duffy pointed to the pitcher warming up on the sidelines, the “imperial guard of Duffy’s army,” who had gone largely unnoticed by fans during the electrifying rally.

The crowd’s cheering came to a sudden halt, as the realization set in that the great Ed Walsh was striding onto the field of play.

Ed Walsh was no ordinary pitcher.          

An imposing presence on the mound in height and frame, Walsh had won an incredible 40 games a couple of years before and was in the middle of another superb season. Walsh rarely pitched in relief, but when he did, bats were silenced, rallies withered and comeback hopes crushed. Walsh had long since mastered the art of pitching and his delivery of a pitched ball was considered the most “tantalizing” in all of baseball while his spitball was regarded the best in the game; properly thrown, a spitball was nearly impossible to hit; it could dart left or right, often dropping a couple of feet near the end of its flight. He went to his mouth on every pitch, whether he threw the spitter or not, just to keep the hitters guessing.

Just as the improbable victory had seemed within grasp moments ago, now a foreboding gloom descended upon the fans. Mumblings of “We are doomed!” filled the stadium. Sox players nodded in assent as they watched their ace pitcher warming up on the mound. The hemorrhaging would stop. The flames would be quelled. Manager Duffy was not about to let this game be placed in the loser’s column, after nearly blowing a twelve-run lead.

Jennings sent Biff Schaller up to bat for Casey. The crowd renewed its cheering with vigor as Schaller took his place at the plate, hoping for a miracle. Walsh turned away from the crowd, moistened a small area of the ball between the seams and clamped his thumb down tightly on the raised stitches. He turned and faced the crowd before toeing the rubber. After pausing several seconds, Walsh wound his right arm around, kicked his left leg and hurled the ball toward the batter with terrific force.

The spitball darted to Schaller’s right, his bat waving weekly at the sphere.

Strike One!

Schaller ignored the next offering, hoping for a Ball.

Strike Two!

The third consecutive spitball dropped in the dirt as Schaller’s late swing missed by twelve inches.

Strike Three!

The inning was over.

The crowd fell eerily silent as a feeling of hopelessness engulfed the stadium. Walsh sauntered back to the Sox’s bench with a confident sneer on his face; if he retired the Tigers in order in the ninth inning, he wouldn’t even have to face the great Ty Cobb.

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