Episode 64 — Chapter 72
Cobb squinted as the ball left the pitching coach’s hand. It was so damn fuzzy, even arriving at such a pedestrian speed. He couldn’t pick up the spin or rotation—the seams were blurred. It was just a white blurry sphere coming his way. He took the first pitch, then bunted the second and third. Thankfully, it was batting practice and the coach would be throwing nothing but slow, fat pitches that even a little leaguer could hit.
Cobb took a full cut at the next pitch, and fouled it off. He steadied himself for the next offering and grounded the ball to the right of second base. He took another pitch and then swung with more force on the next delivery, missing it altogether. He backed away from the plate, rubbing his eyes.
“Want me to slow it up a bit, old-timer?” the coach laughed, not used to dominating in batting practice.
“It’s comin’ in so fast I can barely see it,” Cobb responded sarcastically, blinking his eyes hard. “Just trying out a new grip.”
Cobb readied himself for the next pitch. Straight down the middle, Cobb connected solidly, sending the ball down the right field line. He popped up the subsequent pitch and then it was a grounder to the opposite field. On the final offering, Cobb launched a fly ball to center field. He exited the cage, hoping his ineptitude would go unnoticed among fans and players.
I have no chance.
Cobb sauntered into the field after warming up. He went by the far corner of the dugout, where the batting lineup was posted. He stared at it for a moment, trying to make sense of the blurred letters. He stepped closer, squinting and forcing his eyes to focus—there was his name penciled in the second slot.
Damn it! This is one game I should be sitting out. How in hell am I going to be able to hit the ball or field?
Cobb leaned forward, his hands resting on his knees. Positioned several steps toward left field, he watched Fournier go into his wind-up. The pitcher, catcher and infielders were all a blur and he could barely discern the white object hurtling toward the Mets batter. Instantly, there was a crack of the bat and Cobb saw a white blob arcing up in the air. It was coming his way! The ball continued to climb and disappeared for a moment in the stadium lights.
Where the hell is it? Cobb retreated several steps. Oh, there it is! As the ball approached, he could tell he had misjudged its distance. It would be dropping twenty feet in front of him. Fortunately, the ball had been struck hard and was still hanging high in the air. Cobb sprinted forward and camped under it, making the catch.
As he threw the ball to the second baseman, Cobb felt perspiration under his armpits; it was a foreign feeling so early in the game and especially for such a routine play.
I pray to God that’s the last one coming my way.
Cobb dug his cleats into the dirt, his left hand held out toward the umpire, requesting time as he prepared for the pitch. He had little concern that there would be another head-hunting adventure after last night’s incident. His belief proved correct, as the first four pitches were all in or close to the strike zone. On a 2 and 2 count, Cobb took his first swing at a ball, hitting a routine grounder to third base.
Garter was the Mets’ number 7 hitter, with little power. Cobb moved in several steps toward home plate. He had already handled a couple of line drive base hits and another routine fly without any noticeable difficulty. There was a swing of Garter’s bat and the resulting crack. Instinctively Cobb took a step forward, unable to immediately judge the ball’s trajectory. He suddenly realized that he had miscalculated the flight of the ball. He turned his back to the ball and began sprinting toward the centerfield fence. Wheeling around, he stretched his glove outward and the ball hit the base of his glove, then fell to the ground. Cobb hurriedly retrieved the ball and threw it to the cut-off man in short left-center. Two runs had scored and Garter slid into third base safely.
The stadium crowd booed the misplay and the Error sign flashed on the scoreboard.
Moments later, the Mets were retired and Cobb jogged into the dugout. Carpenter was standing at the top of the dugout steps.
“What the hell happened out there?!” he glared at Cobb.
“Lost the ball in the lights,” Cobb lied.
“You cost us two runs and maybe the damned ball game.”
Cobb looked away and walked past the skipper to his familiar perch at the end of the dugout.
Cobb stood in the on-deck circle, swinging his trio of bats. The score was deadlocked at three runs a piece in the bottom of the ninth. There was a runner on second and one out. Cobb was 0 for 4 with two called third strikes. He felt totally inept at the plate. Without sharp eye sight, batting against major league pitching was an impossibility. He had some chance connecting on fast balls, but he had no chance hitting breaking pitches.
Cobb watched Adams take a pitch. Ball Two.
2 and 1.
Batting had always been Cobb’s first love when it came to baseball. Now, he’d prefer a trip to the dentist rather than being humiliated again in front of the horde of spectators.
Just get a flippin’ basehit, Cobb implored Adams as the next pitch came blazing toward the plate.
Ash struck horsehide. The ball lined over the second baseman’s outstretched leap, and Searling sprinted toward home, easily beating the throw.
Braves’ players poured out of the dugout to celebrate Adams’ game-winning blow. Cobb remained in the on-deck circle for several seconds, then dropped his bat and breathed a sigh of relief. He then jogged over to join the throng of celebrating Braves’ players. He had avoided another humiliating batting performance and was grateful that his fielding miscue had not cost his team the game.
For the first time since his dramatic arrival on the baseball scene, there were doubts expressed among baseball commentators and experts about Cobb’s batting and fielding skills. ESPN’s Bryan Dunwoody noted, “Cobb looked terrible out there today. That was downright embarrassing! Has he suddenly developed a case of nerves or what? Maybe he is just a flash-in-the-pan, who struck lightning in his first few games? 0 for 4 with an error that nearly cost his team the game. If he continues to underperform like this, he won’t be around much longer.”