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Stealing Home

Willis was first to the bat, and he strode to the plate with blood in
his eye. He was still smarting from the sharp words of the manager and
was anxious for a chance to redeem himself. A hit would help to wipe
out the memory of his error.

The first ball was an outshoot that just cut the corner of the plate.
Willis struck at it and missed. The next one was a straight ball about
knee high. Willis gave it a resounding clout, and it soared out toward
the flagpole in left field.

Willis was off with the crack of the bat, footing it down to first,
while a roar went up from the stands. It looked like a sure home run,
and it was clear that the Boston left fielder could not get under it.
The runner was well on his way to second before the ball touched the

"Foul ball!" called the umpire.

There was a groan from the Giant rooters, and Robbie rushed from the
dugout to protest. The umpire coldly waved him off.

"I said foul and that settles it," he declared, at the same time waving
to Willis to come back to the plate.

It was a very disgruntled Willis that complied, and he took up his bat
mumbling something about "blind" and "robber."

"What's that?" asked the umpire sharply.

"Nothing," growled Willis, as he squared himself to meet the next ball.
It was a bad one, and he let it go by. The next suited him, and he sent
a sizzling grounder between second and third, on which he might have
made a double, had he been quicker on his feet. But he was of the "ice
wagon" type and had to be content with a single.

Still it was a hit, and it put all the Giants on their toes in an
instant. Their coachers at first and third began a chattering designed
to rattle the pitcher. McRae hustled Denton out of the dugout with
directions to sacrifice. The latter did his best, but Albaugh pounced
on the ball and shot it to second, putting Willis out. Douglas whipped
the ball to first in an endeavor to complete a double play, but Denton
beat the ball by a step.

With one man out and the tail end of the Giant batting order coming up
the outlook was decidedly gloomy. Hope revived, however, when Allen
laced a single to left. It was a clean hit, but Mitchell ran in on it
and fielded so smartly that Denton was held at second.

With two men on bases, Joe came to the bat, while the great throng gave
him an ovation.

"Win your own game, Matson," was shouted at him from thousands of

"Give the ball a ride!"

"Another homer, Joe!"

"Give the ball a passport and send it out of the country!"

These and other encouraging cries greeted Joe as he waited for the
ball. Albaugh looked at him with some apprehension. His respect for him
as a batter had grown considerably since the beginning of the game.

Joe refused to offer at the first ball, which was high and wide. Menken
caught it and instead of returning it to the pitcher shot it down to
second. Denton had taken too long a lead off the base and was trapped.
His first impulse was to slide back to the bag, but he saw that he
was too late for that and set out for third. The whole Boston infield
joined in running him down, and despite his doubling and twisting, he
was run down and put out near third. During the fracas, Allen reached
second, but this was poor consolation, for now two men were out.

Albaugh grinned as he picked up the ball and stepped on the mound.
Baseball Joe resolved to knock that grin off his face.

The ball came toward the plate like a bullet. Joe timed it perfectly,
and poled a tremendous hit out toward center.

"A homer! A homer!" yelled the crowd, wild with excitement.

By the time Allen had galloped over the plate, Joe had rounded second,
running like a frightened jackrabbit. But in the meantime, Mitchell, by
a herculean effort, had managed to knock down the ball, after it had
struck the ground and was speeding toward the fence. He straightened
up and threw it in a line to third. It came plump into the waiting
hands of the guardian of the bag. But Joe had already pulled up there,
panting a little, but with his heart full of exultation.

"Jumping Jehoshaphat, how that boy can hit!" cried McRae, while Joe's
comrades jigged about and threw their caps into the air.

"As pretty a three-bagger as I ever saw," declared Robson. "That ties
the score anyway. Now if Mylert can only bring him in, the game's ours."

Albaugh, though sore and enraged, still maintained perfect control of
the ball. Twice in succession he sent it whizzing over the plate, and
twice Mylert missed it by inches. Perhaps he was too anxious, but it
was evident that his batting eye was off.

Albaugh sensed this, and felt so sure of his victim that he paid
little attention to third. Suddenly, as Albaugh began to wind up for
his pitch, Joe darted down the line for the plate. A warning cry from
Menken and a roar from the crowd told Albaugh what was happening. He
stopped his windup and threw to Menken, who was covering the rubber and
yelling to him to throw. He threw high in his excitement. Menken caught
the ball and bent down, just as Joe slid over the plate in a cloud of
dust. Menken dabbed frantically at him, and they rolled on the ground

"Safe!" cried the umpire.

The game was won and the Giants had "got the jump."

The crowd went mad. By thousands they rushed down from the stands and
swarmed down over the field. Joe saw them coming and made a dash for
the clubhouse. But before he had reached it, the crowd had closed in
about him, and it was only by the assistance of his mates, who cleared
a way for him, that he could get away from their wild enthusiasm and
slip into its welcome shelter.

In a few minutes more the whole team had gathered there, laughing and
shouting and going over the details of the game, while they took the
showers and changed into their street clothes. There too came Robbie
and McRae, as full of glee and happiness as the rest.

"You old rascal!" chortled Robbie, as he slapped Joe on the back.
"What are you trying to do? Be the whole team--gyp the other fellows
out of their jobs? Such pitching, such batting--and then to cap it all
by stealing home! Joe, old boy, I've seen lots of ball games, but your
work to-day takes the cake."

McRae, though less demonstrative, was not a whit less delighted.

"Great work, Matson," he said. "Keep that up and there isn't a man in
either league will be able to touch you."

Jim too was fairly stuttering with his pride in his chum's achievements.

"Picked the game right out of the fire," he exulted. "Tied it first and
won it afterward. Joe old fellow, you're in a class by yourself. And
that steal home! They'll talk about it all the season."

"Well," replied Baseball Joe, with a grin, "I got rather homesick on
third, and that home plate looked mighty good to me."

Then Hughson came along with his congratulations, and these perhaps
were the greatest reward that Joe could have asked for his day's work.

For Hughson had been Joe's baseball idol for the last ten years. For at
least that period of time, Hughson had been confessedly the greatest
pitcher that baseball had ever seen. During that decade he had been
the mainstay of the Giant team. When Hughson was slated to pitch, his
mates were ready to chalk that game up in advance as won. And on the
other hand, the opposing team was almost ready to concede the game
before it was played. He had speed, curves and everything. At the most
critical stage of a game he never lost his head. There might be three
men on bases and none out, but that never disturbed Hughson. He would
bring his wonderful "fadeaway" into action and the batters would go
down like ninepins. He had brawn--plenty of it--but in addition he had
brain, and when it came to strategy and quick thinking there was no one
to be compared with him.

But it was not merely his remarkable skill that had made him the
hero of the baseball world. He was a gentleman through and through.
He had had a college training and could meet and talk with educated
men on equal terms. He was upright in his principles, clean in his
living, quiet, plain, and unassuming. He was hail fellow well met
with the other members of his team, and in fact with baseball players
everywhere. Everybody liked him, and those who knew him best had a warm
affection for him.

Nor was there the slightest touch of jealousy about him. If any one
else could take his laurels by showing that he was a better pitcher,
Hughson welcomed the opportunity to give him every chance to do so.
He was wholly wrapped up in the success of his team, and was only too
glad to see any one helping to gain that success. His treatment of Joe
since the latter had joined the team had been cordial in the extreme.
He coached him, encouraged him, and did everything in his power to make
him the star pitcher he saw he was destined to become.

Hughson had been hurt in a collision just before the final games of the
previous year, and had not been able to take part in the World Series.
His arm had become better, but he was still in no condition to pitch.
So that it had been merely as a spectator that he had witnessed the
triumph of the Giants in this opening game of the season.

Joe's eyes lighted up as he saw Hughson coming toward him with extended

Next: A Baseball Idol

Previous: Getting The Jump

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