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Getting The Jump






Neale, the heavy hitting center fielder of the Bostons, who led off in
the batting order, came to the plate, swinging three bats. He discarded
two of them and took up his position, after having tapped his heel for
luck.

Joe looked him over for a moment. Then he wound up and whipped one
over the plate. It was a high fast one, and Neale swung at it, his bat
missing the ball by fully three inches.

"Strike one!" called the umpire, and the crowd roared in approval. It
was an auspicious beginning.

The next one was wide, and Neale refused to "bite." Again Joe tempted
him with a bad one, and again Neale was too wary. The next ball
was a swift incurve that broke so suddenly that it buffaloed Neale
completely. The lunge he made at it swung him round so that he almost
lost his balance, and he looked rather sheepish as Mylert, the burly
catcher of the Giants, grinned at him.

"Had that in my mitt before you swung at it," taunted Mylert. "Gee, but
you're slow."

Neale glared at him, but made no reply and tightened his grip on the
bat.

This time Joe floated up a slow teaser that looked as big as a balloon
as it sailed lazily for the plate. Neale, who was all set for a fast
one, nearly broke his back reaching for it.

"You're out," declared the umpire, while shouts and laughter came from
the crowded stands, as Neale, flinging down his bat disgustedly, went
back to the dugout.

Kopf, the next man up, dribbled a slow one to the box that Joe had no
trouble in getting to first on time. Mitchell lifted a towering fly
that Iredell gobbled up without moving in his tracks.

"Classy work, old man!" cried out Robbie, his face glowing with
satisfaction, as Joe drew off his glove and came in to the bench. "The
old wing seems to be working as well as ever."

The Giants did a little better in the first inning, though not well
enough to chalk up a run. Curry started well by lining to center for a
single, the ball just escaping Warner's fingers, as he leaped into the
air for it. Iredell tried to sacrifice, but the ball went too quickly
to the pitcher, who turned and caught Curry at second. Iredell tried to
get down on the first ball pitched, but Menken showed that his throwing
arm was right and nipped him by three feet. Burkett lifted one between
right and center that had all the earmarks of a home run, but Mitchell,
by a great run, got to it with one hand and froze on to it. It was a
remarkable catch, and the sportsmanlike New York crowd applauded it as
heartily as though it had been made by one of their favorites.

"Highway robbery," growled Burkett, who had almost reached second
before the ball was caught, and was cherishing hopes of having knocked
out the first home run of the season.

It seemed clear that the Bostons were not to be trifled with, at least
as far as their fielding was concerned, and the crowd settled down in
expectation of a close struggle.

The second inning for the Bostons was short. Douglas sent up a pop fly
to Willis at third. Barber fouled to Mylert. Warner tapped a little one
in front of the plate that Mylert heaved to first. Each had offered at
the first ball pitched, so that only three balls had been thrown for
the entire inning.

The hard hitting that the Giants had done in the first session had
resulted in nothing, but it had shown them that Albaugh could be hit,
and they faced him with confidence when they next went to the bat.

But Albaugh had braced in his short breathing spell, and he set the
Giants down in short order. The best that Wheeler could do was to lift
a high fly behind second that nestled comfortably in Douglas' hands.
Willis got to first base on an error by Warner, but Denton hit into a
double play, Ellis to Douglas to Kopf, and the inning was over.

In the third inning, the Bostons swung their bats in vain. Joe struck
out Ellis, Menken and Albaugh, one after the other. His fast ball shot
over the plate as though propelled by a gun. It came so swiftly that
the Boston batsmen either winced and drew back, or struck at it after
the ball had passed. His outcurve had a tremendous break, and Mylert
had all he could do to get it. It was a superb example of pitching, and
Joe had to remove his cap in response to the thunderous applause of the
stands.

"Isn't that boy a wonder, Mac?" asked Robbie in exultation. "He's
simply standing those fellows on their heads. They just can't touch
him."

"He's the goods all right," agreed the less demonstrative McRae. "But
don't let's crow too loud. The game isn't over yet by a long shot, and
anything can happen in baseball."

Allen was the first man up in the Giants' half, and he went out on a
grasser to Warner, who got him at first by yards. It was Joe's turn
next.

"Win your own game now, Joe," said Jim, as his chum left the bench for
the plate. "None of the other boys seem to be doing much. Show them
one of the clouts you made at the training camp."

Joe grinned in reply and went to the plate. Albaugh looked at him and
thought he sensed an easy victim. He seldom had much trouble with
pitchers.

The first ball was wide and Joe let it go by. The second and third also
went as balls.

"Good eye, Joe," sang out Robbie, who was coaching at third. "Make him
put it over."

Albaugh now was "in a hole." Three balls had been called on him, and he
had to get the next one over the plate. He wound up carefully and sent
over a swift straight one about waist high.

Joe timed it perfectly and caught it near the end of his bat. The ball
went on a line straight toward the right field stands. On and on it
went, still almost in a line. Neale and Barber had both started for it
from the crack of the bat, but it stayed so low and went so fast that
it eluded them and struck just at the foot of the right field bleachers.

Joe in the meantime was running like a deer around the bases, while his
comrades leaped about and howled, and the crowds in the stands were
on their feet and shouting like madmen. He had rounded second and was
well on toward third before Neale retrieved the ball. He relayed it to
Douglas like a shot. By this time Joe had turned third and was dashing
toward the plate. It was a race between him and the ball, but he beat
the sphere by an eyelash, sliding into the rubber in a cloud of dust.

For a few moments pandemonium reigned, as Joe, flushed and smiling,
rose from the ground and dusted himself off while his mates mauled and
pounded him and the multitude roared approval.

"Jumping jiminy!" cried Jim, "that was a lallapaloozer! It was a longer
hit than you made off of me this spring, and that's going some. And on
a line too. I thought it was never going to drop."

"It was a dandy, Joe," commended McRae, clapping him on the shoulder.
"It's only a pity that there weren't men on bases at the time for you
to bring in ahead of you. But we've broken the ice now, and perhaps the
rest of the boys will get busy."

Albaugh was rather shaken by the blow, and gave Mylert his base on
balls. Curry too was passed to first, advancing Mylert to second. The
stage seemed set for more Giant runs, but Iredell hit a liner to Ellis
who took it at his shoe tops and made a smart double play by getting it
to second before Mylert could scramble back.

Still the Giants were a run to the good, and as the fourth and fifth
innings went by without a score that run began to look as big as a
meeting house. Albaugh had stiffened up and was pitching superbly,
while his mates were giving him splendid support. He mowed down the
heavy batters of the Giants one after another, and McRae began to
fidget about uneasily on the bench. One run was a slender margin, and
he was intensely eager to win this first game, not only because of the
enormous crowd that had turned out to see their favorites win, but
because of the moral effect on his players of "getting the jump" on at
least four of the other teams by winning the first game of the season.

When Joe came to the bat for the second time, there was a short
consultation between Albaugh and his catcher, in which the astute
manager of the Braves, Sutton, joined. Then Albaugh deliberately
pitched four wild balls, and Joe trotted down to first.

There was a chorus of jeers and catcalls from the crowds.

"Got you rattled by that homer, did he?"

"You're a sport--I don't think!"

"Don't blame you for being afraid to let him hit it!"

"He'll lose the ball next time!"

"Crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after you!"

But although it was not exactly sportsmanlike, it was within the rules
of the game, and when Mylert went out on a fly a moment later, making
the third out and leaving Joe stranded at first, Albaugh took off his
glove and waved it mockingly at his tormentors.

In the sixth inning the Bostons took their turn at scoring. Kopf sent
an easy grounder to Iredell, who ordinarily would have eaten it up.
This time, however, he fumbled it for a moment, and then in his haste
to make up for the mishap threw wild to first. Burkett made a great
jump for it, but it went high over his head to the right field fence,
and before Burkett could regain it Kopf was on third. Mitchell tried to
bring him home, but his efforts resulted in a weak grounder along the
third base line. It looked as though the ball would roll over the foul
line, and Willis waited too long. It proved to be fair, and by this
time Mitchell was legging it for second. Willis threw low and the ball
hit the bag, bounding out into center field. Wheeler ran in and got it,
making a superb throw to the plate. But it was too late, and both Kopf
and Mitchell had scored, putting Boston in the lead by two runs to one.

Joe put on steam and struck out the next three batters. But the
mischief had been done. Two miserable errors had given them as many
unearned runs. Now all they had to do was to keep the Giants scoreless
and the game would be won.

Poor Iredell and Willis were disconsolate as they came in to the bench
and their discomfiture was not lessened by the tongue lashing that
McRae gave them. Joe, too, might naturally have been angered at the
wretched support accorded to him in a game where he was showing such
airtight pitching, but he was too fair and generous to find fault with
comrades for a blunder that all athletes make more or less often.

"Never mind, boys," he said to them in an undertone, as he sat beside
them on the bench. "Just get busy with your bats and we'll pull the
game out of the fire yet."

Although the Giants made a desperate rally and in each of the next
two innings got men on second and third, the score was unchanged and
the game still "in the fire" when the eighth inning ended. Joe in the
meantime had pitched with such effect that in the two innings not a man
reached first.

The ninth inning came, and the Giants took the field for the last time.

"Now Joe," said McRae, as the former picked up his glove to walk out
to the box, "hold them down just for one more inning, and we'll have a
chance either to tie or win, if our boobs can wake up enough to do a
little batting. The head of their batting order is coming up, but the
way you've been pitching up to now they all look alike to you."

"I'll pitch my head off if necessary," Joe assured him.

The twirling that Joe did in that last inning was phenomenal. His
control of the ball was almost uncanny. It writhed and twisted about
the bats like a snake. Neale, the slugger of the Braves, struck out
on the first three balls pitched. Kopf lifted a foul that came down
straight over the plate, where Mylert gathered it in. Mitchell drove
the ball straight over Joe's head, but the latter leaped high in the
air and speared it with his gloved hand, while the stands rocked with
applause.

McRae gathered the Giants about him as they came in from the field.

"Now you fellows listen to me," he commanded. "You've got to cop this
game. No excuses. You've got to. Show these bean-eaters where they get
off. Make them look like thirty cents. Knock the cover off the ball. Go
in and win!"





Next: Stealing Home

Previous: Play Ball!



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