The Winning Streak
The Giants were in for a winning streak, and New York City promptly
went baseball mad!
Now there was no question of filling the grounds. It was rather a
question of getting there early enough to secure seats.
The Polo Grounds could accommodate thirty-five thousand, and again and
again that number was reached and exceeded. The great amphitheatre was
a sea of eager faces. Fans stood in hundreds in the rear of the upper
grandstands. The lower stand too was filled to overflowing, and the
bleachers were packed. It was astonishing how many business men closed
their rolltop desks with a bang on those summer afternoons. Young and
old alike were wild to be at the games and see the Giants add one more
to their rapidly mounting list of victories.
Thirteen--fourteen--fifteen--sixteen! Were the Giants ever going to be
stopped? If so, who was going to stop them? The Western teams were
coming now and the St. Louis team had left their scalps in the Giant's
wigwam. Chicago was next in line. Could they stop the Giants in their
mad rush for the flag?
They could not, although they tried desperately, and Brennan, their
resourceful manager, used all the cunning and guile that his long
experience had taught him. The Giants tamed the Cubs with a thoroughness
that left nothing to be desired from a New York point of view. And now
the string of victories had mounted to twenty.
Old records were got out and furbished up. It was found that once
before, when Markwith and Hughson were in their prime, the New Yorks
had won twenty-six games in a row. Could they repeat? Could they beat
their own record that had been hung up so long for other teams to aim
at? That was the question that absorbed public interest, not only in
New York, but in baseball circles all over the country.
The reason for this phenomenal spurt of the Giants, it was recognized,
could be found in two chief factors. One was the wonderful work being
done by Joe both as a pitcher and a batter. The other was the marvelous
advance that had been made by Jim as a twirler.
Joe had never had such complete mastery of the ball as he was showing
this season. Even the pitching he had done the previous year, in the
World Series between the Giants and the Sox, paled in comparison with
what he was doing now. His control was something almost magical. It was
such a rarity for him to give a base on balls that when it happened it
was specially noted by the sporting writers. He worked the corners of
the plate to perfection. He mixed up his fast ones with slow teasers
that made the opposing batsmen look ridiculous as they broke their
backs reaching for them. His slants and twists and hops and curves had
never been so baffling. It was fast getting to the point where the
other teams were half beaten as soon as they saw Joe pick up his glove
and go into the box.
But it was not even his pitching, great as it was, that held the
worshiping attention of the crowds. It was the home run record that he
was piling up in such an amazing fashion that already he was rated by
many the equal of the wonderful Kid Rose. That wonderful eye of his
had learned to time the ball so accurately as it came up to the plate
that the bat met it at precisely the hundredth part of a second when
it did the most good. Then all his mighty arm and shoulder leaned on
the ball and gave it wings. Almost every other game now saw a home run
chalked up to his credit. In three games of the winning streak he had
made two home runs in a single game. It was common talk that he was
out to tie the record of Ed Delehanty, the one-time mighty slugger
of the Phillies, who in the years of long ago had hung up a record of
four homers in a game. He had not done it yet, but there was still time
before the season closed.
More still would have gone to his credit had not the opposing pitchers
become so afraid of him that they would not let him hit the ball. Again
and again when he came to the bat, the catcher would stand away off to
the side and the pitcher would deliberately send over four balls, so
wide that Joe could not possibly reach them without stepping out of the
box. This was a mighty disappointment to the crowds, half of whom had
come with no other object in view than to see Joe smash out a homer.
They would jeer and taunt the pitcher for his cowardice in fearing
to match his slants against Joe's bat, but the practice continued
Even this, however, was not a total loss to the Giants. It put Joe on
first anyway, and counted at least for as much as a single would have
done. And Joe was so fleet of foot on the bases that McRae once said
jokingly that he would have to have detectives on the field to keep him
from stealing so many bags. Many a base on balls thus given to Joe out
of fear for his mighty bat was eventually turned into a run that helped
to win the game.
One morning when Joe, with the rest of the Giant team, was going out
on the field for practice, his eye caught sight of a long white streak
of kalsomine that ran up the right field wall to the top, behind the
"What's the idea?" he asked, turning to Robbie, who was close beside
"Don't you really know, you old fence-breaker?" asked Robbie, a smile
breaking over his jovial face.
"Blest if I do," answered Joe.
"Well, I'll tell you," answered Robbie. "The fact is that you've
got into such a habit of knocking the ball into the right field
stands--mighty good habit, too, if you ask me--that the umpires have
asked us to paint this line so that they can see whether the hit is
fair or foul. The ordinary hit they can tell easy enough. But yours are
so far out that they have to have especial help in judging them. It's
the first time it's had to be done for any hitter in the history of the
game. Some compliment, what?"
But Joe's work, wonderful as it was, would not alone have started and
maintained the Giants' winning streak. No one man, however great, can
carry a whole team on his shoulders. The next most important element
was the pitching that Jim was showing. It was only second in quality
to that turned in by Joe himself. Jim was a natural ball player, and
his close association and friendship with Joe had taught him all the
fine points of the game. He had learned the weaknesses of opposing
batters. He knew those who would bite at an outcurve and those to whom
a fast high one was poison; those who would offer at the first ball and
those who would try to wait him out; those who would crowd the plate
and those who would flinch when he wound the ball around their necks.
He had a splendid head on his shoulders and a world of power in his
biceps; and those two things go far to make a winning combination.
Another element of strength was the return of Hughson to the team and
his ability to take his regular turn in the box. His arm still hurt
him, and it was beginning to be evident that he would never again be
the Hughson of old. But his skill and knowledge of the game and the
batters was so great that it more than atoned for the weakness of his
pitching arm. His control was as wonderful as ever, and he nursed his
arm as much as possible. He did not attempt to do much striking out,
as that would have been too severe a strain. More and more he let the
batsmen hit the ball, and depended upon the eight men behind him to
back him up. Often he would go through an inning this way and the three
put outs would be made by the infield on grounders and the outfielders
on flies. But once let a man get on first and the "Old Master" would
tighten up and prevent scoring. By thus favoring his arm, he was able
to turn in his share of the victories.
Markwith also had a new lease of life, and was winging them over as in
the days when he had been without question the best port side flinger
in the League.
In fact the pitching staff was at the height of its form and had
never been going better. And the rest of the team, without exception,
was playing great ball. There was not a cripple on the list. Willis
and Iredell had been restored to their positions at third and short
respectively, and were playing the best ball of their careers. With
Larry at second and Burkett at first, they formed a stonewall infield
that seldom let anything get away from them. They made hair-raising
stops and dazzling double plays, gobbling up grounders on either side,
spearing high liners that were ticketed for singles, and played like
supermen. The outfielders had caught the spirit of enthusiasm that
pervaded the team, and were making what seemed like impossible catches.
Add to this that the team members were batting like fiends and running
bases like so many ghosts, and the reason for the winning streak
becomes apparent. The Giants were simply playing unbeatable ball.
So the Cincinnatis found when the time came for their heads to drop
into the basket. That series was sweet revenge for the Giants, who had
not forgotten the beating the Reds had given them on their last swing
around the circuit.
Twenty-one--twenty-two--twenty-three--twenty-four. Two more games to
tie their own previous record. Three more to beat it. Would they do it?
Many shook their heads. On the mere law of averages, a break for the
Giants was now due. The team had been under a fearful strain. Such
phenomenal work could not last forever.
Besides, the severest test was now at hand. The Pittsburghs were
coming. The Smoky City boys had been playing great ball themselves.
They had won nineteen games out of the last twenty-four, and the margin
of seven games that they had had when the Giants began their streak
still kept them in the lead by two games. They had boasted that they
would break the Giants' streak as soon as they struck New York.
The time had come to make good their boast. Would they do it?
Next: Striving For Mastery
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