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Champions Of The League






"There are three more of the bellboys doing various errands about the
hotel," replied the clerk. "If you gentlemen will wait around they'll
be back in a few minutes."

"All right, we'll wait," said Joe.

Before long, all the bellboys were back, and Joe had had a good look at
the entire staff. Not one resembled the boy who had come to his room.

"I can't understand it," mused the clerk, to whom the boys had been
careful not to impart their suspicions. "It must have been sent in by
somebody from the outside. It's certain that it wasn't sent up from
here."

"Oh, well," said Joe carelessly, "it doesn't matter. I just wanted
to find out, so that I could thank the one who did it. Sorry to have
troubled you."

They strolled off indifferently and returned to their room.

"'Thank' is good," said Jim, as soon as they were out of earshot.

"I'll thank him all right," replied Joe grimly. "In fact I'll thank him
so warmly that it will stagger him."

"May I be there to see!" replied Jim gruffly. "I can figure out the
whole thing now. Fleming had had that lemonade doped and it was meant
to put you out of business. It was easy to find out what hotel you were
stopping at, as that's been in all the papers. Then it was a simple
thing to glance over the register and get the number of your room. He's
either got a bellboy from some other hotel or dressed up somebody in
a bellboy's uniform. He's probably bribed him well, and it's been all
the easier because he didn't have to let on to the boy that there was
anything crooked about it. Told him perhaps that he was just playing
a little joke on a friend or something like that. There's the whole
story."

"I guess that's about right," agreed Joe. "Gee, Jim, it's mighty lucky
that you knocked that glass out of my hand. I had noticed that it
tasted rather bitter, but put that down to too little sugar."

"Let's send some of the stuff to a chemist and have it analyzed,"
suggested Jim.

"No," objected Joe, "that wouldn't do any good. The thing would be apt
to get into the papers, and that's the very thing we mustn't let happen
for the sake of the folks at home. We know enough about the stuff to
be sure that it was doctored in some way. Everything about the incident
tells of crookedness. Fleming was probably the master hand, although he
may have simply been the tool of Braxton. Those fellows are running up
a heavy account, and some day I hope we'll get the goods on them. We'll
just dump the stuff out so that nobody else will be injured. Then we'll
lay low but keep our eyes open. It's all that we can do."

"Gee, that was one dandy homer, Joe," said the catcher some time later.

"Best ever," added the first baseman.

"Oh, I don't know," answered the young ball player modestly. "I think
I have done better. But it was great to carry it along to eleven
innings," he added, with a smile.

"That tenth had me almost going," said the shortstop. "We came close to
spilling the beans," and he shook his head seriously.

"Well, 'all's well that ends well,' as Socrates said to General Grant,"
and Joe grinned.

From Chicago the Giants jumped to St. Louis, where, despite the
stiffest kind of resistance, they took three games out of four. They
were not quite as successful in Cincinnati, where the best they could
get was an even break. The Reds saw a chance to come in third, in which
case they would have a share in the World Series money, and they were
showing the best ball that they had played all season. The Giants had
all they could do to nose them out in the last game, which went to
eleven innings and was only won by a home run by Joe in the wind-up.

Seven games out of twelve for a team on the road was not bad, but it
would have been worse if the Pirates, in the meantime, had not also had
a rocky road to travel. The Brooklyns had helped their friends across
the bridge by taking the Pittsburghs into camp to the tune of three
games out of four and the Bostons had broken even. With the Phillies,
however, the Pirates had made a clean sweep of the four games. So when
the Giants faced their most formidable foes, they still had the lead of
four games with which they had begun their Western trip.

This, of course, gave the Giants the edge on their rivals. The
Pittsburghs would have to win the whole four games to draw up on even
terms with the leaders. In that case a deciding game would be necessary
to break the tie. On the other hand all the Giants had to do was to win
one game of the four and they would have the championship cinched. And
that they would do at least that seemed almost a certainty.

But nothing is certain in baseball, as soon became evident. Perhaps
it was overconfidence or a sense of already being on easy street that
caused the Giants to lose the first game. That, however, could not be
said of the second, when the Giants "played their heads off," Jim said,
and yet could not win against the classy pitching and stonewall defense
put up by the Smoky City team. Things were beginning to look serious
for the Giants, and some of their confidence was vanishing.

Still more serious did they become when the third game went into the
Pirates' basket. Jim pitched in that game and twirled wonderful ball,
but his support was ragged, and several Pirate blows that ought to have
been outs were registered ultimately as runs. They were unearned runs,
but they counted in the final score as much as though they had been due
to the team's hitting. The Giants were long-faced and gloomy.

McRae was clearly worried. If the next game were lost, the leaders
would be tied, and the Pirates would still have a chance to win. It
would be a bitter pill to swallow if the Giants lost the flag just when
it had seemed that all was over except the shouting.

Moreover, the manager was in a quandary. All his first string pitchers
had been beaten. His best one in active service at the present time,
Jim, had pitched that day and it would not do to ask him to go into the
box again to-morrow. In his desperation he turned to Joe.

"Joe," he said, "we're up against it unless you can help us out. How
is your hand feeling? Would you dare to take a chance with it?"

"I think it's all right now, or nearly so," replied Joe. "I've been
trying it out in practice right along, and it seems to me it's about as
good as ever. I was putting them over to Mylert yesterday, and he told
me he couldn't see any difference between them and those I threw before
I was hurt. The only thing I'm a little skittish about is my fadeaway.
That gives me a little twinge when I try it. But I guess I can leave
that out and still pull through."

"That's good!" ejaculated McRae, with great relief. "Go in then, old
boy, and show these pesky Pirates where they get off. We simply must
win this game."

There was a startled murmur among the spectators who thronged Forbes
Field that afternoon when they saw Joe go into the box. They had been
gloating over the supposition that McRae would have to use again one of
the pitchers whom the Pirates had already beaten in that series, and
the way their pets were going, they looked for a sure victory. Now they
saw the man who had always baffled the Pittsburghs again take up the
pitcher's burden, and their faces took on a look of apprehension.

The Pirate players too shared in that apprehension. They had a profound
respect for Joe's ability, and had always had a sinking of the heart
when they saw him draw on his glove. Still, they comforted themselves
with the hope that his long layoff had hurt his effectiveness, and they
braced to give him the battle of his life.

Joe himself felt a thrill of exultation when he stepped on the mound.
That was his throne. There he had won the laurels that crowned him as
the greatest pitcher of his League. Now he was back again, back to
buoy up the spirit of his team, back to justify the confidence of his
manager, back to uphold his fame, back to bring the championship of the
National League once more to New York.

He still carried in his pocket Mabel's glove, that he had come to
regard as his mascot. He touched it now. Then he wound up for the first
pitch and split the plate for a strike.

It was an auspicious beginning of one of the greatest games he had ever
pitched in his whole career. The Pirates simply did not have a chance.
All through the game they were swinging wildly at a ball that seemed to
be bewitched, a ball that dodged their bats and appeared to be laughing
at them. Angered and bewildered, they tried every device to avoid
impending defeat. They bunted, they put in pinch hitters, they called
the umpire's attention to Joe's delivery in the hope of rattling him,
they tried to get hit with the ball.

Through it all, Joe kept on smiling and mowing them down. Only three
men got to first. Not one got to second. Thirteen men went out on
strikes. And then, to cap the climax, Joe sent a screaming homer into
the right field bleachers, sending in two men ahead of him.

The final score was 8 to 0. The Giants had won the championship of the
National League. Now they were to battle for the championship of the
world!





Next: The World Series

Previous: The Tireless Foe



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