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Striving For Mastery

It was Jim's turn to go on the mound in the first game with the
Pittsburghs, and in the practice work before the game he showed that
he was keyed up for his work. For so comparatively young a pitcher,
he might well have been a bit nervous at facing so redoubtable a team
before the immense crowd that had gathered to see whether or not the
Giants' winning streak was doomed to be broken. But there was no trace
of it in his manner, and McRae, looking him over, concluded that there
was no reason to change his selection.

His confidence was justified. Jim that afternoon was at as high a point
of pitching form as he had ever reached in his career. He pitched a
masterly game and held the Pirate sluggers to four hits. His support
was all that could be desired, and some of the stops and throws of his
comrades bordered on the miraculous. The Giants came out at the big end
of the score, their tally being three to the solitary run scored by
their opponents.

"Twenty-five!" chuckled Joe, as he slapped his friend on the back, when
the Pirates had been turned back in their half of ninth. "Jim, you're a
lulu! You had those fellows rolling over and playing dead."

"I guess we had all the breaks," returned Jim, smiling modestly.

"Nothing of the kind," disclaimed Joe. "If anything, they had whatever
breaks there were. It was simply a case of dandy pitching. You had them

"Only one more game to go before we tie our own record," said Jim.
"Gee, Joe, I wish you were going to pitch to-morrow. We're just in
sight of the Promised Land. That will be the most important game of

"Oh, I don't know," replied Joe. "It will be something to tie the
record, but I want to break it. Day after to-morrow will be the
big day. That is, if we win to-morrow, and I think we shall. It's
Markwith's turn to go in, and he's going fine. The Pittsburghs aren't
any too good against left-handed pitchers, anyway."

But whatever the alleged weakness of the Pirates against southpaws,
they showed little respect for Markwith's offerings on the next day.
They had on their batting clothes and clouted the ball lustily. Only
phenomenal fielding on the part of the Giants kept the score down, and
again and again Markwith was pulled out of a hole by some dazzling
bit of play when a run seemed certain. Still he worried through until
the first part of the eighth. At that time the score was five to four
in favor of the visitors. The Giants had been batting freely, but not
quite as hard as the Pirates.

In the eighth, Markwith was plainly beginning to wobble in his control.
He passed two men in quick succession. That was enough for McRae, and
Joe, who had been warming up at the right of the grandstand, was sent
into the box.

The Pirates' scoring stopped then and there. Astley, who was at the
bat, fanned on three successive strikes. Brown hit to the box and Joe
made a lightning throw to Larry at second, who relayed it to first for
a sparkling double play, putting out the side.

The Giants' half of the eighth was scoreless. All the Pittsburghs had
to do now was to hold them down for one more inning, and the winning
streak would be broken.

Joe made short work of the visitors in their last inning and the Giants
came in for their final half.

Willis was the first man up. He made a savage lunge at the first ball
pitched, but caught it on the under side, and it went up directly
over the plate. Jenkins the Pittsburgh catcher, did not have to move
from his tracks to gather it in. Larry sent a fierce low liner to
Baskerville at short, who made a magnificent catch, picking it off his
shoe tops. Two out, and the crowd fairly groaned as the winning streak
seemed at last about to be broken.

All hopes were now pinned on Denton. All he could do, however, was to
dribble a slow one to the box. It seemed a certain out, and nine times
out of ten would have been. But the Pittsburgh pitcher, in running in
on it, snatched it up so hurriedly that it fell out of his hand. He
recovered it in an instant and shot it to first. But that fumble had
been fatal, and Denton by a headlong slide reached first before the

A tremendous roar arose from the stands, and the people who had started
to leave sat down suddenly and sat down hard.

In the Giants' dugout, all was excitement and animation. McRae ran down
to first to coach Denton. Robbie rushed over to Joe, who was next in
turn and had already picked up his bat.

"For the love of Pete, Joe," he begged, "paste the old apple. Show them
again what you've been showing us all along. Kill the ball! Just once,
Joe, just once! You can do it. One good crack, and you'll save the
winning streak."

"I'll do my best," was Joe's reply.

Frantic adjurations of the same nature were showered on Joe as he took
up his position at the plate. Then there was a great silence, as the
crowd fairly held their breath.

But the crafty Pittsburgh pitcher was to be reckoned with. He had no
mind to see the game go glimmering just at the moment it seemed to be
won. He signaled to his catcher and deliberately pitched two balls wide
of the plate. It was evident that he was going to give Joe his base on
balls and take a chance with Mylert, the next batter.

But the best laid plans sometimes miscarry. The third ball he pitched
did not go as wide of the plate as he had meant it should. Joe sized it
up, saw that he could reach it, and swung for it with all his might.

There was a crack like that of a rifle as the bat met the ball and
sent it mounting ever higher and higher toward the right field wall.
It seemed as though it were endowed with wings. On it went in a mighty
curve and landed at last in the topmost row of the right field seats.
There it was pocketed by a proud and happy fan, while Joe, sending in
Denton ahead of him, jogged easily around the bases to the home plate.
The game was won! The winning streak was saved! The Giants had tied
their record, which had stood untouched for so many years!

The scene in the stands and bleachers beggared description. Roar after
roar went up, while the crazy spectators threw their straw hats into
the air and scattered them by scores over the field. The Polo Grounds
had been transformed into a madhouse, but differing from other insane
asylums in that all the inmates were happy. All, that is, except the
Pirates and their supporters, who thought unspeakable things as they
saw the game in a twinkling torn from their grasp.

Joe's only escape from his enthusiastic well-wishers lay in flight, and
he made a bee line for the clubhouse. He got inside not a moment too
soon. For a long time afterward a great crowd hung about the entrance,
waiting for him to reappear, and it was only by slipping out of a back
entrance that he eluded them.

The old record had been tied. Could it be beaten?

Next: Holding Them Down

Previous: The Winning Streak

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