Baseball Joe on the School Nine/Chapter 25
BY A CLOSE MARGIN
"Whew!" whistled Captain Elmer Dalton of the Morningside nine, as he greeted some of the lads against whom his team was to play, "you fellows have been making a lot of changes, haven't you?" and he looked at the several new members of the school team, including Joe and Tom.
"Yes, a bit of house cleaning," replied Ward Gerard. "I am captain now. Hiram and Luke got out."
"Yes, I heard there was some sort of a row."
"Oh, I suppose it's all over the league by this time," put in Peaches. "But it couldn't be helped. It was like a dose of bitter medicine, but we took it, and I think it's going to do us good."
"You mean we're going to do you good," laughed Elmer. "We're going to trim you again to-day."
"Not much!" cried Ward. "We'll win. Come now, a little wager between you and me—for the sodas, say."
"You're on!" agreed Elmer. "Where's your batting list?"
The two captains walked over to the scoring bench to arrange the details of the game. The two teams were made up as follows, this being the batting order:
|George Bland||centre field||||Dunlap Spurr||centre field|
|Dick Lantfeld||left field||||Will Lee||shortstop|
|Harry Nelson||second base||||Wilson Carlburg||left field|
|Nat Pierson||third base||||Ted Clay||pitcher|
|Tom Davis||first base||||Wallace Douglass||catcher|
|Charles Borden||shortstop||||Elmer Dalton||first base|
|Harry Lauter||right field||||Walker Bromley||third base|
|Joe Matson||pitcher||||Loftus Brown||second base|
|Ward Gerard||catcher||||Harry Young||right field|
The Excelsiors were to bat last, and while the rival crowds of school boys were singing, cheering and giving their class yells, Joe Matson walked to the box for the second time as pitcher on the school nine in a big school league game. No wonder he felt a trifle nervous, but he did not show it, not even when some one yelled:
"Look at the new pitcher they've got! We'll get his number all right."
"Yes, we'll have his goat in about a minute!" added another Morningside partizan.
"Go as far as you like," answered Joe with a smile.
"Play ball!" yelled the umpire, and Joe faced the first batter, Dunlap Spurr, who had the reputation of being a heavy hitter. Ward signalled for a low one, for he knew that Dunlap had a tendency to hit over such a ball. Joe nodded his head to show that he understood, and the next moment the horsehide went speeding toward the plate.
The batter swung viciously at it but—missed. He had gone half a foot over it.
"Strike!" cried the umpire.
"Make him give you a pretty one!" called Elmer. "He will if you wait."
"He won't have long to wait," retorted our hero. This time he decided to send one over the corner of the plate, as he noticed that Dunlap had a free swing. Joe hoped he would strike at it and miss, and that was exactly what happened.
"Strike two!" howled the umpire, and there followed a gasp of dismay. Dunlap was not in the habit of doing this, and he rather scowled.
"One more and we'll have him down!" called the catcher.
"Where'd you get the pitcher?" asked a Morningside wit.
"Oh, we had him made to order," replied Tom Davis, who was anxiously waiting on first.
Joe hoped he could make it three straight strikes, but his next was called a ball, and the Morningside supporters let out a yell of gratification.
"There's his glass arm showing! He's going to pieces!" they yelled. Joe shut his jaw grimly. He was going to fool the batter if possible, and the next ball he sent in was a puzzling inshoot.
Instinctively Dunlap started away from the plate, but he need not have moved, for the ball, with a neat little twist, passed him at a safe distance, and at a point where he could almost have hit it had he tried. But he did not move his bat, and an instant later the umpire called:
"Three strikes—batter out!"
Then indeed was there a gasp of dismay and protest from the big crowd of Morningside sympathizers, and the visiting nine.
"Say," began Dunlap Spurr, "that was never——"
"You dry up!" commanded his captain with a laugh. "It was a peach of a ball, and you ought to have hit it. Don't begin that way. We can beat 'em without that. Good work, Matson, but you can't keep it up. Come on, Lee; you're up next. Carlburg on deck."
Joe was immensely pleased, but he knew it was only the beginning of the battle. He got two strikes on Lee and that player began to get worried. Then, after one ball, Lee hit the next one for a pop fly that Joe hardly had to step out of his box to get.
"Two down, play for all you're worth, Joe," called Ward; but Joe needed no such urging. However, something went wrong. Either Joe did not have as good control, speed or curving ability as when he had started in, or the next players found him. At any rate Carlburg knocked a dandy two bagger, and Ted Clay, who followed, duplicated the trick. Carlburg came in with the first run of the game, amid a riot of noise, and when Wallace Douglass hit safely to first. Clay got to third, coming in with the second run a little later, when Captain Dalton also singled.
"We've got 'em going! We've got 'em going!" yelled the delighted Morningside crowd, and it did seem so. Joe felt that he must tighten up, and strike out the next man, or all would be lost.
He glanced at the bench, where the jubilant Morningside players were sitting, all regarding him sharply. It was a supreme test. Then Joe caught the eyes of some one else on him. The eyes of Sam Morton, his old enemy.
It was like a dash of cold water. For the time being he had forgotten that Sam was the substitute pitcher on the visiting team, but had Joe seen him and Hiram in close consultation a little while previously, our hero would have had reason long to remember it.
"I'll show 'em I am still in the ring!" Joe murmured, and when he wound up for his next delivery he knew that he had himself well in hand again.
"Come on now, bring us all in!" urged Captain Dalton, when Walker Bromley got up to the plate. "He'll walk you, and then Loftus and Harry will have a show. We'll have the whole team up."
It began to look so, for already seven of the nine had been at bat. Joe might have wasted time trying to nail some lad who was playing too far off base, but he did not. Instead he sized up Bromley and sent him a swift one. The batter struck at it and missed. The next ball was called a strike, and attention was at fever heat. Would Walker hit it?
The question was answered in the negative a moment later, for he swung at it with all his force and fanned the air.
"Out!" called the umpire, and the side was retired. But Morningside had two runs, and the way Joe had been hit by four men did not augur well for Excelsior's chances.
"Oh, we'll do 'em!" said Ward, with more confidence than he felt.
"I hope they pound Joe out of the box," murmured Hiram to Luke.
"So do I," said the former catcher.
Excelsior hoped for great things when it came her turn at stick-work, but alas for hopes! A series of happenings worked against her. George Bland rapped out as pretty a two bagger as one could wish, but he tried to steal third, slipped on a pebble when almost safe, and was thrown out. Peaches Lantfeld knocked a sharp grounder that looked almost certain to get past the shortstop; and it did, but the third baseman, who was a rattling good player, nabbed it and Peaches went down.
"Now, Teeter!" called Ward. "See what you can do."
Teeter got to first on a muffed fly, and it was Nat Pierson's turn. Nat could usually be depended on, but this time he could not. He fanned twice and the third time got two fouls in succession.
"Well, we're finding the ball, anyhow," said Ward cheerfully. "Kill it next time, Nat, and give Sister Davis a show."
Nat tried to, but he knocked an easy fly, which the pitcher gathered In, and the opportunity of the Excelsior nine was over for that Inning. A big goose egg went up In their frame. Score: 2—0, in favor of the visitors.
Joe took a long breath when he went into the box again, and facing Loftus Brown, struck him out in such short order that his friends began to breathe easier again. The game was far from lost, and as long as Joe did not allow his "goat" to be gotten. Excelsior might win yet. Then Harry Young, probably the poorest batter the visitors had, fanned thrice successively, and it was Dunlap Spurr's turn again. Joe knew just what to give him, and when he struck him out, after two foul strikes had been made, the crowd set up a yell.
The visitors did not get a run in their half of the second, and once more Excelsior had a show. Tom Davis singled, got around to third when Charlie Borden knocked a two-bagger, and slid home in a close play when Harry Lauter was thrown out at first. There was only one gone when Joe came to bat, and one run had come in. Joe knocked a safety, or at least it looked as if it was going to be that, but the shortstop, by a magnificent jump into the air, nabbed it, and then came as pretty a double play as had ever taken place on that diamond. Joe was put out and Charlie Borden, who had been hugging third, was caught at home, for he was not a fast runner.
That retired the side, and there was only one run to match the two which Morningside had. Still it was something, and the home team began to take heart.
Then began what was one of the most remarkable games in the series. Joe did not allow a hit in the first half of the third inning and the Excelsiors got one run, tying the score. In the fourth the visitors pulled a single tally down, putting them one ahead, and then, just to show what they could do, the home team knocked out two, gaining an advantage of one.
The crowd was wild with delight at the clean playing, for both teams were on their mettle, and the rival pitchers were delivering good balls. But the fifth inning nearly proved a Waterloo for our friends. The Morningsides got four runs, which made Joe groan inwardly in anguish, for he was severely pounded.
"Maybe you'd better let Brown or Akers go in," he suggested to Ward.
"Not on your life!" cried the captain. "You are all right. It was just a slip. Hold hard and we'll do 'em."
Joe held hard, and there was a little encouragement when his team got one run, making the score at the ending of the fifth inning seven to five in favor of the Morningside team.
Once more in the opening of the sixth Joe did the trick. He allowed but one single, and then three men fanned in succession, while, just to make things more than ever interesting, the Excelsiors got two runs, again tying the score.
"Say, we'll have to wake up if we're going to wallop these fellows," confided the visiting captain to his lads. "They have certainly improved a lot by getting Hiram and Luke out."
"Oh, we'll do 'em," predicted Ted Clay, the pitcher.
From then on the Excelsiors fairly "played their heads off," and they ought to have done much better than they did when their hard work was taken into consideration. But there were many weak spots that might in the future be eliminated by good coaching, and Joe needed harder practice.
But in every inning thereafter the home team got at least one run, save only in the seventh. In their half of the sixth they got two, as I have said, and though the visitors got one in their half of the seventh, again making the score one in their favor, in the eighth our friends got three, while the visitors got only two. So that at the close of the eighth the score was: Excelsior, 10; Morningside 10.
"A tie! A tie!" cried hundreds of voices. Indeed it had pretty nearly been a tie game all the way through, and it might go to ten innings or more.
"We've got to beat 'em!" declared Captain Ward. "Joe, whitewash 'em this inning, and in the next we'll get the winning run."
"I'll do it!" confidently promised the young pitcher, and he did. He was tossing the ball according to his old form again, and not a man landed his stick on it during the first half of the ninth. Then, as the home team came up for their last whacks (except in the event of the score being a tie), they were wildly greeted by their schoolmates.
"One run to beat 'em! Only one!" yelled the crowd.
"I guess it's all up with us," remarked the visiting captain to his men, as they took the field. "They're bound to get that one."
"Not if I can help it!" exclaimed the pitcher fiercely.
And it looked as if he was going to make good his boast, for he struck out two men in quick order. And then up came Tom Davis.
"Swat it, Tom. Swat it!" was the general cry. "Bring in a home run!"
"Watch me," he answered grimly.
Twowere called on him, and two balls. There was a nervous tension on everyone, for, unless Tom made good, the game would have to go another inning, when all sorts of possibilities might happen.
That was the mighty sound of Tom's bat landing on the ball. Away sailed the horsehide—up and away, far over the head of the centre fielder, who raced madly after it.
"Go on! Go on!"
"Run, you swatter, run!"
"A homer! A homer!"
These cries greeted and encouraged Tom as he legged it for first base. On and on he went, faster and faster, rounding the initial bag, going on to second and then to third. The centre fielder had the ball now, but he would have to relay it in. He threw as Tom left third.
"Come on! Come on!" yelled Joe, jumping up and down.
"If you don't bring in that run I'll never speak to you again!" shouted Ward.
The crowd was in a frenzy. Men and women were standing up on the seats, some jumping up and down, others yelling at the tops of their voices, and some pounding each other on the back in their excitement.
On and on ran Tom, but he was getting weary now. The second baseman had the ball and was swinging his arm back to hurl it home. But Tom was almost there now, and he slid over the plate a full two seconds ere the ball landed in the catcher's big mitt.
"Safe!" howled the umpire.
"And we win the game!" yelled Joe, as he raced over to Tom and slapped him on the back, an example followed by so many others that poor Tom nearly lost his breath. "You won the game for us, Tom!"
"Nonsense! If you hadn't held 'em down by your pitching, Joe, my run wouldn't have done any good."
"That's right!" cried the others, and it was so. Excelsior Hall had won the second of the big games with her ancient rival, though it was by the narrow margin of one run.