Episode 4 — Chapter 3
There was just a small smattering of cheers as the Sox were retired without a run in the top of the ninth inning, because fans knew that the Sox ace would soon be back on the mound, baffling the remaining Tiger batters into submission. Nevertheless, as Walsh completed his warm-up tosses, the crowd did its best to support their home charge. By the time Jennings sent in new recruit, Chick Lathers, to bat for the pitcher Mitchell, the fans had built up a cacophony of support.
As the bottom of the ninth began, Cobb did the math. He would be the fourth batter up, provided the game did not end before his turn. It hadn’t even seemed possible that he might keep his promise to little Shirley until the stunning hitting surge in the bottom of the eighth. He dared to dream the impossible. But for a miracle to occur, his team needed to get a couple of runners on base.
Walsh had fanned the only batter he had faced thus far, stemming the rally in the bottom of the eighth. He gave a knowing smile when he saw the rookie Lathers walking to the plate. Walsh’s first pitch, a spitter, curved down out of the strike zone for a Ball. To the surprise of Lathers and fans, Walsh’s next two pitches missed as well.
3 and 0.
The cheering intensified as the fans prayed for a base-on-balls. Walsh’s next pitch split the plate while Lathers kept the bat on his shoulder. 3 and 1. Another fastball followed and Lathers took that pitch, too.
3 and 2. Full count.
The crowd’s optimism turned to groans as Lathers lunged mightily at a pitch half a foot outside, striking nothing but air.
Cobb cursed. At least one of the next two batters needed to reach base safely for him to bat. Cobb gathered his three bats, preparing to enter the “batters’ circle” once Davy Jones had batted. He mouthed a silent prayer that the relatively weak-hitting Jones would get on board. No sooner had his prayer been offered than Jones connected on a curve ball into centerfield for a single. The crowd gave a rousing cheer. After two straight strikeouts, where no contact with the bat had been made at all, finally a base hit! Cobb let out a sigh, relieved that barring a double play, he would come to the plate.
Ownie Bush was the next batter. Bush was even more inept at the plate than Jones, barely hitting .200 for the season. On a full count, Bush’s bat hit the ball, lofting a weak fly to left. The spectators held their breath as Jimmy Callahan charged the ball and dove.
It was a spectacular effort, but the ball hit the turf just before his glove arrived and rolled past him. By the time the ball was retrieved, Jones had advanced to third and Bush was standing on second base.
The doom and gloom in the stadium had suddenly given rise to a deafening roar, as the mighty Ty Cobb, hitting north of .440, dropped two of his three bats and paused, soaking in the crowd’s boisterous cheers. The shadows from the dilapidated grandstands now stretched over the full field of play as the sun descended toward the horizon. The grime-stained ball of the middle innings had now morphed into a darker shade of gray while also sprouting a couple of more lumps from the unrelenting assault from bats.
Tyrus the Great strode to the plate. A man was on third and one on second and they had to get home to tie the score. Ed Walsh, mightiest of Chicago twirlers, was on the slab, having been called to save the game.
Fire seemed to gleam in the eyes of the great Detroit slugger as he faced the great Chicago pitcher. It became a battle of brawn and wit. One strike and two balls had been called. The great throng was standing and yelling like bedlam inmates. It was not time to sit and await the result. Finally, the best of batters landed on the ball and it bounded high to Capt. Lord of the Sox. Lord took a quick glance at the plate, where a perfect throw might have nailed a man going home, but never losing his good baseball judgment he let that chance slide and heaved with all his might toward first base. The great Tyrus was going with the speed of a racehorse and, knowing this, Lord was forced to use all his reserve.
The ball bounced high off the turf in the direction of the third baseman and Cobb was in the midst of a frenetic sprint toward first. Unless Lord grabbed the ball with his bare hand, Cobb knew he had a chance to reach the base ahead of the throw. It would be close. Cobb dove headfirst, at the last moment, hoping to reach the base a fraction of a second early.
By getting the man at first, only one run would go over and two would be out. It was the proper play to make, and Lord made it, but his hurry unbalanced him. There was a cloud of dust at first as the great hitter slid for the bag. Lord’s throw was bad. It hit the ground five feet in front of John Collins and an instant later both Collins and Cobb were in a pile at first base. The ball rolled twenty feet out into foul ground and the two runners crossed the plate. Like a flash Cobb was upon his feet and off for second, making that point easily before Collins could recover. Cobb was hatless, covered in grime, and his clothes were torn, but like a raving maniac he danced with glee around second base as Sam Crawford, veteran of many seasons, walked to the plate.
Delirious with joy, Cobb jumped up and down, brandishing his arms. Cobb’s fifth base-hit of the game coupled with his slide at first, later described as powerful enough to “knock over a brick house”, had brought in two runs. Uppermost in his mind was the conviction that the miracle would happen. Perched on second base, the Gods had favored him and were on the verge of granting his wish. There was just one out and the second-best Tiger hitter, Sam Crawford, was coming to the plate.
Ed Walsh gritted his teeth and bit his lip in suppressed anger. Capt. Lord conferred with him and then the big spit ball pitcher stepped on the slab. He hurled one over the edge of the plate like a shot and the umpire called it a ball. Walsh raved as if he would crush the official ‘neath his spikes in the dust, and Cobb danced more and more. A strike came over, then another ball, and then there was a crack. Far out in centerfield, Ping Bodie whirled and ran back…
With the crack of the bat, Cobb eyes opened wide. The ball had been crushed and now the only question remaining was whether the fleet-footed Bodie could track the ball down. Cobb returned to second getting ready to tag, knowing in his mind that he could easily advance to third on the catch and a plot was already hatching in his mind to try the impossible and attempt to score the winning run from second; he had risked it a month before against New York and won.
Ping Bodie whirled and ran back, but soon stopped, as the ball sailed on a line ten feet over his head and sought the deepest corner of the lot.
Cobb leaped into the air euphorically once he realized the ball was beyond Bodie’s reach. He danced on his way toward third, realizing that he had time to circle the bases twice if he wanted to. Approaching third, Cobb looked into the stands and saw the Tiger fans jumping for joy and derby hats floating in the air like a horde of black geese. He could scarcely believe his eyes. A comeback victory from twelve runs down. No team, in the history of the game, had ever overcome such a daunting deficit.
Touching third base, Cobb looked into centerfield and watched the ball dribble to the deepest corner of the field, five hundred feet away from the plate. Bodie had given chase briefly but now had turned his back on the ball and was trudging toward the infield. Cobb watched as other Sox players began their defeated trek toward the visitor’s dugout.
Cobb absorbed the pandemonium in the stadium, as he completed his journey home, both arms raised in triumph.
The crowd poured out of the field like a maddened mob, surrounded the Detroit athletes, bore Crawford and Cobb off to the clubhouse, and the great day of baseball was over.
Cobb’s five hits gave him 103 hits in 56 games, making him the fastest player to ever garner a hundred hits in a season. In addition to his five hits, he had scored three runs and driven in six more. Even manager Hughie Jennings was unable to find superlatives enough to bestow upon his troops. He bowed before them and begged their humble pardon for ever doubting. He even offered to pay for the eighteen caskets he had ordered, though they mysteriously never found their way into the stadium.
Arrow, carrying Officer O’Rourke, trotted off the field as the Tigers’ players entered the clubhouse in celebration. The policeman’s heart still beat rapidly, his voice was hoarse and a wide grin covered his face, but his hands were trembling—he realized how close he had come to missing the greatest comeback in baseball history; had it not been for a few stouthearted fans who remained on the outfield fringe, he would have. O’Rourke’s eye-witness account would be passed down for generations.
After the game, Cobb returned home still giddy with joy. Before entering the house, he took a deep breath and changed his demeanor. Now he was ready.
He opened the door and Charlie walked toward him breathlessly, wondering how the game had gone. From his expression, she could tell that it had gone badly. Cobb shook his head with a melancholy look.
“It was a disaster,” he started, his eyes looking downward. “The Sox had seven tallies in the first inning. Seven runs! I didn’t help matters either, by dropping a ball in the field.”
Charlie came over to her husband and they embraced.
“Oh, Ty. I’m so sorry I asked you to promise little Shirley a victory. I should never have placed such a burden upon you.”
Ty shook his head sadly. “That’s not all. The Sox kept parading men around the bases and soon the score was 13 to 1. I don’t recall ever being part of such a whippin’ in my life. I was feeling so low, knowing that I hadn’t kept my promise.”
Charlie looked up at her husband. “Poor dear. I feel so badly for you.”
“Even our own fans had deserted us. Calls for the undertaker. The names we were called! It was almost too painful to bear. A good, many fans deserted the ballpark half- way through the game.”
“Oh my Lord!”
Charlie continued to console her husband, caressing his back.
“How did you ever endure the humiliation?” she finally asked.
“How does any man endure being humiliated before his friends, his supporters? Fortunately, we made the score a bit more respectable when Sam and I tripled in the fifth inning.”
“I”m so proud of you Ty. Someday, you can tell little Shirley that you didn’t give up, that you tried in vain to fulfil your promise.”
Cobb nodded his head. “We still had a bit more game in us. We scored three more times in the sixth, making it 13-8. That made me feel a little bit better.”
“So that’s how the game ended?”
“No. The Sox got a couple of more runs. So, we were down seven runs when we came to bat in the eighth inning… just six more outs…”
Now Charlie could sense that something was up, but Cobb just shook his head morosely.
“Ty, tell me. What happened in the eighth inning?”
Cobb turned away from his wife. It was difficult to keep up the charade and he had to stop himself from smiling. He couldn’t wait to tell her, but he wanted to milk it for as long as he could. Struggling to regain his somber composure, he continued.
“We kept battling and before the inning was over, we added five more tallies. Just two runs separated us.” Cobb had a pained look on his face. “Just two runs! Can you believe it, that’s all we needed to pull off a miracle. If ever I could have called on the powers of the Almighty…”
Charlie was beyond anxious, waiting for the ending.
“Ty, how did it end? Tell me now!”
Cobb stood up and walked over to the window, his head hanging down. “The crowd was cheering, praying for a miracle but fearing that all our fighting had been for naught. Just two runs to tie. That’s all we needed! But now we had to face the great Ed Walsh”
“Ed Walsh! Oh my Lord. And?”
“It was all but hopeless. I prayed I would come to the plate—I was the fourth batter in the bottom of the ninth.”
“Lathers was no match for Walsh. He struck out,” Cobb shook his head pausing. “So now we were down to our last two outs.”
Charlie could no longer bear to wait. “Please tell me, Ty? You never got up, did you?
“Well, first Jones singled and then Bush hit a two-bagger.”
Charlie came over to Cobb. “So, you came to the plate!?”
Ty’s pained expression remained. “I did. I wanted to win it so badly for Shirley. At least I hit the ball, but just a bounder to third.”
“Captain Lord threw to first base. I ran like the blazes. I gave it my all” Cobb shook his head. “I did my best.”
Cobb stopped and looked out the window and repeated, “I did my best.”
“So he threw you out, but there was still one more out.”
“I crashed into Collins at first and the ball went rolling toward the bleachers.”
“You weren’t out! The runners must have scored!” Charlie was nearly in hysterics. “You tied the game!”
Still staring out the window to keep his wife from looking at the grin on his face, Ty nodded his head. “I was on second base, dancing a jig and Sam was next up.”
“Ty! What happened! Tell me now.” She could bear the suspense not a moment longer.
“Sam crushed the ball. I wasn’t sure if Bodie would catch it or not. Then suddenly I could tell.”
“That the ball…”
Cobb spoke slowly, trying his best not to betray his jubilation.
“I could tell it would carry…”
Charlie’s arms embraced Cobb from the rear, waiting to hear.
“… over… over Bodies’ head.”
Charlie’s face was now beaming and tears of happiness were streaming down her face. “I don’t believe it.”
Ty turned with a smile painted on his face; he couldn’t hide it any longer.
“And I strolled—I took my time… savoring every step, looking at the bugs’ faces, watching them jump and scream, pouring out of the stadium onto the field. I touched home plate and they carried Sam and I to the clubhouse. And you know what was on my mind…?”
Charlie hugged Cobb tightly. “My hero. You kept your promise.” Charlie began showering her husband with kisses.
“We did it. We accomplished the impossible.” Cobb said quietly.
“Little Shirley shall have a blessed life. I’m certain of it.”