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Title: Baseball Joe, Captain of the Team - or, Bitter Struggles on the Diamond
Author: Chadwick, Lester
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: JOE SLID INTO THE RUBBER IN A CLOUD OF DUST.]



  Baseball Joe
  Captain of the Team

  OR

  Bitter Struggles On the Diamond


_By_ LESTER CHADWICK

AUTHOR OF

“BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS,” “BASEBALL JOE, HOME RUN KING,” “THE
RIVAL PITCHERS,” “THE EIGHT-OARED VICTORS,” ETC.


_ILLUSTRATED_


NEW YORK

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY



BOOKS BY LESTER CHADWICK


=THE BASEBALL JOE SERIES=

=12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.=

  BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS
  BASEBALL JOE ON THE SCHOOL NINE
  BASEBALL JOE AT YALE
  BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE
  BASEBALL JOE IN THE BIG LEAGUE
  BASEBALL JOE ON THE GIANTS
  BASEBALL JOE IN THE WORLD SERIES
  BASEBALL JOE AROUND THE WORLD
  BASEBALL JOE, HOME RUN KING
  BASEBALL JOE SAVING THE LEAGUE
  BASEBALL JOE, CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM


=THE COLLEGE SPORTS SERIES=

=12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.=

  THE RIVAL PITCHERS
  A QUARTERBACK’S PLUCK
  BATTING TO WIN
  THE WINNING TOUCHDOWN
  FOR THE HONOR OF RANDALL
  THE EIGHT-OARED VICTORS

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, New York


  Copyright, 1924, by
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY


=Baseball Joe, Captain of the Team=

Printed in U. S. A.



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                            PAGE
      I  QUEER TACTICS                 1
     II  A BITTER STRUGGLE            10
    III  THROWN AWAY                  24
     IV  FROM BAD TO WORSE            34
      V  A STARTLING SUGGESTION       44
     VI  PERPLEXING PROBLEMS          52
    VII  BAD NEWS FOR JIM             64
   VIII  THE HIDDEN-BALL TRICK        73
     IX  THE NEW CAPTAIN              85
      X  GETTING IN SHAPE             95
     XI  WINGING THEM OVER           104
    XII  AN AMAZING FEAT             119
   XIII  CLEVER STRATEGY             130
    XIV  DEEPENING MYSTERY           143
     XV  TROUBLE BREWING             148
    XVI  OUT FOR REVENGE             156
   XVII  STEALING HOME               162
  XVIII  A TEST OF NERVE             167
    XIX  THE WARNING BUZZ            172
     XX  THE PACKAGE OF MYSTERY      177
    XXI  DROPPING BACK               182
   XXII  UNDER HEAVY STRAIN          189
  XXIII  BLUNDERING OLD REGGIE       195
   XXIV  GETTING A CONFESSION        204
    XXV  IN THE DEPTHS               210
   XXVI  OFF HIS STRIDE              216
  XXVII  TAKEN BY SURPRISE           221
 XXVIII  A FRESH SPURT               226
   XXIX  THE SNAKE’S HEAD            233
    XXX  THE FINAL BATTLE            243



  BASEBALL JOE
  CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM



CHAPTER I

QUEER TACTICS


“No use talking, Joe, we seem to be on the toboggan,” remarked Jim
Barclay, one of the first string pitchers of the Giant team, to his
closest chum, Joe Matson; as they came out of the clubhouse at the
Chicago baseball park and strolled over toward their dugout in the
shadow of the grandstand.

“You’re right, old boy,” agreed Joe--“Baseball Joe,” as he was known by
the fans all over the country. “We seem to be headed straight for the
cellar championship, and at the present rate it won’t be long before we
land there. I can’t tell what’s got into the boys. Perhaps I’m as much
to blame as any of the rest of them. I’ve lost the last two games I
pitched.”

“Huh!” snorted Jim. “Look at the way you lost them! You never pitched
better in your life. You had everything--speed, curves, control, and
that old fadeaway of yours was working like a charm. But the boys
played behind you like a lot of sand-lotters. They simply threw the
game away--handed it to the Cubs on a silver platter. What they did in
the field was a sin and a shame. And when it came to batting, they were
even worse. The home run and triple you pasted out yourself were the
only clouts worth mentioning.”

“The boys do seem to have lost their batting eyes,” agreed Joe. “And
when it comes to fielding, they’re all thumbs. What do you think the
trouble is?”

“Search me,” replied Jim. “We’ve got the same team we had when we
started the season. Look at the way we started off: Three out of four
from the Brooklyns, the same from the Bostons, and a clean sweep from
the Phillies. It looked as though we were going to go through the
League like a prairie fire. But the instant we struck the West we went
down with a sickening thud. Pittsburgh wiped up the earth with us. The
Reds walked all over us. The Cubs in the last two games have given us
the razz. We’re beginning to look like something the cat dragged in.”

“I can’t make it out,” observed Joe, thoughtfully. “Of course, every
team gets in a slump sometimes. But this has lasted longer than usual,
and it’s time we snapped out of it. McRae will be a raving lunatic if
we don’t.”

“He’s pretty near that now,” replied Jim. “And I don’t wonder. He’d set
his heart on winning the flag this season, and it begins to look as
though his cake was dough.”

“Even Robbie’s lost his smile,” said Joe. “And things must be pretty
bad when he gets into the doleful dumps.”

“I thought that when we got those rascals, Hupft and McCarney, off the
team, everything would be plain sailing,” remarked Jim. “They seemed to
be the only disorganizing element.”

“Yes,” agreed Joe. “And especially when we got such crackerjacks in
their places as Jackwell and Bowen. But speaking of them, have you
noticed anything peculiar about them?”

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Jim, in some alarm. “You don’t mean to
intimate that they’re crooks, too?”

“Not at all,” replied Joe. “From all I can see, they are as white as
any men on the team. And they certainly know baseball from A to Z.
They can run rings around Hupft and McCarney. But, just the same, I’ve
noticed something odd about them from the start.”

“What, for instance?” asked Jim, with quickened interest.

“They seem nervous and scared at times,” answered Joe. “Jackwell, at
third, keeps looking towards that part of the grandstand. The other day
I was going to throw to him, to catch Elston napping; but I saw that
Jackwell wasn’t looking at me, and so I held the ball. And I’ve noticed
that when he’s coming into the bench between innings he lets his eyes
range all over the stands.”

“Looking to see if his girl was there, perhaps,” laughed Jim.

“Nothing so pleasant as that,” asserted Joe. “It was as though he were
looking for some one he didn’t want to see. And the same thing is true
of Bowen. Of course he’s out at center, and I can’t observe him as well
as I can Jackwell. But when he’s been sitting in the dugout waiting for
his turn at bat, he’s always squinting at the fans in the stands and
the bleachers. The other boys aren’t that way.”

“This is all news to me,” remarked Jim. “I’ve noticed that they’ve been
rather clannish and stuck close together, but that’s natural enough,
seeing that they were pals in the minor-league team from which McRae
bought them and that they don’t feel quite at home yet in big-league
company.”

“Well, you keep your eye on them and see if you don’t notice what I’ve
been telling you about,” counseled Joe. “Of course, it may not mean a
thing, but all the same it’s struck me as queer.”

By this time the two pitchers had reached the Giants’ dugout, where
most of their teammates had already gathered.

It was a beautiful day in early summer. The Eastern teams’ invasion of
the West was in full swing, and baseball enthusiasm was running high
all over the circuit. The Giants, after a disastrous series of games in
Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, had struck Chicago. Or, perhaps, it would
be more correct to say that Chicago had struck them, for the Cubs had
taken the first two games with ease.

No doubt that accounted for the tremendous throng that had been pouring
into the gates that afternoon, until now the stands and bleachers were
crowded with enthusiastic fans. For if there was anything in the world
that Chicago dearly loved, it was to see the Giants beaten. One game
from the haughty Giants, the champions of the world, was more keenly
relished than two games from any other club.

The rivalry between the teams of the two great cities was intense,
dating from the days when the old Chicagos, with “Pop” Anson and Frank
Chance at their head, had been accustomed to sweeping everything before
them. Now the tables had been turned, and for the last few years, the
Giants, with McRae as their astute manager and Baseball Joe as their
pitching “ace,” had had the upper hand. Twice in succession the Giants
had won the championship of the National League and had wound up the
season in a blaze of glory by also winning the World Series.

This year they were desperately anxious to repeat. And, as Jim had
said, it looked at the beginning of the season as though they were
going to do it. They got off on the right foot and had an easy time of
it in the games with the other Eastern clubs.

But with the Western clubs it was another story. A “jinx” seemed to be
pursuing them. Pittsburgh had tied the can to them, and the Reds, not
to be outdone, had tightened the knot. The Cubs thus far had clawed
them savagely. They had tasted blood, and their appetite had grown with
what it had fed upon. And for that reason the sport lovers of the Windy
City had turned out in force to see the Cubs once more make the Giants
“their meat.”

McRae, the manager, was sitting on the bench with Robson, his
assistant, as Joe and Jim approached. There was an anxious furrow on
his brow, and even the rotund and rubicund “Robbie,” usually jolly and
smiling, seemed in the depths of gloom.

McRae’s face lightened a little when he saw Joe.

“I’m going to put you in to pitch to-day, Matson,” he said. “How’s the
old soup-bone feeling?”

“Fine and dandy,” returned Joe, with a smile.

“I want you to stand those fellows on their heads,” said the manager.
“They’ve been making monkeys of us long enough.”

“I’ll do my best, Mac,” promised Joe, as he picked up a ball preparatory
to going out for warming-up practice.

“Your best is good enough,” replied McRae.

Joe and Jim went out with their respective catchers and limbered up
their pitching arms.

“How are they coming, Mylert?” Joe called out to the veteran catcher,
who was acting as his backstop.

“Great,” pronounced Mylert. “You’ve got speed to burn and your curves
are all to the merry. That hop of yours is working fine. You’ll have
them breaking their backs to get at the ball.”

McRae, in the meantime, had beckoned to Iredell, the captain of the
team.

“Look here, Iredell,” he asked abruptly, “what’s the matter with this
team? Why are they playing like a lot of old women?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” replied Iredell, flushing and twirling his cap
nervously.

“Don’t know?” snapped McRae. “Who should know if you don’t? You’re the
captain, aren’t you?”

“Sure,” admitted Iredell. “But for all that, I can’t always get onto
what’s in the minds of the fellows. I’ve talked to them and razzed them
and done everything except to lam them. They’re just in a slump, and
they don’t seem able to get out. Some of them think a jinx is on their
backs. I’m playing my own position well enough, ain’t I?”

“Yes, you are,” McRae was forced to admit, for Iredell was one of
the crack shortstops of the League, and so far had been batting and
fielding well. “But that isn’t enough. To be a good shortstop is one
thing, and to be a good captain is another. I figured you’d be both.
Tell me this. Are there any cliques in the team? Any fellows out to do
another or show him up? Any fights in the clubhouse that I haven’t been
told about?”

“No,” replied Iredell, “nothing that’s worth noticing. Of course, the
boys are as sore as boils over the way they keep on losing, and their
tempers are on a hair trigger. Once in a while something is said that
makes one of them take a crack at another. But that’s usually over in a
minute and they shake hands and make up. There aren’t any real grudges
among the boys that I know of.”

“Well, things have got to change, and it’s largely up to you to change
them,” growled McRae. “If the job’s too big for you, perhaps somebody
else will have to take it. I’ve often found that a shake up in the
batting order will work wonders. Perhaps the same thing’s true of a
shake up in captains.”

The flush in Iredell’s face grew deeper and his eyes glinted with
anger. But he said nothing, and as McRae turned to say something to
Robbie, indicating that the interview was ended, he moved away sullenly
from the dugout.

Just then the bell rang as a signal for the Giants to run out for
practice. The white uniforms of the Chicagos faded away from the
diamond, while the gray-suited Giants scattered to their several
positions in the field and on the bases.

Jackwell, who had been standing near Joe while the latter was putting
the balls over to Mylert, started to run out with the rest, but
suddenly he halted and stood in his tracks like a stone image.

Joe, who, out of the corner of his eye, had noted the action, turned to
him in surprise.

“What’s the matter, Jackwell?” he asked, eying the new third baseman
keenly.

“I--I can’t go on,” stammered Jackwell.

Joe noted that he had suddenly turned white.



CHAPTER II

A BITTER STRUGGLE


Jackwell’s legs were sagging, and Joe, alarmed at his condition and
afraid that he was going to fall, put his arm about the baseman’s
shoulder to support him.

“Brace up, old man,” he counseled. “What’s come over you?”

“I--I don’t know,” answered Jackwell, trying desperately to get a grip
on himself. “I suddenly felt faint. Everything got black before my
eyes.”

“Touch of the sun, maybe,” said Joe, kindly. “Come over and get a drink
of water and then sit down on the bench for a few minutes. I’ll ask one
of the other fellows to take your place at third for practice.”

Jackwell sank down on the bench, while Joe returned to his practice
with Mylert, somewhat upset by the incident.

A moment later, Bowen, the new centerfielder, came along, and Jackwell
beckoned to him. He sat down beside him, and the two conversed in
whispers, casting surreptitious glances at a part of the grandstand
almost directly behind the third-base position.

Joe kept his eye on the two men and saw Bowen start violently at
something Jackwell whispered to him. His face seemed suddenly to have
been drained of every drop of blood, and he shook like a man with the
ague.

Just then McRae, who had been having an exchange of repartee with Evans,
the manager of the Chicago team, who had chaffed him unmercifully about
the playing of the Giants, came back to the dugout. He glanced in
surprise at the two players.

“What are you fellows doing here?” he asked sharply, glowering at them.
“Didn’t you hear the bell ring for practice? Why aren’t you in your
places on the field?”

“I’m sick, Mr. McRae,” replied Jackwell. “I wish you’d put somebody
else in my place. I ain’t in condition to play to-day.”

“I’m in the same fix,” put in Bowen. “I feel like thirty cents.”

“That’s what the whole team’s worth,” growled McRae. “And even at that
price the fellow that bought them would get stung. What do you mean,
sick? Are you sick or just lazy, soldiering on the job? You seemed
husky enough this morning.”

“It--it may have been something we ate at noon,” suggested Jackwell,
rather lamely. “A touch of ptomaine poisoning, or something like that.”

“Of course, I’ll play if you tell me to,” put in Bowen. “But I don’t
feel up to my work.”

McRae stood for a moment in exasperated study of the two. For some
reason their excuses did not ring true. Yet their pale faces and
evidently unstrung condition seemed to bear out their words.

“Guess there is a jinx after this team all right,” he growled. “You
fellows go over to the club doctor and let him find out what’s the
matter with you. I’ll put other men in your places for the present.”

They hurriedly availed themselves of the permission, and McRae, after
a consultation with Robbie, put Renton in Jackwell’s place and sent
McGuire out in center to hold down Bowen’s position.

Again the bell rang, and the Cubs took their final practice. That they
were in fine condition for the fray was evident from the way they shot
the ball across the diamond. Dazzling plays and almost impossible
catches brought round after round of applause from the spectators. It
was plain that the whole team was in fine fettle, and that the Giants
had their work cut out for them if they were to win.

The Giants, as the visiting team, were first at bat. Axander, the star
twirler of the Cubs, picked up the ball and went into the box with a
jaunty air that bespoke plenty of confidence.

“Play ball!” cried the umpire.

Axander dug his toes into the box and wound up for the first pitch.

And while the crowd watched breathlessly to see the ball leave his
hand, it may be well for the benefit of those who have not read the
preceding volumes of this series to tell who Baseball Joe was and trace
his career up to the time this story opens.

Joe Matson had been born and brought up in the little town of Riverside
in a middle western state. From early boyhood he had been a great lover
of the national game, especially of the pitching end of it, to which
he had taken naturally. His coolness, quick thinking, good judgment
and powerful arm specially fitted him for the box. He soon became
known for his skill as a twirler on his home team, and his reputation
spread to surrounding towns. His early exploits and the difficulties
he had to encounter and overcome are told in the first volume of this
series, entitled: “Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars; or, The Rivals of
Riverside.”

Later, on his school nine, he overcame the obstacles thrown in his way
by the bully of the school and pitched his team to victory over his
rivals. His field was widened when he went to Yale, and in an emergency
he assumed the pitcher’s burden and downed Princeton in a glorious
battle.

That victory proved a turning point in Joe’s life, for the game had
been witnessed by a scout for a minor-league team, always on the alert
for talent, and he made Joe an offer to join the Pittston team of
the Central League. Joe accepted the offer, and soon climbed to the
position of the leading twirler in the League.

Still, he was only a “busher,” and his delight can be imagined when, at
the end of the season, he was drafted into the St. Louis team of the
National League. Now he was really in fast company, and had to test his
skill against the greatest twirlers in the country. But the fans were
quick to learn that he could hold his own with the best of them.

McRae, the manager of the Giants, one of the ablest men in baseball
when it came to judging the ability of a player, determined to get Joe
for the Giants. He did get him, and had never ceased congratulating
himself on the stroke that brought Joe to his team. He soon became its
mainstay, and had been the main factor in winning the championship of
the National League and the World Series twice in succession. He was a
wizard in the box, and his record as pitcher had never been equaled in
the history of the game.

And not only in the box, but at the bat he had proved himself without a
peer. He was a natural batsman, timing and meeting the ball perfectly
and leaning all the weight of his mighty shoulders against it so that
it soared far beyond the reach of the fielders. When he hit the ball
it was very often ticketed for a homer, and at every city on the
League circuit thousands were attracted to the games not only to see a
marvelous exhibition of pitching but to see Matson “knock out another
home run.” What celebrity he gained by his work in both departments
is told in a previous volume, and the way in which he saved the game
from scandal when it was threatened by a gang of crooked gamblers is
narrated in the last volume of the series entitled: “Baseball Joe
Saving the League; or, Breaking Up a Great Conspiracy.”

But Joe had won other triumphs than those of baseball. He had fallen
in love with Mabel Varley, a charming girl whose life he had saved in
a runaway accident, and he had married her at the end of the previous
season on the diamond. They were ideally happy.

Jim Barclay, a Princeton man who had joined the Giants, had speedily
developed into a pitcher only second to Joe himself. He and Joe had
become the closest of chums, and on a visit to Riverside Jim had fallen
a victim to the charms of Joe’s pretty sister, Clara, and was now
engaged to her and hoped for an early marriage.

And now to return to the tense situation on the Chicago ball field,
where the Cubs and Giants faced each other in one of the critical games
of the series.

Curry, the rightfielder of the Giants, was first at bat. He was a good
hitter and was as fast as a flash in getting to first.

Axander shot over a high fast one at which Curry refused to bite, and
it went as a ball. Then came a pretty first strike right over the heart
of the plate. Axander came back with a slow one that lobbed up to the
plate looking as big as a balloon. Curry nearly dislocated his spine
reaching for it, and though he connected with it he raised an easy fly,
which the Cubs’ third baseman caught without moving from his tracks.

Iredell came next to the plate, swinging three bats. He threw away two
of them, tapped each of his heels with the other for luck, faced the
pitcher and glared at him ferociously.

“Put one over, you false alarm, and see me murder it,” he called to
Axander.

Axander grinned at him.

“You’re the captain of the team, aren’t you?” he asked. “Well, you’ll
be only a lieutenant when I get through with you.”

He whizzed one over that Iredell swung at savagely and missed. The next
he fouled off, making the second strike. Then came a ball and then a
third strike, so swift that Iredell struck at it as it settled in the
catcher’s glove.

“You’re out!” shouted the umpire.

Iredell threw down his bat in chagrin and retired to the bench.

Then Burkett, the burly first baseman of the Giants, strode to the
plate. He caught the first ball pitched right near the end of his stick
and belted it into the rightfield stands. It looked like a sure homer,
and the contingent of loyal Giant rooters burst into a cheer. But the
cheer was premature, as the umpire called it a foul, and Burkett, who
had already rounded first, returned, disgruntled, to the plate.

“Had your eyes tried for glasses lately?” he asked the umpire.

“That’ll be about all from you,” returned that functionary. “Another
wise crack like that, and it’s you for the showers.”

Axander’s next throw went for a ball. On the next Burkett whaled a
sharp single over second. A moment later, however, he was caught
napping at first by a quick throw from the pitcher, and the inning
ended without a score. Burkett, who found himself in his regular
position at first, put on his glove and stayed there, glad enough that
he was not near enough to the Giants’ dugout to get the tongue lashing
that McRae had all ready for him.

“Did you see that boob play, Robbie?” McRae growled. “Did you see the
way that perfectly good hit was wasted?”

“Sure, I saw it, John,” replied Robson, laying his hand soothingly on
the knee of his irate friend. “’Twas enough to make a man tear his hair
out by the roots. But the game’s young yet and we may have the last
laugh. I’m banking heavily on what Joe’s going to do to them birds.”

Joe in the meantime had walked out to the box. It was a tribute to
the admiration that was felt for him by fans everywhere that even the
Chicago partisans welcomed his coming with a hearty round of applause.
He was more than a Giant standby. He was the idol of all true lovers of
the national game.

Burton, the heaviest slugger on the Chicago team, was first at bat. Joe
looked him over and then sent the ball over for a perfect strike. It
came in like a bullet. Burton did not even offer at it.

“Strike one!” called the umpire.

The next one had a fast hop on it, and Burton swung six inches beneath
it.

“Strike two!”

Burton set himself for the next one, and succeeded only in fouling
it off. Mylert got the ball and returned it to Joe on the bound. The
latter caught it carelessly and then, without his usual wind-up, sent
it whistling across the plate. It caught Burton entirely off his guard,
and his futile stab at it caused even the Chicago fans to break into
laughter.

“Out!” cried the umpire, and the discomfited Burton retired sheepishly
to the bench.

“That’s showing them up, Joe,” called up Larry Barrett from second.

“Why didn’t you soak that first ball?” demanded Evans, the Chicago
manager. “It was a beauty, right in the groove.”

“Aw,” growled Burton, “how can I hit a ball that I can’t see? That came
like a shot from a rifle. I ain’t no miracle man.”

Gallagher came next and had no better luck. One strike was called on
him, and the other two he missed.

“Look at that boy, John,” exulted Robbie, his red face beaming. “He’s
got them fellows buffaloed right from the jump. He’s making them eat
out of his hand. He’s skinning ’em alive.”

“Fine work,” agreed McRae, his anxious features relaxing somewhat.
“’Twas the best day’s work I ever did when I got him on the team. He’s
a whole nine by himself. And--blistering billikens! Look at that!”

The “that” was a hot liner that Weston had sent right over the box.
Like a flash Joe had leaped into the air and speared it with his gloved
hand. The force of the hit was so great that it knocked him down, but
he came up smiling with the ball in his hand.

There was a moment of stupefied silence, and then the stands rocked
with applause, contributed by the Cub as well as the Giant rooters.
That play alone was worth the price of admission.

Joe drew off his glove and came in from the box, while the Chicagos ran
out to take their places in the field.

“Great stuff, Joe,” cried Jim jubilantly, as he hit his chum a
resounding whack on the shoulder. “They didn’t have a chance. Keep it
up and you’ll have those Cubs crawling into their hole and licking
their wounds.”

“Oh, it will do for a start,” said Joe, modestly. “But that’s only one
inning out of nine, and those fellows may break loose any time. But if
our fellows will only give me a run or two, I’ll try to hold them down.”

But the wished-for runs did not materialize in the Giants’ second turn
at bat. Wheeler made a strong bid for a run when he sent the ball on
a high line between right and center, but the Chicago rightfielder was
off at the crack of the bat and just managed to get his hands on the
ball and shut off what seemed to have all the earmarks of a homer. It
was a sparkling catch and evoked rounds of applause from the Chicago
rooters.

McGuire dribbled a slow one to the box that Axander had no trouble in
getting to first on time. Renton was an easy victim on strikes.

“Looks as if you’d have to win your own game, Joe,” grumbled McRae.
“These boobs have more holes in their bats than a chunk of Swiss
cheese.”

In the Cubs’ half Joe mowed them down as fast as they came to the bat.
His curve and hop ball were working to perfection. He varied his fast
and slow ones with such cunning that he had his opponents up in the
air. It was just a procession of bewildered batters to the plate and
then back to the bench. It looked as though Joe were in for one of the
best days of his brilliant career.

In the third inning the Giants at last broke the ice. Barrett lay down
a well-placed bunt along the third base line that the Cub third baseman
got all mixed up on in his efforts to field. When at last he did get
his hands on it he threw wild, and Barrett easily reached second before
the ball was retrieved.

It looked like the possible beginning of a rally, and instantly all
was commotion on the Giants’ bench. McRae himself ran out to the
coaching line near first, while he sent Jim over to third. The Giant
players began a line of chatter designed to rattle the Cub pitcher.

But Axander only smiled as he took up his position in the box. He
was too much of a veteran to let his opponents get him fussed. But
his smile, though it did not entirely disappear, lost some of its
brightness when he saw that Baseball Joe was the next man to face him.

Cries of encouragement rose from Joe’s mates and from the Giant rooters
in the stands.

“Oh, you home-run slugger!”

“Give the ball a ride!”

“Show him where you live!”

“Send it to kingdom come!”

Amid the babel of cries, Joe took up his position at the plate. His
brain was alert and his nerves like steel.

“Sorry, Matson, but I’ll have to strike you out,” said Axander, with a
grin. “All Giants look alike to me to-day. Giant killer is my middle
name.”

“Don’t waste any sympathy on me,” retorted Joe. “You can send flowers
to my funeral later on. But first give me a chance at the ball.”

Axander wound up and put one over the corner of the plate with all the
force he could muster. Joe caught it near the end of his bat and sent
it soaring out toward rightfield. It was a mighty clout, but when it
came down it was just about six inches on the wrong side of the foul
line.

Joe, who was well on his way to second, came back and again took up his
position at the bat.

But that tremendous hit had given Axander food for thought. The next
ball that came over was so wide of the plate that the catcher had to
jump for it.

Another ball followed in the same place, and the stands began to murmur.

“He’s afraid to let him hit it!”

“He’s going to walk him!”

“Matson’s got his goat!”

But Axander had resolved to play safe, and the next ball was so wide
that it was plain he was doing it with deliberate design.

“Thought you were a giant killer,” jeered Joe. “Have you lost your
nerve? I can see from here you’re trembling.”

Stung by the taunt, Axander put all the stuff he had on the ball and
sent in a swift incurve.

Joe timed it perfectly. There was a terrific crash as the bat met the
ball, and the next instant Joe had dropped the bat and was running to
first like a deer.



CHAPTER III

THROWN AWAY


On went the ball almost on a dead line to center, but rising as it
went as though it were endowed with wings. On and still on, as though
it would never stop. The centerfielder had cast one look at it, and
then he turned and ran toward the distant bleachers in the back of the
field. He took another look over his shoulder and then threw up his
hands in a gesture of despair.

The ball cleared the bleacher rail, still going strong, and finally
came to rest in the top row, where it was hastily gobbled up and
concealed by an enthusiastic bleacherite, anxious to retain a memento
of one of the longest hits ever made on the Chicago grounds.

Joe rounded first, going like a railroad train, but as he saw where the
ball was going he moderated his speed in order to conserve his wind and
just jogged around the bases until he reached the plate, where Barrett
had preceded him.

Again and again he was forced to doff his cap in response to the
shouts of the crowd, who had forgotten all partisanship for the moment
in the excitement of that mighty homer. And his teammates mauled and
pounded him until he laughingly made them desist, and made his way to
the bench, where McRae and Robbie were beaming.

“I’ve been thirty years in baseball, Joe,” said McRae, “and I’ve seen
lots of home runs. But if any one of them was finer than that whale of
a hit, I’ve forgotten it.”

“If it hadn’t been for the bleachers in the way, the ball would be
going yet,” grinned Robbie. “That swat will break Axander’s heart.”

But the heart of the Cub pitcher was made of stouter material than
Robbie gave it credit for, and Axander settled down and prevented
further scoring for that inning. But the Giants had two runs to the
good, and the way Joe was pitching made those two runs look as big as a
house.

For the next two and a half innings the game developed into a pitchers’
duel. Neither side was able to tally, although a scratch hit put a
Giant on first and a passed ball advanced him to second. It seemed
quite possible that the game would end with the score still two to none.

Joe came up again in the sixth, amid cries by the Giant rooters to
repeat. But Axander was going to take no more chances. The memory of
that screaming homer still lingered. The catcher stood wide of the
plate, and Axander deliberately pitched four bad balls, regardless of
the jeers of the crowd.

It was the finest kind of a compliment to Joe’s prowess, but he was not
looking for compliments. What he wanted was another crack at the ball.
There was no help for it, however, and he dropped his bat and trotted
down to first.

He watched Axander like a hawk, took a long lead off the bag, and on
the second ball pitched started to steal second. He would have made it
without difficulty, but the Cub catcher threw the ball to the right of
the bag, and the second baseman, in order to grab it, had to get in the
way of Joe. There was a mix-up as they came together, and both went
down. The baseman dropped the ball, and Joe managed to get his hand on
the base before the ball could be recovered.

But when Joe attempted to get up on his feet, his left leg gave way
under him, and he had to steady himself by catching hold of Holstein,
the second baseman. The latter looked at him in surprise.

“Trying to kid me?” he asked.

“Not at all,” replied Joe. “My leg’s gone back on me. Must have
wrenched or twisted it, I guess, when we came together.”

The umpire saw that something had happened and called time, while
McRae, Robbie, and the other men on the Giant team gathered around
their injured comrade in alarm and consternation.

“Nothing broken, is there, Joe?” cried McRae, as he came running out to
second.

“Nothing so bad as that,” answered Joe, summoning up a smile. “Guess
it’s only a sprain. But I’m afraid it puts me out of the running for
to-day. I can scarcely bear my weight on it.”

The club trainer, Dougherty, ran his hands over Joe with the dexterity
of an expert.

“No breaks,” he pronounced. “But a wrench to the leg and the ankle
sprained. No more work for you, Joe, for a week, at least. Here, some
of you fellows help me get him over to the clubhouse.”

“Maybe after a little rest and rubbing I can go on with the pitching,”
suggested Joe.

“Nothing doing,” replied Dougherty, laconically. “Get that right out of
your noddle. Your work’s done for the day.”

A rookie was put on second to run for Joe, and the latter was assisted
to the clubhouse, where Dougherty and his assistants set to work on the
leg and ankle at once.

Gloom so thick that it could have been cut with a knife came down on
the Giants’ bench. Here was another proof that the “jinx” was still
camping on their trail.

But there was no time for grizzling then, for the game had to go on.
Jim and Markwith were sent out to warm up, while the Giants finished
their half of the inning.

Joe’s hit had not gone for nothing, for Ledwith, the rookie, got to
third on a fielder’s choice, and came home on a long sacrifice fly to
center. Iredell swung viciously at the ball and sent up a towering
skyscraper that Axander was waiting for when it came down. The inning
was over, and, despite the injury to their star pitcher, another run
had been stowed away in the Giants’ bat bag.

McRae selected Jim to finish the game in his chum’s place.

“Go to it, Barclay, and show them what stuff you’re made of,”
admonished the manager. “The boys have given you a lead of three runs,
and all you’ve got to do is to hold those birds down.”

“I’ll pitch my head off to do it,” promised Jim.

He only permitted three men to face him in the Chicago’s sixth inning.
All the attempts of the Cub coaches and players to rattle him at the
send-off resulted in failure.

Mollocher, the first Cub at bat, let a speeder go past because it was a
trifle wide. The next was a slow curve that the umpire called a strike.
Mollocher looked surprised, but apart from glaring at the umpire made
no protest. He laced out at the next one and fouled it to the top of
the grandstand for a second strike. The next ball he hit on the upper
side, and it went for a harmless hopper to Barrett, who fielded him out
at first.

Greaves, who came next, refused to offer at the first, which was high
and went as a ball. The next cut the plate for a strike. He fouled the
next two in succession, and finally sent a looping fly to Renton at
third.

Lasker stood like a wooden man as Jim sent over a beauty for the first
strike. The second came over below his knees, and was a ball. He struck
at the next and missed, and then Jim fanned him with a slow outcurve
that he almost broke his back in reaching for.

It was good pitching, and showed that the Giants had more than one
string to their bow. The score was now 3 to 0 on even innings, and,
with only three more innings to go, it looked as though the Giants were
due to break their long run of hard luck.

“You’re doing fine, Jim,” encouraged Robbie. “Just keep that up and
we’ll not only beat ’em but rub it in by giving ’em a row of goose
eggs.”

“Knock wood,” cautioned McRae, giving three sharp raps with his
knuckles on the bench. “For the love of Pete, Robbie, cut out that kind
of talk. The game isn’t over yet by a long shot.”

Axander, as cool as an iceberg, put on extra speed and set down the
Giants in their half in one, two, three order. Not a man reached first,
and the last two were disposed of by the strike-out route.

“Stretch” was the word that ran through the stands as the Chicagos came
in for their half of the “lucky seventh,” and the crowd rose as one man
and stretched while cries of encouragement went up for their favorites.

The charm failed this time, however, for though they gathered one
hit off Jim, it counted for nothing, as the next three went out in
succession. Jim was certainly pitching airtight ball.

But in the latter half of the eighth, after the Giants had failed
to add to their score, there came one of the sudden changes that
illustrated once more the uncertainty of the national game.

The head of the Cubs’ batting order was up, and their supporters were
frantically urging them to do something.

Burton did his best, and sent up a high fly to Curry at right. It
looked as though it were made to order for the latter, who did not have
to budge from his tracks. The ball came down directly in his hands--and
he dropped it!

A mighty roar went up from the crowd, who had looked upon it as an easy
out, which it should have been, and Burton, who had slowed up a little,
put on speed, rounded first and started for second.

Curry, rattled by his error, fumbled at the ball, and when he did
recover it lined it in the direction of second. But it went wide of
Barrett, and though Jim, who was backing him up, caught and returned
it, Burton was already on the bag.

Gallagher, the next man up, popped a Texas leaguer that Burkett and
Barrett ran out for.

“I’ve got it,” cried Barrett.

“It’s mine,” shouted the burly first baseman.

Each unfortunately believed the other and held back, waiting for his
comrade to make the catch. As a result, the ball dropped between them
and rolled some distance away.

Burton, who had held the bag, started for third. Burkett retrieved
the ball and without getting set hurled it to third. It went high
over Renton’s head and rolled to the stands. Burton kept right on and
crossed the plate for the first run of the game. Gallagher, in the
general excitement, reached second.

Pandemonium broke loose among the Chicago rooters.

“We’ve got them going!” was the cry.

“All over but the shouting!”

Evans, the Chicago manager, sent in his best pinch hitter, Miller,
and put a fast rookie, Houghton, on second to run in the place of
Gallagher, who was of the ice-wagon type.

To give his comrades time to recover somewhat from their demoralization,
Jim stooped down to lace his shoe. He was a long time doing this, and
then was very deliberate in taking his place on the mound.

He whizzed over a high fast one that Miller struck at and missed. The
next he fouled off. The third just missed cutting the corner of the
plate, and it went for a ball. On the next, Miller lay down a bunt that
rolled slowly along the third base line.

It looked as though it were going to roll foul, and Renton gave it a
chance to do so. However, it kept on the inside of the line, and by the
time Renton had gathered it up, Miller had easily reached first.

Wallace went to the bat with orders to wait Jim out, trusting to the
hope that the latter would by this time be rattled, because the breaks
of the game seemed to be going against him. But when two beauties in
succession cut the corners of the plate for strikes, while he stood
there like a wooden Indian, he changed his mind.

To make him hit into a double play, Jim made the next an outcurve. Nine
times out of ten the batter hits that kind of ball into the dirt. It
ran according to form this time also. Wallace hit a grounder that went
straight to Larry Barrett at second. Larry set himself for the ball,
while Iredell ran over to cover the bag for a double play.

But just before the ball reached Barrett, it took a high bound, went
over his head and rolled out into centerfield. Gallagher scored,
Miller reached third, and Wallace got to second on a long slide, just
escaping being nipped by McGuire’s return of the ball.

With two runs in, no one out, and a man each on second and third, it
looked bad for the Giants. A single hit would probably score both of
the occupants of the bags. Even two outfield sacrifice flies would do
it.

The din was tremendous as the crowds yelled in chorus, trying to rattle
the already shaky visiting team. But the noise subsided somewhat as Jim
put on steam and set down Mollocher on three successive strikes.

Greaves came up next, and lashed out at the first ball pitched, sending
a grasser toward first. Burkett made a good pick-up, stepped on the
bag, putting out Greaves, and then hurled to Mylert to catch Miller,
who was legging it to the plate. But although Mylert made a mighty
leap, the ball went over his head and before it could be recovered both
Miller and Wallace had crossed the plate, making the score four to
three in favor of the Chicagos.

And the Chicago rooters promptly went mad!



CHAPTER IV

FROM BAD TO WORSE


That nightmare inning came to an end without further scoring, as Jim
struck out Lasker on four pitched balls. Then, with a sigh of relief,
Jim pulled off his glove and went in to the bench, while a sheepish and
disgruntled lot of Giants followed him in for their last inning. McRae
was white with anger, and had no hesitation in telling the team what he
thought of them.

“You bunch of four-flushers!” he stormed. “Throwing the ball all around
the lot like a gang of schoolboys. You fellows are Giants--I don’t
think. You’re a disgrace to your uniforms. You’re drawing your salaries
on false pretenses. Letting those fellows get four runs in a single
inning without making a real hit. What do you want the pitcher to
do--strike out every man that comes to the bat, while you go to sleep
in the field? You make me tired. You ought to join the Ladies’ Bloomer
League. And even then Maggie Murphy’s team would put it all over you.
Go in there now and get those runs back.”

With their faces burning from the tongue lashing of their irate
manager, the Giants went in for their last inning.

Larry was first up and cracked out a sharp single to right that looked
at first as though he might stretch it to a double, but it was so
smartly relayed that he found it advisable to scramble back to the
initial bag.

Jim was next up. The first two balls pitched were wide of the plate and
he refused to bite. The next one, however, he caught right on the seam
for a liner that went whistling into right for a double.

Larry had started at the crack of the bat, and had rounded second by
the time Jim got to first. He kept on to third, where Iredell was on
the coaching line. There he should have been retained, for Burton, who
was renowned for his throwing arm, had by this time got the ball and
was setting himself for the throw. Iredell, however, urged Larry on,
with the consequence that when he slid into the plate the ball was
there waiting for him. Jim, in the meantime, had reached second.

Larry picked himself up, brushed himself off and went to the bench,
muttering growls against Iredell for having egged him on. Had two men
been out there might have been some excuse for taking the chance.
But with none out, it was almost certain that, either by a hit or a
sacrifice, he could have been brought in with the run that would have
tied the score.

Mylert tried to kill the ball, but hit it on the under side and it went
up in a high fly that was easily gobbled up by the Cubs’ first baseman.

Curry, the last hope of the Giants, came to the bat. He was in a frenzy
of eagerness to redeem himself, as it was his inglorious muff that had
started the Cubs on their way to those four unearned runs.

Axander himself was beginning to feel the strain, and was a bit wild.
Curry looked them over carefully and let the bad ones go by. A couple
of good ones were sandwiched in, at which he swung and missed.

With three balls and two strikes, both pitcher and batter were “in the
hole.” Axander had to put the next one over under penalty of passing
the batter. And if Curry missed the next good one, the game was over.

Axander wound up and let one go straight for the plate. Curry caught it
full and fair and the ball soared off toward left.

Weston, the Cub leftfielder, was off with the crack of the ball,
running in the direction the latter was taking. It seemed like a
hopeless quest, but he kept on, and just as the ball was going over
his head he made a tremendous leap and caught it with one hand. He was
off balance and turned a complete somersault, but when he came up he
still had hold of the ball. It was a catch such as is seldom seen more
than two or three times in a season.

The game was over, and the Cubs had triumphed by a score of 4 runs to
3. The crowd swarmed down on the diamond to surround and applaud their
favorites, who had plucked victory from the very jaws of defeat, or,
to put it more correctly, had accepted the game which the Giants had
generously handed over to them.

It was a sore and dejected band of Giants that made their way to
the clubhouse. The end had come so suddenly that they could hardly
realize what had happened. Some were inclined to blame the “jinx,”
but the more intelligent knew that their own errors and those of some
of their comrades had alone brought about their downfall. The defeat
was all the more exasperating, because they had had superb pitching
throughout--pitching that would have won nine games out of ten and
would certainly have won that one if their twirlers had been given
half-way decent support.

“Hard luck, Jim,” was Joe’s greeting to his comrade, as the latter came
in and made ready for the showers. “You pitched a dandy game. It’s
tough when four runs come in without one of them being earned.”

“All in a day’s work,” replied Jim, affecting a cheerfulness that he
was far from feeling. “But you’re the one I’m worrying about. How’s
that leg and foot?”

“Dougherty says it will be all right in a week,” replied Joe. “He’s
rubbed most of the soreness out of them, but I’ll have to favor them
for a while.”

“Glory be!” exclaimed Jim with fervor. “If you were out of the game
for a long time it would be all up with the Giants. Then they’d go to
pieces for fair.”

“Not a bit of it,” disclaimed Joe. “It’s too great a team to be
dependent on any one man. I’m only just one cog in a fine machine.”

“Looked like a rather wobbly machine this afternoon,” said Jim,
ruefully.

“Sure,” agreed Joe. “The boys did play like a bunch of hams. But every
team does that once in a while. The boys will shake off this slump, and
then they’ll begin to climb. Remember that time when we won twenty-six
straight? What we’ve done once, we can do again. I’m not a seventh son
of a seventh son, but I have a hunch that we’re just about due to do
that very thing.”

“I hope you’re as good a prophet as you are a pitcher,” replied Jim,
grinning. He was beginning to find Joe’s optimism contagious.

Their conversation was interrupted by the coming of McRae. A sudden
silence fell over the occupants of the clubhouse, for they knew the
danger signals, and a glance at the manager’s face told them that a
storm was brewing.

“Giants!” exclaimed McRae, and they winced at the bitter sarcasm in his
tone. “Where have I heard that word before? A fine bunch of pennant
winners! Why, you couldn’t win the pennant in the Podunk League. Put
you up against a gang of bushers, and they’d laugh themselves to death.
Any high school nine would make you look foolish. Giants? Dwarfs,
pigmies, runts! Easy meat for any team you come across! Champions of
the world? Cellar champions! Sub-cellar champions! Just keep on this
way, and the other teams will bury you so deep you’ll be coming out
in China. I’m going to change my name. I’m ashamed to be known as the
manager of such a bunch of dubs.”

Nobody ventured to interrupt the tirade, partly because they felt that
he was justified in his anger and partly because no one cared to play
the part of lightning rod. When McRae was in that mood, it was best to
let him talk himself out.

From the general roast he came down to particulars. He glared around
and singled out Curry. That hapless individual evaded his glance and
pretended to be very busy in tying his shoe.

“You’re the one that started that bunch of errors in the eighth
inning,” McRae shouted, pointing an accusing finger at him.

“Aw,” muttered Curry, “any one can make a muff once in a while.”

“It isn’t for the muff I’m calling you down,” retorted McRae. “I know
that can happen to any man, and I never roast any one for it. Why, we
lost the World’s championship one year in Boston when Rodgrass made
that muff in centerfield. I never said a word to him about it, and in
the next year’s contract I raised his salary. What I’m panning you for
is that rotten throw that followed the muff. That’s when you lost your
head. You could easily have caught Burton at second and stopped the
rally.

“And you, Burkett,” he went on, turning to the first baseman. “For a
man who calls himself a major leaguer, you certainly went the limit
this afternoon. Don’t you get sleep enough at night that you have
to go to sleep on first? And those wild throws, one over Renton’s
head and the other over Mylert’s. Oh, what’s the use,” he continued,
throwing his hands in the air. “I’ve got a doctor on this club that can
take care of any bone in the leg or bone in the arm, but he can’t do
anything with bones in the head.”

If they thought he had worn himself out, they were greatly mistaken. He
turned to Iredell.

“Come outside, Iredell,” he said, “I want to have a word with you.”

Once outside the clubhouse, he turned a grim face on the captain.

“I didn’t want to call you down before your men, Iredell,” he snapped,
“because I didn’t care to weaken the discipline of the team--that is,
if there’s any discipline left in the club. But I want to tell you that
if your work to-day is a sample of the way you captain the team, why,
the sooner there’s a change in captains the better.”

“I don’t know just what you mean,” muttered Iredell, an angry red
suffusing his face.

“You know perfectly well what I mean,” declared McRae. “How about that
ball that fell to the ground between Larry and Burkett? Either one of
them could have got it. Why didn’t they?”

Iredell remained silent, fingering his cap.

“Because you didn’t call out which was to take it,” McRae himself
supplied the answer. “Their eyes were on the ball, and when each said
he could get it each left it to the other. All you had to do was to
call out the name of one of them, and he’d have got it. That’s what
you’re captain for--to use your judgment in a pinch.

“Then there was that rotten coaching at third base,” McRae went on with
his indictment. “Why didn’t you hold Larry there? You know what a
terror Burton is on long throws to the plate and that he’d probably get
him. With nobody out, it was a cinch that one of the next three batsmen
would have brought Larry in. And with him dancing around third, he
might have got Axander’s goat. Then, too, the infield would have been
drawn in for a play at the plate, and that would have given a better
chance for a hit to the outfield. Am I right or am I wrong?”

“I suppose you’re right,” conceded Iredell. “But a fellow can’t always
think of everything. If Larry had got to the plate, you’d be patting me
on the back.”

“No, I wouldn’t,” snapped McRae, “because it would have been just
fool’s luck. Why, I fined a man twenty-five dollars once for knocking
out a home run when I had ordered him to bunt. That he came across
with a home run didn’t change the fact that at that point in the game
a bunt was the proper thing, and nine times out of ten would have gone
through. You’ve got to use your sense and judgment and do the thing
that seems most likely to bring home the bacon.”

“I don’t seem to please you these days, no matter what I do,” said
Iredell sullenly.

“You’ll only please me when you do things right,” returned McRae. “You
know as well as any one else that I never ride my men. I’ve been a
ball player myself as well as manager, and I can put myself in the
place of both. But what I want are men who are quick in the head as
well as the feet. Give me the choice between a fast thinker and a fast
runner, and I’ll take the fast thinker every time. Look at Joe Matson,
the way he shot that ball over on Burton to-day before he knew where he
was at. He’s always doing something of that kind--outguessing the other
fellow. His think tank is working every minute. He puts out as many men
with his head as he does with his arm. And that’s what makes him the
greatest pitcher in this country to-day, bar none.

“Now, take it from me, Iredell, that’s the kind of thinking that’s
going to pull this team out of the mud. I’m paying you a good salary to
play shortstop. There, you’re delivering the goods. But I’ve tacked a
couple of thousands onto your salary to act as captain. There, you’re
not delivering the goods. And those goods have got to be delivered, or,
by ginger, I’ll know the reason why!”



CHAPTER V

A STARTLING SUGGESTION


With this ultimatum, the irate manager stalked off to join Robbie,
while Iredell, his face like a thunder cloud, returned to the clubhouse.

Nor was his wrath at the “roasting” he had received at the hands of
McRae lessened by the consciousness that it was deserved. He knew in
his heart that he had neglected his duties, or, at least, had failed
to take advantage of his opportunities. The game might have been won
if he had been on the job. To be sure, the team had played like a lot
of bushers, but that did not relieve him of his responsibility. It was
when they were playing badly that it was up to him to step into the
breach. And that was what he had lamentably failed to do.

“Look at the face of him,” whispered Larry to Wheeler. “The old man has
been giving him the rough edge of his tongue.”

“And when that tongue gets going it can certainly flay a man alive,”
remarked Wheeler. “I’m sore yet from what he gave the bunch of us.
Let’s hurry and get out of this. It’s too much like a funeral around
here to suit me.”

McRae in the meantime was unburdening his heart to Robbie. The latter
was his closest friend and adviser. They had been teammates in the
early days on the old Orioles of Baltimore, when that famous team had
been burning up the League. Both of them knew baseball from beginning
to end. Together they had worked out most of the inside stuff, such as
the delayed steal, the hit and run, and other clever bits of strategy
that had now become the common property of all up-to-date major-league
teams.

Yet, though as close friends as brothers, they were as different in
temperament as two men could be. Robbie caught his flies with molasses.
McRae relied on vinegar to catch his. Robbie knew how to salve the
umpires. McRae was on their backs clawing like a wildcat. McRae ruffled
up the feathers of his men, while Robbie smoothed them down. Each had
his own special qualities and defects. But both were square and just
and upright, and commanded the respect of the members of the team.
Together they formed an ideal combination, whose worth was attested by
the way they had led the Giants to victory. Into that wonderful team
they had put the fighting spirit, the indefinable something that made
them the “class” of the League and more than once the champions of the
world. Even when they failed to win the pennant, they were always close
to the top, and it was usually the Giants that the winning team had to
beat.

Just now, however, the Giants were undeniably in the slump that at
times will come to the best of teams, and both McRae and Robbie, who
were hard losers, were at their wits’ end to know how to get them out
of it.

“We’re up against it for fair, Robbie,” said McRae, as they walked to
the gate on their way to the hotel at which the Giants were stopping.
“Think of the way the Chicagos are giving us the merry ha ha! We just
gave them that game to-day. Looked as though we had it sewed up for
fair. People had started to leave their seats, thinking it was all
over. Then we turn around and hand the game over to them.”

“It’s tough luck, to be sure,” Robbie agreed. “If Matson hadn’t been
hurt, we’d have copped it sure. They couldn’t get within a mile of him.
And now as the capsheaf, he’s probably out of the game for a week. But
cheer up, Mac. The season’s young yet, and we’ve got out of many a
worse hole than this.”

“It wasn’t so much the boys going to pieces in that one inning that
makes me so sore,” returned the manager. “Any team will get a case of
the rattles once in a while and play like a lot of dubs. What gets my
goat are the blunders that Iredell made. As a captain, supposed to use
his brains, he did well--I don’t think.”

“It was rotten judgment,” agreed Robbie, thoughtfully. “And what makes
it worse is that it isn’t the first time it’s happened. He’s overlooked
a lot of things since we started on this trip. Some of them have been
trifling and haven’t done much damage. Some of them the spectators
wouldn’t notice at all. But you’ve seen them and I’ve seen them.”

“And what’s worse, some of the team have seen them,” returned McRae.
“That’s taken some of their confidence away from them and made them
shaky. A captain is a good deal like a pitcher. If he’s good, the team
play behind him like thoroughbreds. If he’s poor, they play like a lot
of selling platers. I shouldn’t wonder if that’s the whole secret of
this present slump.”

“Perhaps you’re right, John,” assented Robbie. “We’ll have to coach
Iredell, wise him up on the inside stuff, and see if he doesn’t do
better.”

McRae shook his head.

“That won’t do the trick,” he replied. “A good captain is born, not
made. He’s got to have the gray matter in his noddle to start with. If
he hasn’t got it, all the coaching in the world won’t put it into him.
It’s a matter of brains, first, last and all the time. I’ve come to
the conclusion that Iredell hasn’t got them. He’s got a ball player’s
brains. But he hasn’t got a captain’s brains, and that’s all there is
to it.”

“Well, admitting that that’s so, we seem to be up against it,” mused
Robbie, ruefully. “Who else on the team is any better in that respect?
Run over the list. Mylert, Burkett, Barrett, Jackwell, Curry, Bowen,
Wheeler. I don’t know that any one of them has anything on Iredell in
the matter of sense and judgment.”

“Haven’t you overlooked some one?” asked McRae, significantly.

Robbie looked at him in wonderment.

“Nobody except the substitutes,” he said. “And of course they’re out of
the question.”

“How about the box?” asked McRae.

“Oh, the pitchers!” returned Robbie. “I didn’t take them into
consideration. But of course a pitcher can’t be captain. That goes
without saying.”

“Not with me it doesn’t go without saying,” said McRae. “Why can’t a
pitcher act as captain?”

“Why--why,” stammered Robbie, “just because it isn’t done. I don’t
remember a case where it ever was done.”

“That cuts no ice with me at all,” declared McRae, incisively.
“Whatever success I’ve had in the world has been got by doing things
that aren’t done. How was it that we made the old Orioles the class of
the League and the wonder of the baseball world? By doing the things
that aren’t done--that no other team had thought of. They went along in
the old groove, playing cut and dried baseball. We went after them like
a whirlwind with a raft of new ideas, and before they knew where they
were at, we had their shirts.”

“Wriggling snakes!” exclaimed Robbie, his face lighting up, as he gave
his friend a resounding slap on the back. “Mac, you’ve got me going.
You’re the same old Mac, always getting up something new. Matson, of
course! Joe Matson, not only the greatest pitcher, but the brainiest
man in all baseball! Matson, who thinks like lightning. Matson, that
the whole team worships. Matson, who can give any one cards and spades
and beat him out. Mac, you old rascal, you take my breath away. You’ve
hit the bull’s-eye.”

McRae smiled his gratification.

“That’s all right, Robbie, but you needn’t go knocking me down with
that ham of a hand of yours,” he grumbled.

“Have you mentioned the matter to Joe yet?” asked Robbie, eagerly.

“Not yet,” replied the manager. “I wouldn’t do that anyway until I had
talked the matter over with you and learned what you thought of it.
And then, too, with that bruised leg and ankle of his, he won’t be in
the game for a week or so, anyway. So you really cotton to the idea, do
you?”

“I fall for it like a load of bricks,” was the response. “Of course,
Matson’s yet to be heard from. It’s a pretty heavy responsibility to
be placed on a man that’s already carrying the team along with his
wonderful pitching. Perhaps he’ll think it’s a little too much to ask
of him.”

“I’ll take a chance on that,” replied McRae, confidently. “He’s got
a marvelous physique, and he always keeps himself in the best of
condition. He’s strong enough to carry any load that he’s asked to
bear. Then, too, you know how he’s wrapt up in the success of the
team. He’s never balked yet at anything I’ve asked him to do. He’s
playing baseball not only for money, but because he loves it. He talks
baseball, thinks baseball, eats baseball, dreams baseball. He’s hep to
every fine point in the game and he’s on the job every second. And when
it comes to thinking fast and acting quickly--well, you know as well as
I do that nobody can touch him.”

“He’s a wizard, all right,” agreed Robbie. “But here’s a point to be
thought over, John. A captain’s got to be in every game. Joe pitches
perhaps two games a week.”

“I’ve thought of that, too,” McRae replied. “On the days he’s not in
the box, he can play in the outfield. And think of the batting strength
that will add to the team. He’s liable to break up any game with one of
the same kind of homers he knocked out to-day. He’s as much of a wonder
with the bat as he is in the box, and that’s going some.”

“Better and better,” declared Robbie, exultantly. “Mac, I take off
my hat to you. You’ve hit on an idea that’s going to win the pennant
of the League this season, with the World Series thrown in for good
measure. Who cares for to-day’s game? Who cares if the Giants are in a
slump? Just make Joe Matson captain of the team and then see the Giants
climb!”



CHAPTER VI

PERPLEXING PROBLEMS


“I hope you’re right, Robbie,” replied McRae, “and I believe you are.
But not a word about this to anybody yet until we’ve mulled it over in
our minds from every angle and are ready to spring it. I don’t want
Iredell to get any inkling of it yet, for then perhaps he’d get sullen
and indifferent and things will be even worse than they are now.”

“I’ll keep it under my hat,” promised Robbie. “How do you think
Iredell’s going to take it? He’s an ugly sort of customer, you know,
when he gets roiled.”

“I guess he’ll be easy enough to handle,” returned McRae. “I’ll let
him down easy and heal his wounds with a little increase in salary.
But whether he does or not, I’m not going to let any one’s personal
ambitions stand in the way of the success of the team. That comes
before anything.”

“Well now, to change the subject,” said Robbie, “who are we going to
put in the box to-morrow? We’ve got to have that game, or the Chicagos
will have a clean sweep of the series.”

“I guess we’ll have to depend on Markwith,” replied McRae. “The
Chicagos have never been able to do much against his southpaw slants.
Other things being equal, I’d put Barclay in the box. But he pitched
the last part of to-day’s game, and perhaps it will be too soon to ask
him to repeat. Even at that I may take a chance. I’ll see how they warm
up before the game.”

“It’s too bad that Matson was hurt in to-day’s game,” remarked Robbie.
“We were counting on him to take at least two games from St. Louis.
Barclay, perhaps, could take another. Three out of four would help us
some in winding up the trip. But if they trim us, too, as all the other
Western teams have done, I’ll hate to go back and face the New York
fans.”

“I’ll work Jim in two of them,” said McRae. “Markwith, Bradley and
Merton will have to help him out. Possibly Joe will be in shape for the
last game. And maybe the team will take a brace and wake up. At any
rate, we can only hope. There isn’t much nourishment in hope, but it’s
all we’ve got.”

In the meantime, Jim and Joe had finished their dressing and were
preparing to leave the clubhouse.

Jackwell and Bowen were the only occupants left in the place. They were
sitting in a corner engaged in earnest conversation.

“How is the leg, Matson?” asked Bowen, as the two chums passed near
them.

“None too good,” returned Joe. “But it doesn’t feel as sore as I feel
inside to see that game go flooey. Pity you fellows weren’t in it.
McGuire and Renton weren’t so bad in the field, but they’re not as good
stickers as you fellows, and your bats might have turned the tide. By
the way, are you feeling any better now?”

“I’m all right,” answered Jackwell, a little confusedly.

“I’m not feeling exactly up to snuff,” said Bowen. “But I guess I’ll be
able to go in to-morrow.”

“Ptomaine poisoning’s a pretty bad thing,” said Joe, looking at them
rather quizzically. “It usually hangs on for days. You’re lucky to get
over it so quickly.”

“You look fit as a fiddle,” added Jim, dryly. “Or is it the hectic
flush of disease that gives you such a good color?”

“I guess it was only a slight attack,” said Jackwell. “Just enough to
put us out of our stride for the day.”

“I’ve got to get to the hotel and get there quickly,” declared Joe, a
twinge going through his foot as he stepped down from the threshold of
the clubhouse. “Mabel will be at the hotel, wondering what on earth has
happened to me.”

“By jiminy, that’s so!” cried Jim, turning to stare at his chum. “What
will you think of me, old boy, if I confess that in the excitement of
the game I’d forgotten about her coming?”

Joe grinned.

“You wouldn’t have been so quick to forget if Clara had been able to
come along with her,” he said, as he walked along gingerly, favoring
his injured leg.

“Say, Joe, that leg must be pretty bad,” said Jim, anxiously. “Better
rest a while, don’t you think, before starting out?”

“I tell you I’ve waited too long already,” returned Joe. “Just call a
taxi, will you? and we’ll spin down to the hotel in no time.”

Jim went personally in search of a conveyance. It was not hard to find
one, and he returned almost immediately to find Joe limping toward him
with the aid of a cane furnished by Dougherty. The latter had offered
him his shoulder, but Joe, with a smile, refused.

“I may be a cripple, but I refuse to be treated as such,” he told Jim,
in response to the latter’s protest. “Next thing you know, they’ll be
offering to carry me on a stretcher.”

Nevertheless, Jim noted that Joe sighted the taxicab with eagerness,
and leaned back in its shabby interior with a sigh of relief.

“Hate to show myself to Mabel in this shape,” he said ruefully. “Looks
as though I’d had the worst end of the fight.”

“Rather step up lively to the tune of ‘Hail the Conquering Hero Comes,’
I suppose?” said Jim, with an understanding grin. “I think I get your
train of thought all right, old man. But I wouldn’t worry, if I were
you. Nothing you could do would ever make Mabel think you anything but
a hero.”

“Let’s hope you have the right dope,” said Joe.

He looked abstractedly from the dingy windows of the cab at the
spectacle of the crowded streets. At that moment he really saw nothing
but his young wife as she had looked the last time they had been forced
to say good-bye. It had seemed to him then that he could never bear
to part from her again. He was so eager to get to her that he had a
ludicrous desire to get out and push the taxicab along.

“Thought it was to-night that Mabel was coming,” remarked Jim,
interrupting his reverie. “You could have met her at the train then.”

“Reggie found that he would have to come to the city on business, and
since it was necessary for him to come on an earlier train, Mabel
decided to change her own plans so that she could come along with
him,” explained Joe.

“Oh, so we’re about to see our old friend, Reggie, again!” exclaimed
Jim, with real enthusiasm. “Glad to see the old boy, though I can’t
help wishing he’d mislay that monocle of his. ‘The bally thing makes
me nervous, don’t you know?’” he finished, in perfect imitation of the
absent Reggie.

Reginald Varley not only had the fact that he was Mabel’s brother to
recommend him to Joe and Jim, but despite his affectation of a supposed
English accent and the absurdity of a monocle, Reggie was a fine and
likable fellow.

For his part, Reggie professed a great admiration for the chums,
especially for his brother-in-law, Baseball Joe. When he could help it,
he never missed an opportunity of following the exploits of the two,
and, therefore, he had been grateful on this occasion to business for
furnishing him an excuse for accompanying his sister to Chicago while
the Giants were still there.

“Suppose we go light on this accident, Jim,” suggested Joe, indicating
his injured leg and foot. “Just a slight sprain you know.”

“I get you,” returned Jim, adding, as his suddenly startled gaze leaped
to the traffic that whirled past the rapidly moving taxicab: “Look at
that car coming toward us. On the wrong side of the street, too! That
driver’s either drunk or crazy!”

Instantly Joe took in the danger. A big automobile, being driven at
terrific speed, had rounded the corner on two wheels and was charging
down upon them. It seemed that the driver of their taxicab would be a
superman if he should prove able to avoid a terrible accident.

Jim had opened the door as though to jump, but Joe called to him.

“Sit tight, Jim,” he gritted. “It’s the only way.”

Lucky for them that the taxi man was keen witted. He saw the only
thing that was possible to do in such an emergency, and did it without
hesitation.

With a wild bumping of wheels and screeching of emergency brake, the
car skidded up on the sidewalk, slithered along for a few feet and came
to a standstill. The oncoming car had missed the rear wheels of the
taxicab by the fraction of an inch!

Pedestrians, sensing the imminent peril, had scattered wildly, and
now returned vociferously to view the curious spectacle of a taxicab
planted squarely in the middle of the sidewalk.

Joe’s relief at the narrow escape from disaster changed immediately to
impatience with the rapidly gathering and gaping crowd.

“More delay! Say, Jim, can’t we beat it out of here?”

“Fine chance! Especially with your game leg,” Jim retorted, adding with
a chuckle: “Here comes a cop. Watch him get rid of the crowd.”

“More likely to arrest us for disorderly conduct and disturbing the
peace,” said Joe, disconsolately. “Fine husband Mabel will think she
has. She’ll think I’m mighty anxious to get to her.”

“Don’t be such a gloom hound,” laughed Jim. “This cop has a pleasant
face. Wait till I give him some blarney.”

At that moment the policeman, having interviewed the sullen and angry
chauffeur, opened the door of the cab. The constantly gathering crowd
pressed forward curiously to get a glimpse of Joe and Jim.

The officer, a round-faced, good-natured-looking individual, stared at
Joe for a moment and then broke into a broad grin.

“Begorry, if you ain’t the livin’ image of Baseball Joe, the greatest
slinger in captivity, my name ain’t Denny M’Lean!”

“Sure, it’s Baseball Joe! And we owe the fact that he’s still living to
the quick wits of our friend here,” broke in Jim, indicating the still
furious chauffeur. “That fool in the other car was driving on the wrong
side of the road, officer----”

“Sure he was!”

“I saw it myself!”

“Looked like a head-on collision, I’ll tell the world!”

These and other cries came from the crowd, among whom the news that the
great Baseball Joe occupied the cab with another famous twirler had
spread like wildfire.

“Do me a favor, will you, officer?” urged Joe, taking out his watch and
glancing at it hastily. “I’m already late for an appointment. Clear the
road, will you, and let us get going?”

“So far as I see, there ain’t no particular objection to that,”
returned the bluecoat, with exasperating deliberation. “The sidewalk
ain’t no proper parkin’ place for an automobile, as you know. But as
you seem to be havin’ plenty of witnesses that say ye couldn’t have
done no different, ’twill be easy to overlook yer imperdence. Now
thin,” turning to the crowd, “did any one of ye notice the license
plate of that law-breakin’ car?”

Several persons came forward with more or less reliable information.
After making a note of this, while Joe fumed with increasing impatience,
the officer returned and grinned at them, his eyes snapping with humor.

“Lucky for McRae of the Giants that Baseball Joe kept a whole skin on
him this day. When I get that truck driver I’ll be tellin’ him what I
think of him in no unsartin terms. Good-bye to yez, and good luck.”

He thrust his huge paw inside the cab, and Joe gripped it heartily. For
many years after this meeting with the great Giant twirler, Sergeant
Dennis M’Lean was to exhibit proudly the hand that had been gripped by
Baseball Joe.

They were off at last, crawling through the close-packed crowd, and
with tremendous relief found themselves once more part of the traffic,
speeding toward the Wheatstone Hotel where Mabel and Reggie were
waiting for them.

“Suppose we’ll have a few blowouts now, just to make the thing real
good,” grumbled Joe, and Jim laughed.

“Here we are before the Wheatstone now,” he said. “Just goes to show
how sound your gloomy prophecies are!”

Joe’s heart leaped as he saw the great building which he was making
his headquarters during the stay of the club in Chicago and where he
had also engaged a room for Reggie. He started to leap from the cab,
which had slowed at the curb, but a sharp twinge from his injured leg
reminded him of his partly crippled condition.

“Take it easy, old man,” warned Jim. “If you don’t favor that foot, you
may find yourself laid up for a month instead of a week.”

It was all very well for Jim to say “take it easy,” but when a young
married man has been separated from his wife for weeks, the thing isn’t
so easily done.

They rode in the elevator to the fifth floor where, leaning on his cane
and refusing the help of Jim’s arm, Joe got out and hobbled down the
corridor to the door of his apartment.

“Remember, I’m not really hurt, I just imagine I am,” he cautioned Jim
once more, as he put his hand on the knob.

Instantly the door opened and a vision of bright hair and rosy face
seized him by the hand and dragged him into the room.

“You too, Jim! Come in, do!” cried Mabel, breathlessly. “Reggie and I
have been waiting ages for you. Joe--Joe, dear--that cane! You----”

“It’s nothing, nothing at all, little girl,” soothed Joe, his arms
about her. “Just a little spill on the field. Be all right in a week.
Ask Doc Dougherty, if you don’t believe me.”

Mabel held him off anxiously at arm’s length and looked appealingly at
Jim.

“Is he telling me the truth? Is he?”

“Well, I like that!” said Joe, before Jim could answer. “As if I didn’t
always tell you the truth?”

“You know, I never make it my business to interfere in the quarrels
of husband and wife,” drawled the familiar tones of Reggie, as,
attracted by the sound of voices, he strolled in from the other room.
“In fact, quarrels of any kind are foreign to my gentle disposition,
don’t you know. But on this occasion, I really feel called upon to
interrupt. Jim, my dear fellow, how is the old bean to-day? Rippin’,
from the looks of it, what? My word, brother-in-law,” turning to Joe
and adjusting his monocle so as to scrutinize him the better, “you have
been indulging in a fisticuff of some sort, yes? Tried to do for the
old teammates, did you?”

“Oh, leave him alone, Reggie, do!” protested Mabel, all tender
solicitude, as she led Joe to a chair and forced him into it. “Can’t
you see he is all tired out? Now don’t talk, dear, unless you want to,”
she added to Joe, placing a cushion behind his head and looking at him
anxiously, her pretty head on one side.

Joe heaved a contented sigh and smiled up at her.

“As long as you don’t tell me not to look at you, I don’t care!” he
said.



CHAPTER VII

BAD NEWS FOR JIM


“My word, I do believe they have forgotten us completely,” said Reggie,
plaintively, as he placed his monocle in his eye and stared at the
absorbed young couple. “Perhaps we had better be making ourselves
scarce, Jim, old chap.”

“Nothing doing,” retorted Jim, moving a chair up toward Joe and Mabel
and placing himself in it as though he intended remaining there
indefinitely. “I don’t stir a step from this place until Mabel tells me
all the news from home.”

“He means all the news about Clara,” laughed Joe, as Mabel obediently
sat down beside him and turned her attention to Jim.

“Oh, Clara is all right,” said Mabel, but in spite of her cheerful
words, the others saw that a cloud had darkened her face. “It is Mother
Matson I am worrying about,” she added slowly.

Mrs. Matson, Joe’s mother, had lately been in poor health. Because of
this fact, Mabel had stayed with her mother-in-law for a time after
her marriage to Joe. But recently she had yielded to the urging of
her own family to visit them in Goldsboro, North Carolina, her old
home. Although Mabel had been busy renewing old friendships there, she
had kept in almost daily touch with Mrs. Matson and Clara through the
mails. As a matter of fact, Jim had more than once complained that
Mabel heard a great deal more from his fiancée than he did himself.
Owing to the constantly changing address of the team, Jim’s mail, as
well as Joe’s, was often delayed.

Because of Mrs. Matson’s illness, Clara had postponed her marriage with
Jim, hoping for her mother’s restoration to health. Until that happy
time came, nothing remained to Jim but to possess his soul in patience,
which was often very hard to do.

Now, at Mabel’s mention of his mother, Joe started forward, fixing his
anxious gaze upon his wife.

“What has happened to mother?” he demanded. “Is she--nothing serious,
is it?”

“Oh, no, no!” said Mabel, patting his hand soothingly. “There is
nothing fatally wrong. She is--oh, I might as well tell you at once,
Joe dear, for you would only worry the more if I tried to keep things
from you. It is feared that Mother Matson must undergo an operation, a
rather serious operation, I am afraid.”

“What for?” asked Joe, quietly, although his face had become suddenly
white.

“Clara didn’t say in her letter,” returned Mabel, soberly. “Your
family doctor, Doctor Reeves, is calling a consultation. Clara will
undoubtedly write more fully after that is over.”

“A consultation!” cried Joe, leaping to his feet, only to slump down
again in his chair at the pain in his injured leg. “Why, this is
horrible, girl! Do you know when they expect to--do it?”

“They certainly won’t operate right away, Clara says,” Mabel returned.
“They think her heart is too weak to stand the ordeal just now. Dr.
Reeves is going to put her through a special course of treatment, and
he thinks that in a month or two she will be ready.”

“My poor mother!” groaned Joe. “How can I go on playing ball with that
thing in prospect? I got a letter from mother a day or two ago,” he
added, feeling in the pocket of his coat for the note from home. “She
didn’t say anything about any trouble then.”

“Of course she wouldn’t, you old silly,” said Mabel, gently. “Don’t you
know that mothers always worry about everybody else but themselves?
Mother Matson never would take her illness seriously, you know, and if
she had she would have been the very last one to worry you with it. It
was Clara, not your mother, who decided you ought to be told now and
asked me to do it.”

“That sure is tough luck, Joe,” said Jim, gravely. “I had no idea your
mother was as sick as that.”

“But, I say, don’t pull such a long face over it, old chap,” urged
Reggie, trying to strike a cheerful note in the general gloom of the
place. “People are operated on, you know, some of them again and again,
and come up smilin’ in the end. It’s a bally shame and all that, but
no need giving up hope altogether, you know. Hope on, hope ever, as
the poet sings. Now, I knew of a person once who had a complication of
diseases--most distressin’--and the doctors insisted that there must be
an operation. But when the day came for the operation, old chap, they
found----”

“Spare me the details, will you, Reggie?” urged Joe. “I can’t go them
just now.”

“Certainly, old chap, certainly,” agreed Reggie, with swift compunction.
“I might have known the subject would be, well, distasteful to you. To
change the topic of conversation, just cast your eye for a moment in the
direction of our old friend, Jim. He is dyin’ to learn more about Clara,
you know, and can’t for the life of him decide how to tell you about
it. How about it, old chap? Am I right?” Saying this, he tapped Jim
playfully with his monocle, and the latter reluctantly smiled.

“You sure are a mind reader, old boy,” he said. “I must confess that a
little first-hand news of Clara would be welcome, and Mabel’s seen her
since I have.”

Joe, looking at Mabel at that moment, was again surprised to find her
eyes shadowed and anxious. The expression passed in a moment, however,
and she smiled upon Jim reassuringly.

“Clara was dreadfully disappointed at not being able to be here with
Reggie and me, and of course she is worried to death about Mother
Matson, but aside from that she’s all right.”

“No news of any kind?” urged Jim, regarding Mabel closely. It seemed to
Joe that Jim also had noticed the faint hesitation that had crept into
Mabel’s manner at mention of Clara’s name. “Even the smallest scrap of
news, first hand, would be mighty welcome, you know.”

Mabel seemed to hesitate, then got to her feet and walked over to the
window. The boys watched her uneasily, but when she turned back to them
her face was bright and untroubled.

“I wish I had some news, Jim,” she said, in her normal tone. “But you
must remember that I have been in Goldsboro for some time, and the
only news I get of Clara is through the mails. But now I think I’ve
been answering questions enough,” she added lightly, a hand on Joe’s
shoulder. “I think I will start asking a few in my turn. First of all,
I want to know just how you happened to get hurt, Joe.”

Despite the fact that, just then, he wished to talk about nothing so
little as about himself, Joe recounted as quickly as he could the
details of his accident. From that the conversation turned to the
condition of the team and the discouraging slump it had taken.

“We sure seem to be headed straight for the bottom,” remarked Jim,
adding, as he looked ruefully at Joe: “And now with our champion
twirler laid up for an indefinite period, things look pretty tough for
the Giants. If only Jackwell and Bowen would quit looking over their
shoulders and watch the ball, we might have a chance to rattle the jinx
that’s after us.”

Both Mabel and Reggie--the latter was an ardent baseball fan and fairly
“ate up” anything that concerned the game--demanded to know more about
Jackwell and Bowen, and there ensued an animated discussion as to the
meaning of the peculiar actions of the two men.

It was Reggie who finally repeated his suggestion that he and Jim
“toddle on” in order to leave Joe and Mabel a few minutes of private
conversation before joining them again for dinner.

Joe did not protest very hard, for he was aching to have Mabel to
himself. He was very anxious about his mother, and more than a little
curious to know what, if anything, was amiss with Clara.

Mabel came to him herself as soon as the door was closed behind Jim and
Reggie. She held out her hands to him and Joe took them gently.

“What is it, little girl?” he asked. “You were holding back something
about mother and Clara. Now suppose you tell me.”

“Oh, Joe, I am so worried. I’ve told you everything about poor mother.
But Clara--well, I think she ought to be soundly scolded!”

For the first time since he had heard of his mother’s illness, Joe’s
grave face relaxed in a smile.

“Who’s going to do it--you?” he chaffed. “You never scolded me but
once, and then I liked it.”

“But you don’t take me seriously, and this really is serious, Joe,”
said Mabel, her pretty forehead marred by an anxious frown. “If
you could see this fellow with his handsome eyes and his beautiful
clothes----”

“What fellow?” interrupted Joe, becoming suddenly interested. “You
don’t mean----”

“Yes I do, just that!” returned Mabel, shaking her head solemnly. “This
Adonis I’m talking about is pestering Clara with his attentions.”

“Give me his name,” cried Joe. “I’ll soon show this little cupid where
he gets off----”

“He isn’t little, Joe. He’s broad-shouldered and six feet tall and he
has a million dollars--maybe ten million for all I know----”

“What’s his name?” roared Joe again, with undiminished ire. “What do I
care if he’s twenty feet tall and has a billion dollars? Hang around my
sister, will he?”

“Oh, hush, Joe, hush!” cautioned Mabel, putting a finger to his lips
and looking apprehensively toward the door. “Some one will be coming in
to see where the fire is.”

Joe took her hand gently away and looked at her intently.

“What is there behind all this?” he asked quietly. “Clara doesn’t
encourage this fellow, does she? She wouldn’t do that?”

Mabel looked troubled.

“I hope not, Joe. Oh, I hope not!” she said, and for a moment there was
silence while the two studied the pattern of the rug upon the floor,
busy with troubled thoughts. It was Joe who again broke the silence.

“You haven’t told me his name yet,” he reminded Mabel, quietly.

“His name is Tom Pepperil. He used to live near Riverside, but he went
away for a long time and made a fortune. Now he has come back, and,
according to Clara’s letters, is making desperate love to her.”

“But she has no right to listen to him! She’s Jim’s!”

Mabel glanced up at him swiftly and then down at the pattern of the rug
again.

“No,” she said. Then, after a long minute, she came close to Joe and
put her hand over his again.

“Wouldn’t it be dreadful,” she said, “if the worst we fear should
happen, and she should give up good old Jim for that fellow, whose
chief recommendation is his money?”

“I couldn’t bear to think of it,” groaned Joe. “I’d rather lose every
cent I have in the world than have it happen. Tell me that you don’t
think it will ever come to that!”

“I don’t know, Joe,” said Mabel, sadly. “She’s so tantalizingly vague.
Perhaps it’s the strain she’s under on account of mother that makes her
so different from her usual self. I can’t understand Clara any more.”

There was a long silence, and then Joe roused himself to ask dully:

“Do you think we ought to tell Jim?”



CHAPTER VIII

THE HIDDEN-BALL TRICK


“Oh, I wouldn’t tell Jim!” exclaimed Mabel, in alarm. “In the first
place, we’re not clear enough about what Clara means to do. Perhaps it
won’t amount to anything after all. And if it does, it’ll be bad enough
when it comes without our doing anything to hasten it.”

“I can’t understand it,” said Joe, gloomily. “There never seemed
to be two people more perfectly made for each other than Jim and
Clara--always excepting ourselves,” he hastened to add, as he pressed
her hand--“and it will be one of the greatest blows of my life if there
should be any break between them. Clara seemed to be dead in love with
Jim; and as for him, he fairly worships the ground she walks on. When
he gets one of her letters, he’s dead to the world. And he’s one of
the finest fellows that ever breathed. I look on him as a brother. He
hasn’t any bad habits, is as straight as a string, a splendid specimen
of manhood, handsome, well educated--what on earth could any girl ask
for more? And he’s making a splendid income too. Has Clara suddenly
gone crazy?”

“It’s beyond me,” replied Mabel. “Clara is the dearest girl, but just
now I’d like to give her a good shaking. Lots of girls of course are
dazzled by millions, but I never believed Clara would be one of them.
And perhaps she isn’t, Joe dear. We may be doing her a great injustice.
We’ll have to wait and see.”

“Well, promise me, anyway, that you’ll write to her at once,” urged
Joe. “I’d do it myself, but you girls can talk to each other about
such things a good deal better than any man can. Try to bring her to
her senses and urge her not to wreck her own life and Jim’s simply for
money or social position. She’d only be gaining the shadow of happiness
and losing the substance.”

“I’ll write to-morrow,” promised Mabel. “But now let’s dismiss all
unpleasant thoughts and remember only that we’re together.”

While Joe was desperate at the injury to his foot that kept him out of
the game just at a time he was sorely needed by his team, he found some
compensation in the fact that he could spend more time with Mabel than
would otherwise have been possible. He did not have to take part in
the morning practice, and in the afternoons he and Mabel attended the
games together as spectators.

On the other hand, Mabel was deeply disappointed that she could not
see Joe pitch, as she had joyously counted on doing. She was intensely
proud of her famous young husband, and was always one of the most
enthusiastic rooters when he was scheduled to take his turn in the
box. More than once Joe had won some critical game because of the
inspiration that came to him from the knowledge that Mabel was looking
on. But there was no use murmuring against fate, and they had to
take things as they were, promising themselves to make up for their
disappointment later in the season.

Reggie, too, felt that fate had treated him unfairly.

“Why, to tell the bally truth, old topper,” he declaimed to Joe, “I
didn’t have to come to Chicago at all, don’t you know! I just drummed
up the excuse that I ought to look over our branch in this city, and
the guv’nor fell for it. It’s rippin’, simply rippin’, the way you’ve
been pitchin’ and battin’ ever since the season opened, and I’d been
countin’ on seem’ you stand the blighters on their heads. And just when
I got here, the old leg had to go bad! It’s disgustin’!”

“Hard luck, old boy,” laughed Joe. “But you’ll see many a game yet
through that blessed monocle of yours. If you feel sore, think how
much sorer I am and take comfort.”

The crowning disgrace of having the Cubs take four games in a row was
happily spared the Giants. McRae put in Jim again, and this time the
team gave him better support and he pulled out a victory.

“Great stuff, old man,” congratulated Joe, as Jim, after the game, came
up to the box in which Joe and Mabel were sitting.

“You pitched beautifully, Jim,” was Mabel’s tribute, as she smiled upon
him.

“Awfully nice of you to say so,” responded Jim, in a sort of lifeless
way. “But most of the credit was due to the team. They played good ball
to-day. Guess I’ll go and dress now and see you later.”

Joe and Mabel looked at each other, as Jim stalked away across the
diamond to the clubhouse.

“Doesn’t seem very responsive, does he?” remarked Mabel.

“No, he doesn’t,” said Joe thoughtfully. “Generally he’s bubbling over
with enthusiasm after the Giants have won. He’s been very quiet since
our talk last night.”

“Do you think he suspected there was anything wrong?” asked Mabel,
anxiously.

“I shouldn’t wonder,” answered Joe somberly. “He’s quick as a flash to
sense anything, and I noticed a shadow on his face as he watched you
when we were talking about Clara. Hang it all!” he burst out, with a
vehemence that startled Mabel. “If Clara throws him down, I’ll never
forgive her, even if she is my sister. What’s the matter with the girls
nowadays, anyway? Haven’t they any sense?”

“Some of them have,” answered Mabel. “Myself, for instance. That’s the
reason I married you, Joe dear.”

“For which heaven be thanked,” responded Joe, with a fervor that left
nothing for Mabel to desire. “I’m the luckiest fellow on earth. And
just because I am so happy, I want Jim to be happy too.

“Then, there’s another thing,” he went on, “which, while it’s
infinitely less important than Jim’s happiness, is important, just the
same. That is the effect it will have on the chances of the Giants. We
never needed men to be in shape to do their best work as much as we
need them now. And the most important men on any team are the pitchers.
I’m not saying that because I’m a pitcher, but because it’s a simple
fact that every one knows. Let the pitchers go wrong, and the best team
on earth can’t win. And a pitcher that has a load of trouble on his
mind can’t do his best work. How do you suppose Jim can keep up to his
standard if Clara does her best to break his heart?”

“I suppose that’s true,” assented Mabel. “And yet I thought he pitched
well to-day.”

“He doesn’t know all we know,” replied Joe. “He just has a suspicion,
and he’s trying to assure himself that it’s groundless. But even at
that, he wasn’t in his usual form this afternoon. You may not have
noticed it, but I did. He got by because the boys played well behind
him and because the Cubs let down and played indifferent ball. But he
wasn’t the old Jim. Already that thing is beginning to work on him.
And if the worst happens, it will break him all up--at least, for the
present season. If I had that sister of mine here this afternoon, I’ll
bet she’d hear something that would make her ears burn.”

Mabel soothed him as best she could, but her own heart was heavy as she
thought of the possibilities that the future held in store for poor Jim.

From Chicago the Giants went to St. Louis, the last stop on their
Western schedule. Here they had some hopes of redeeming themselves and
making up for their recent failures, for the Cardinals were going none
too well. Mornsby, their famous shortstop, had had a quarrel with the
manager, and was seeking to get his release to some other team, any one
of which would have snapped him up at a fabulous price. There were
rumors of cliques in the team, and their prospects for the season were
none too flattering.

But no matter how poorly a team had been going, they always seemed to
brace up when they were to meet the Giants. They reserved their best
pitchers for those games, and the fans came out in droves in order to
see the proud team of the Metropolis humbled.

So the clean sweep that the Giants had been hoping for did not
materialize. Markwith, to be sure, carried off the first game by a
comfortable margin. He was one of the pitchers who when he was good
was very good indeed, and on that day his southpaw slants were simply
unhittable.

But the St. Louis evened things up the next day by beating Bradley, one
of the Giants’ second string pitchers, by a score of eight to five. On
the following day, the pendulum swung again to the other side of the
arc, and Jim chalked up a victory, despite some pretty free hitting by
the home team.

The Giants pinned their hopes once again to Markwith in the last game
of the series. He was not so good as on the opening day, but even then
he might have won, had it not been for a stupid play by Iredell in the
ninth inning.

One man was out in the Giants’ last half. The score was seven to six
in favor of St. Louis. Iredell had reached first on a single, and on
a wild pitch had advanced to second. Burkett, the heavy hitting first
baseman, was at the bat. A hit would probably bring Iredell in and tie
the score.

Iredell was taking a pretty long lead off second and “Red” Smith, the
Cardinal catcher, shot the ball down to second, hoping to catch him
napping. Iredell, however, made a quick slide back to the bag and got
there before Salberg, the Cardinal second baseman, could put the ball
on him.

Iredell got up, grinned triumphantly at Salberg, dusted off his
clothes, and again took a lead off the bag. Quick as a flash, Salberg,
who had concealed the ball under his arm, ran up to Iredell and touched
him out.

A groan of distress came from the Giants and their supporters and a
roar of derision from the St. Louis crowd. That a big-league player
could be caught by a trick that was as old as the hills seemed almost
incredible. It was years since the moth-eaten play had been seen on a
major-league diamond, and the crowd yelled itself hoarse.

Iredell stood for a moment as if stupefied, then he walked slowly into
the bench, his face a flaming red. If McRae forebore to tell him what
he thought of him, it was because he was so choked that the words would
not come. But the glare that he turned on the luckless player was more
eloquent than any words, even in his rich vocabulary.

Joe turned to Mabel, where he was sitting beside her in the stands
immediately back of the pitcher.

“Did you see that?” he asked. “To think of a Giant player being caught
by a sand-lot trick!”

“I didn’t quite get it,” answered Mabel. “I was looking at the batter
at the time. Just what was it that happened?”

“Salberg hid the ball under his arm instead of throwing it back to
the pitcher,” explained Joe. “Iredell took it for granted that he had
thrown it, and was so busy dusting off his clothes that he didn’t make
sure of it. Why, Shem tried that on Japhet when they came out of the
ark. And to think that he chose this moment to pull that bonehead play!
Look at that hit by Burkett. It would have brought Iredell home with
the run which would have tied the score.”

Their eyes followed the flight of the ball, which was a mighty
three-bagger that Burkett had lined out between right and center. It
brought a rousing cheer from the Giant partisans, and hope revived that
the game might yet be saved. But the hope was vain, for the fly that
Wheeler sent out into the field settled firmly in the leftfielder’s
hand, and the inning and the game were over, with the St. Louis having
the big end of the score.

It was a hard game to lose, and it was a disgruntled lot of Giant
players that filed off dejectedly to their dressing rooms. A sure tie,
at least, had been within their grasp, and, as a matter of fact, a
probable victory. For if Iredell had scored, as he could easily have
done on the three base hit of Burkett, the latter would have been on
third with only one man out instead of two and with the score tied.
Then Wheeler’s long hit, even though an out, would have gone for a
sacrifice and Burkett could easily have scored from third, putting the
Giants one run ahead. To be sure, the St. Louis would still have had
the last half of the ninth, but the Giants, fighting to hold their
advantage, would have had all the odds in their favor.

But all the post mortems in the world could not change the fact that
the game had gone into the St. Louis column and that the Giants,
instead of taking three out of four, had had to be content with an even
break. It was small consolation that that was better than they had been
able to do with the other Western teams. The trip had been a terrible
flivver, one of the worst that the Giant team had ever made while
swinging around the circle.

“That’s the last straw that breaks the camel’s back,” growled McRae,
savagely. “It’ll make us the laughing stock of the League. Why, at
this minute, the crowds before the bulletin boards all over the United
States are snickering at the Giants. Not merely a Giant player--that
would be bad enough--but the Giant captain--get me?--the Giant captain,
supposed to show his men how the game should be played, gets caught by
the oldest and cheapest trick in the game. It’s all we needed to wind
up this trip. I want to go away somewhere and hide my head. I hate to
go back and face the grins of the New York fans.”

“It sure is tough,” agreed Robbie. “Of course that finishes Iredell as
captain.”

“That goes without saying,” replied McRae. “Even if I were disposed to
overlook it and give him another chance, I couldn’t do it now. When a
captain, instead of being respected by his men, becomes the butt of the
team and a joke to the fans all over the circuit, he’s through.”

A little later the stocky manager sought out Iredell and found him
alone.

“I know what you want to see me about,” Iredell forestalled him. “You
want my resignation as captain of the team. Well, here it is,” and he
handed over a paper.

“All right, Iredell,” returned McRae, after he had scanned the paper
carefully and stowed it away in his pocket. “I’ll accept this, and I
won’t say anything more about that play, because I know how sore you’re
feeling and I don’t want to rub it in. I’ll admit that at the time it
happened, I saw red. But what’s past is past, and there’s no use crying
about spilled milk.”

“You can have my resignation as shortstop too, if you want it,” growled
Iredell, who was evidently in a nasty humor.

“I don’t want it,” said McRae, kindly. “You’re a good shortstop, and
I’ve no fault to find with your work as such. And now that you’ve got
nothing to think about except playing your position, I hope you’ll do
better than ever. One thing I’m counting on, too, is that you cherish
no grudges and give full loyalty to the man I’m going to make captain.
Is that a go?”

Iredell grunted something that McRae chose to accept as an affirmative.
But he would have changed his opinion if he had seen the ugly glare
in Iredell’s eyes and the clenched fist that Iredell shook at the
manager’s back as the latter walked away.

“Give me a dirty deal and expect me to take it lying down, do you?” he
snarled. “You’ve got another guess coming, and don’t you forget it!”



CHAPTER IX

THE NEW CAPTAIN


Although Iredell had himself offered his resignation, he had only done
it to take the wind out of McRae’s sails and put himself in a better
strategic position. If worst came to worst, he could save his pride by
saying that he had resigned of his own accord instead of being “fired.”

But he had hoped, nevertheless, that the resignation would be refused
and that McRae, after perhaps giving him a lecture, would accord him
another chance. The prompt acceptance had caught him off his balance,
and he was full of rage at the conviction that McRae had sought him out
for the express purpose of displacing him.

As Robbie had previously intimated, Iredell was a poor sport. The
events of the last few days should have taught him that the duties
of captain were too much for him. But like many other people, he
was inclined to blame everything and everybody else for his own
shortcomings. He had been intensely vain of his position as captain
of the team. His nature was, at bottom, petty and vindictive, and from
the moment it dawned upon him what had happened to him, he framed a
resolution to do all that lay in his power to thwart the plans of his
successor. If he had failed, he would try to prove that whoever took
his place could do no better.

With his resentment was mingled curiosity as to the man that was to
succeed him. Who could it be? He ran over in his mind the other members
of the outfield and infield, never once thinking of the pitchers, who
were assumed to be out of the question. The more he pondered, the more
puzzled he became. Well, after all, it did not matter. He would know
soon enough. And whoever it was would find his work mighty hard for
him, as far as he, Iredell, could make it so.

That night the Giants shook the dust of St. Louis from their feet, and
with a sigh of relief, not unmingled with apprehension, took the train
for the long jump home. Relief that the disastrous Western trip was
at last over. Apprehension at the reception they would meet from the
newspapers and fans of New York.

Mabel was to accompany Joe back to New York and remain there for about
two weeks before she returned for a while to Goldsboro. Joe looked
forward to these as golden days, and the outlook went far to console
him for his chagrin at the Giants’ poor showing.

His leg and foot were mending rapidly, and he hoped to be in form again
almost as soon as he reached New York and to be able to go in and take
his regular turn in the box. And if ever the Giants needed his pitching
and batting strength, it was now!

He and Mabel had just returned from the dining car to the Pullman that
first evening on the train that was bearing them East, when McRae and
Robbie came along.

They knew Mabel well, because, on the trip of the Giants around the
world, she had gone along with Mrs. McRae and other married women as
chaperons.

“Blooming as a rose,” said Robbie, gallantly. “When it comes to
picking, we have to hand it to Joe.”

“Still as full of blarney as ever,” laughed Mabel. “I suppose you say
that to every girl you meet.”

“Not at all, not-at-all!” disclaimed Robbie, his round face beaming.

“King of Northern pitchers and queen of Southern women,” put in McRae.
“It’s a winning combination.”

“I’ll admit the part about the women,” agreed Joe.

“And I’ll admit the part about the pitchers,” said Mabel, her smile
enhanced by a bewitching dimple.

“Then we’re all happy,” laughed McRae. “But now I’m going to ask the
queen to let the king come along with Robbie and me into the smoking
car for a while. I’ve got a little business to talk over.”

“Hold on to me, Mabel,” cried Joe, in mock alarm. “Mac wants to fire
me, but he won’t do it as long as I’m with you.”

“I’m not very much worried,” responded Mabel, merrily. “For that
matter, I shouldn’t wonder if you were honing to get rid of me. Go
along now, and I’ll console myself with a magazine until you get back.”

The three men went into the smoking car and settled themselves
comfortably. Then when the two older men had lighted cigars, McRae
hurled a question.

“Joe, how would you like to be captain of the Giants?” he asked.

Joe was completely taken aback for a moment.

“Great Scott! You sure do hit a fellow right between the eyes, Mac,” he
responded. “Just what do you mean? You’ve got a captain now, haven’t
you?”

“I had an apology for a captain up to this afternoon,” was the reply.
“But I haven’t even that now. Here, read this,” and he thrust
Iredell’s written resignation into his hand.

Joe read it with minute attention.

“I’m sorry for Iredell,” he remarked, as he refolded the paper and
handed it back. “But I won’t pretend that I’m surprised. But what
strikes me all in a heap is your question to me. Remember that I’m a
pitcher. As my brother-in-law, Reggie, would remark, ‘it simply isn’t
done.’”

“You’re a pitcher, all right,” responded McRae, “and the best that
comes. But you’re more than that. You’re a thinker. And that’s the kind
of man I’ve got to have for captain. There’s no other man on the team
that fills the bill. They’d rattle around in the position like a pea in
a tincup. You’d fill it to perfection. That’s the reason I offer it to
you. You know, of course, that it means an increase in your salary, but
I know that isn’t the thing that would especially appeal to you. I want
you to take the position because I think it will be the best thing for
the Giants. Think it over.”

There was silence for a few minutes while Joe thought it over and
thought hard. He knew that it would mean an immense addition to his
work and his responsibilities. He would have to play every day, while
now he played, at the most, only twice a week.

Without self-conceit, he knew that he could qualify for the position.
Again and again he had groaned inwardly at baseball sins of omission
and commission that he felt sure would not have occurred had he had the
deciding voice on the field.

It finally simmered down to this: Would it help the Giants? Would it
increase their chances for the pennant? He decided that it would. And
the moment he reached that conclusion his answer was ready.

“I’ll take it, Mac,” he announced.

“Bully!” exclaimed McRae, as he reached over and shook Joe’s hand
to bind the bargain. “Don’t think for a minute, Joe, that I don’t
appreciate the immense amount of work that this will put upon you. I
don’t want to ride a willing horse to death.”

“That’s all right, Mac,” answered Joe. “The only possible doubt in
my mind was as to whether it might affect my pitching or hitting. I
wouldn’t want to let down in those things. But if you’re willing to
take a chance, I am.”

“I’ll take all the chances and all the responsibility,” replied McRae,
confidently. “I haven’t watched you all these years for nothing. I’ve
never asked you to do anything yet that you haven’t done to the queen’s
taste. You’ve developed into the best pitcher in the game. You’ve
developed into the best batter in the game. Now I look for you to
develop into the best captain in the game.”

“I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that he will,” broke in Robbie, his
rubicund face aglow with satisfaction. “Now we’ll begin to see the
Giants climb.”

“I’m sure they will,” affirmed McRae. “We’ve added fifty per cent. to
the Giants’ strength by this night’s work. You know as well as I do,
Joe, that the class is there. All it needs is to be brought out. And
you’re the boy that’s going to do it. Put your fighting spirit into
them. I was going to say put your brains into them, but that couldn’t
be done without a surgical operation. But you can teach them to use the
brains they have, and that itself will go a long way.”

“How did Iredell take it when you saw him?” asked Joe, thoughtfully.

“Of course he was sore,” answered McRae. “But how much of that was due
to his soreness over that bonehead play, and how much to the fact that
I accepted his resignation so promptly, I can’t say. But I don’t think
you’ll have any trouble with him.”

Joe, who knew Iredell’s nature a good deal better than McRae, was not
at all sure, but he said nothing.

“As for the other members of the team,” went on McRae, “they all
think you’re about the best that ever happened, and I’m sure they’ll
be delighted with the change. You’ll find them backing you up to the
limit. The rookies, too, look up to you as a kingpin pitcher and
batter, and they’ll be just clay in your hands. You can do with them
whatever you will. We’ve picked up some promising material there, and
you’re the one to bring out all that’s in them.”

“You can depend on me to do my best,” Joe responded warmly.

“That means that we’ll win the flag even with our bad beginning,”
declared McRae. “And now just one other thing, Joe. I want you to feel
perfectly free to discuss with Robbie and me anything you think will be
for the best interests of the team. If you think any man ought to be
fired, tell me so. If you think of any player we can go out and get,
tell me that, too. We’ll welcome any suggestions. Have you anything of
that kind now in mind? If so, let’s have it.”

“I certainly don’t want any one fired,” said Joe, with a smile.
“At least, not for the present. As to getting any new players, I
saw something in the evening papers a half an hour ago that set me
thinking. Have you seen that the Yankees have determined to let Hays
go?”

“No, I haven’t,” replied McRae with quickened interest. “I haven’t
looked at to-night’s papers. But after all that won’t do us any good.
Some other club in the American League will snap him up.”

“That’s what I should have thought,” answered Joe. “But the surprising
thing is that all the other clubs in the American have waived claims
upon him. That leaves us free to make an offer for him, if we want him.”

“That’s funny,” mused McRae. “Remember the way he played against us in
the World Series? He had us nailed to the mast and crying for help.”

“He sure did,” agreed Robbie. “But he hasn’t been going very well since
then. Rather hard to manage in the first place, and then, too, he seems
to be losing his effectiveness. If no other club in the American League
wants him, he must be nearly through.”

“That’s the way it struck me at first when I read the telegram,” said
Joe. “Then I got to thinking it over. Why don’t the other clubs in the
American League want him?”

“I’ll bite,” said McRae. “What’s the answer?”

“Perhaps it’s this,” suggested Joe. “Hays, as you know, has that
peculiar cross-fire delivery that singles him out among pitchers. No
other pitcher in either League has one just like it. It isn’t that it’s
so very effective when you come to know it. But because it’s so unlike
any other, it puzzles all teams until they get used to it. That’s the
way it was with us in the Series. The first two games we couldn’t do a
thing to him. In the third we were beginning to bat him more freely.

“Now, what does that lead up to? Just this. The other teams in the
American League have become so used to his pitching that it’s lost its
terrors. If any one of them bought him from the Yankees, they’d have
to stack him up against the seven other teams in their League who have
learned to bat him without trouble.

“But with the National League it’s different. It would take them
considerable time to get on to him. In the meantime, he might have won
two or three games from each of them before they solved him. He might
be good for fifteen or twenty victories before this season is over. He
might----”

“By ginger!” interrupted McRae. “Joe, that think tank of yours is
working day and night. I’ll get in touch with the Yankee management by
wire at the next station.”



CHAPTER X

GETTING IN SHAPE


“There’s something right off the bat for a starter,” exulted Robbie.
“Now, how about the rest of the team?”

“I think they’re just about as good as they come,” remarked Joe.
“Jackwell and Bowen are a big improvement on Hupft and McCarney both in
fielding and batting. Burkett is digging them out of the dirt at first
all right, and Larry takes everything that comes into his territory.
Our outfield is one of the heaviest hitting in the League----”

“And it will hit harder yet when you’re playing out there the days
you’re not in the box,” chuckled Robbie. “They’ll have to move back the
fences in the ball parks for your homers. You’ll break up many a game
with that old wagon spoke of yours.”

“Oh, the days I play in the outfield, one of the men will have to be
benched,” mused Joe. “Which one shall it be?”

“We’ll let that depend on the way they keep up with the stick,” said
McRae. “That will be a spur to them. Neither Curry nor Wheeler nor
Bowen will want to sit on the bench, and they’ll work their heads off
to keep on the batting order. There again it will be a good thing for
the team. Every man will be fighting to make the best showing possible.”

“Talking about Jackwell and Bowen,” remarked Robbie. “Have you ever
noticed anything queer about those birds?”

“They don’t seem to be as husky as they might be,” observed McRae.
“Just the other day they begged to be let off because they said they
were sick. Over eating, perhaps. That’s a common fault with young
players when they first come into the big League and eat at the swell
hotels.”

“It wasn’t that I meant,” explained Robbie. “They seem to be nervous
and jumpy. Looking around as though they expected every minute to feel
somebody’s hand on their shoulder.”

“I’ve noticed that,” said Joe. “It was only the other day I was
speaking to Jim about it. Probably it will wear off when they get a
little better used to big-league company. I’ll have a quiet little talk
with them about it.”

For another hour they discussed matters bearing on the welfare of the
club, and then Joe went back to Mabel.

“I thought you’d forgotten all about poor little me,” she said, with an
adorable pout of her pretty lips.

Joe looked around to see that no one was observing them, and
straightened out the pout in a manner perfectly satisfactory to both.

“Well, did McRae fire you, as you call it?” asked Mabel.

“Hardly,” answered Joe, as he settled himself beside her. “In fact,
instead of kicking me downstairs he kicked me up.”

“Meaning?” said Mabel, with a questioning intonation.

“Meaning,” repeated Joe, “that he made me captain of the Giant team.”

“What!” exclaimed Mabel, as though she could not believe her ears.

“Just that,” was the reply.

“Oh, Joe, what an honor!” exclaimed Mabel, with pride and delight. “I’m
so proud! That’s another proof of what they think of you.”

“I suppose it is an honor,” agreed Joe, “and it will mean a nice
little addition to my salary. I’ll clean up over twenty thousand this
year altogether. And, if we get into the World Series, there will
be a few thousands more. But it means a great addition of work and
responsibility.”

“You mustn’t overtax yourself, dear,” said Mabel, anxiously. “Remember
that your health and strength are above everything.”

“If I felt any healthier or stronger than I am now, I’d be afraid of
myself,” replied Joe, grinning. “Don’t worry, honey. All I care for is
to make good in my new job.”

“You’ll do that,” said Mabel, proudly, as she patted his hand. “You’d
make good in anything. You’d make a good president of the United
States.”

“I’d be sure of one vote, anyhow, if I ran for the presidency,” laughed
Joe. “In fact, I’m afraid they’d have you pinched for repeating. You’d
try to stuff the ballot boxes.”

The long journey ended at last, with all the players glad to be back
in what they fondly referred to as “little old New York.” There was
no brass band to meet them at the station, nor had the fans turned
out in any great numbers, as they did when the Giants returned from a
triumphant trip. It was an unusual experience for the Giants, who had
the reputation of a great road team and commonly arrived with scalps at
their belt. At present, however, they were distinctly out of favor. Nor
did they derive any comfort from the brief and sarcastic references to
their return in the columns of the city press.

Joe and Mabel took a taxicab to the hotel where they usually made their
headquarters. Reggie, to his regret, had not been able to accompany
them, though he promised to come on later.

“Beastly shame,” he had said, in parting, “that I could only see the
Giants when they were coming a cropper. But I’ll get to the big city
soon and see them get even with those rotters. My word! It’s been
simply disgustin’!”

The perfect rest during the journey had been of immense benefit to
Joe’s injured leg and foot, and he was overjoyed to find that he was
now as fit as ever. The perfect physical condition in which he kept
himself had contributed toward a quick recovery.

The relief and satisfaction of McRae and Robbie over his condition were
unbounded, for with Joe out of the game the Giants were a different and
far inferior team.

Mabel had plenty of shopping and sightseeing to keep her spare time
employed through the day, and at night she and Joe had a delightful
time taking in the best shows on Broadway.

The first morning that the team turned out for practice on the Polo
Grounds, Joe sought an opportunity for a quiet talk with Iredell.

The fact that McRae had made a generous interpretation of the clause
in Iredell’s contract regarding his salary as captain had not abated
the resentment of that individual. He had been moody and grouchy ever
since his displacement, and had nursed his supposed grievance until
his heart was fairly festering with bitterness. He was sore at McRae,
but even more so at Joe, as his successor. The latter, he persuaded
himself, had intrigued to get his place.

“I’m going to have a talk with all the boys together, Iredell,” Joe
greeted him pleasantly, in a secluded corner of the grounds. “But
first I wanted to see you personally. I just want to say that we’ve
always got along together all right, that I value you as one of the
best players on the team, and that I hope our pleasant relations will
continue.”

But Iredell was in no mood to take the olive branch that Joe held out
to him.

“I suppose I’ll have to do what you tell me to,” he muttered sourly.
“You’re the boss now.”

“I don’t like that word ‘boss,’” returned Joe. “I don’t have any of the
feeling that that word implies. If I have to exercise the authority
that has been given me, it will be simply because that’s my job, and
not because I have a swelled head. McRae’s the boss of all of us. You
say you’ll have to do what I tell you to. But I’m hoping you’ll do your
best, not because I tell you to, but because you want to do whatever is
for the best interests of the team. How about it, Iredell? Does that
go?”

“Oh, what’s the use of talking about it,” snapped Iredell. “I’ll do my
work as shortstop. You’ve got the job you’ve been working for. Let it
go at that.”

His tone was so offensive, to say nothing of the implication of his
words, that Joe had to make a mighty effort to restrain his naturally
quick temper. But he knew that he could not rule others unless he had
first learned to master himself. So that it was with no trace of anger
that he replied:

“Listen to me, Iredell. I haven’t worked for this job. I didn’t want
it. I hadn’t even thought of it. I was struck all in a heap when McRae
asked me to take it. And at that time, you’d already resigned. That’s
the absolute truth.”

Iredell made no answer, but his sniff of unbelief spoke volumes. Joe
saw that while he was in this mood there was nothing to be gained by
talking longer.

“Think it over, old boy,” he said pleasantly. “I’m your friend, and I
want to stay your friend. I know how well you can play, and I’m sure
you’re going to do your best with the rest of us to bring the pennant
once more to New York.”

He moved away, and a little later had gathered the rest of the team in
the clubhouse.

“I’m not going to do much talking, fellows,” he said. “McRae has
already told you that I’m to be captain of the team. I’m proud to be
captain of such a bunch. I feel that all of us are brothers. We’ve been
comrades in many a hard fight, and there are lots of such fights ahead
of us. But all our fighting will be done against the other fellows and
not among ourselves. I’m counting on every one of you to go in and work
his head off for the good of the team. That must be the only thing that
counts with any of us.

“I don’t want to exercise a single bit of authority that I don’t have
to. But I’m not going to fall down on my job if I can help it. If I
have to call a man down, I’ll call him down. While we’re out on the
field, what I say will have to go. You may think it’s right or you may
think it’s rotten, but all the same it will have to go. But you’ll
understand that there’s nothing personal and that whatever’s done is
for the good of the team. You know I’d rather boost than roast, and
that I’ll praise a good play just as readily as I’d blame a bad one.
Now how about it, fellows? Are you with me?”

“We’re wid ye till the cows come home!” shouted Larry,
enthusiastically. “Three cheers for the new captain!”

Rousing cheers shook the clubhouse and sealed the compact.

Then, with a new spirit, the Giants plunged into the pennant fight. It
was a hard fight that lay before them, and none of them underrated
it. But the grim determination that had been in evidence many times
previously was now again to the fore, and it boded ill for their rivals.

Mabel, after a tender parting, had returned for a brief while to
Goldsboro, and Joe concentrated all the energies of brain and body on
his new task. Like the war horse, he “sniffed the battle from afar,”
and was eager to plunge into the thick of the fray. Would he emerge the
winner?

Baseball Joe, for the time being, gave no more attention to Iredell’s
grouchiness. He knew the player felt sore, but never realized how far
that soreness might carry the fellow.

“I’ll fix him some day, see if I don’t,” muttered Iredell to himself
when on his way to the hotel that night. “I’ll fix him. Just wait and
see! I’ll teach him to ride over me!”



CHAPTER XI

WINGING THEM OVER


“So ’tis your birthday, I do be hearin’, Joe,” remarked Larry Barrett,
the jovial second baseman of the team, as the Giants were getting into
their uniforms preparatory to going out on the field.

“That’s what,” laughed Joe, as he finished tying his shoe laces.

“I’ll bet you were a ball player from the cradle,” grinned Larry.

“I guess I bawled all right,” Joe replied. “And once, my mother tells
me, I pitched headlong from my baby carriage.”

“What would you like for a birthday present?” queried Wheeler.

“Ten runs,” replied Joe, promptly. “Give me those to-day and I won’t
ask for anything else.”

“Pretty big order,” remarked Wheeler, dubiously. “Ten runs are a lot
to make against those Brooklyn birds. I hear they’re going to put in
Dizzy Rance to-day, and he’s a lulu. Won his last eight games and has
started in to make a record. Have a heart, Joe, and make it five.”

“Five’s plenty,” asserted Jim, confidently. “I’m willing to bet that’s
more than the Dodgers will get, with Joe in the box.”

“We’ll know more about that when the game’s over,” said Joe, as he
moved toward the door.

“Gee! Look at those stands and bleachers,” remarked Jim, as he and his
chum came out on the field. “Seems as though all New York and Brooklyn
had turned out. And it’s nearly an hour before the game begins. They’ll
be turning them away from the gates.”

“Almost like a World Series crowd,” agreed Joe, as they made their way
across the green velvet turf of the outfield toward the Giants’ dugout.

It was a phenomenal throng for that stage of the playing season, and
was accounted for by the traditional rivalry between the two teams,
which, while hailing from different boroughs, were both included within
the limits of Greater New York. They fought each other like Kilkenny
cats whenever they came together. No matter how indifferently they
might have been going with other teams, they always braced when they
had each other as opponents. It was not an uncommon thing, even in the
seasons when the Giants had taken the series from every other team in
the League, to lose the majority of the games with the Brooklyns, even
though the latter might be tagging along in the rear of the second
division.

But this year the Brooklyns were going strong, and it was generally
admitted that they had a look-in for the pennant. Several trades during
the previous winter had strengthened the weak places in the line-up,
and their pitching staff was recognized as one of the best in either
League.

“Going to pick the feathers off those birds to-day, Joe?” asked McRae,
as Joe came up to the Giants’ bench, where the manager was sitting.

“I sure am going to try,” replied Joe. “It’s about time we put a crimp
in their winning streak.”

Joe beckoned to Mylert, and they went out to warm up. He was feeling in
excellent fettle, and he soon found that he had all his “stuff” with
him. His curve had a sharp break, his slow ball floated up so that it
seemed to be drifting, and his fast ones whizzed over like a bullet.

“You’ve got the goods to-day, Joe,” pronounced Mylert, and he fairly
winced at the way the ball shot into his hands. “You’ve got speed to
burn. Those balls just smoke. With that control of yours you could hit
a coin. They can’t touch you. They’ll be rolling over and playing dead.”

“That listens good,” laughed Joe. “At that, I’ll need all I’ve got to
make those fellows be good.”

The preliminary practice gave evidence that the game would be for
blood. Both teams were on their toes, and the dazzling plays that
featured their work brought frequent roars of applause from the Giant
and Brooklyn rooters. Then the bell rang, the umpire dusted off the
plate and the vast throng settled down with delighted anticipation to
watch the game.

The Brooklyns, as the visiting team, went first to bat. A roar went
up from the stands as Joe walked out to the mound. The Giant rooters
promptly put the game down as won. But the Brooklyns pinned their faith
to their phenomenal pitcher, Dizzy Rance, and had different ideas about
the outcome of the game.

The first inning was short and sweet. Leete, the leftfielder of the
Dodgers, who, year in and year out, had a batting average of .300
or better, swung savagely at the first ball pitched and raised a
skyscraping fly that Jackwell at third promptly gathered in. Mornier,
with the count at three balls and two strikes, sent up a foul that
Mylert caught close to the stands after a long run. Tonsten lunged at
the first ball and missed. The second was a beauty that cut the outer
corner of the plate at which he did not offer and which went for a
strike. Then Joe shot over a high fast one and struck him out.

“Atta boy, Joe!” and similar shouts of encouragement came from stands
and bleachers, as Joe pulled off his glove and went in to the bench.

Rance, the Brooklyn pitcher, did not lack a generous round of applause
as he took up his position in the box. He had already pitched two games
against the Giants and won them both. But he had never happened to be
pitted against Joe, and despite his air of confidence he knew he had
his work cut out for him.

Curry made a good try on the second ball pitched and sent a long fly
to center that was caught by Maley after a long run. Iredell sent a
sharp single to left. Burkett slammed one off Rance’s shins, and the
ball rolled between short and second. Before it could be recovered,
Burkett had reached first and Iredell was safe at second. Wheeler tried
to wait Rance out, but when the count had reached three and two he sent
a single to center that scored Iredell from second and carried Burkett
to third. A moment later the latter was caught napping by a snap throw
from catcher to third and came in sheepishly to the bench. Rance then
put on steam and set Jackwell down on three successive strikes.

“There’s one of the runs we promised you, Joe,” sang out Larry, as the
Giants took the field.

“That’s good as far as it goes,” laughed Joe. “But don’t forget I’m
looking for more.”

For the Brooklyns, Trench was an easy out on a roller to Joe, who ran
over and tagged him on the base line. Naylor dribbled one to Jackwell
that rolled so slowly that the batter reached first. But no damage was
done, for Joe pitched an outcurve to Maley and made him hit into a fast
double play, Iredell to Barrett to Burkett.

It was snappy pitching, backed up by good support, and that it was
appreciated was shown by the shouts that came from the Giant rooters,
who cheered until Joe had to remove his cap.

But Rance, although the Giants had got to him for three hits in
the first inning, showed strength in the second that delighted his
supporters. He mowed the Giants down as fast as they came to the bat.

The best that Larry could do was to lift a towering fly to center that
was taken care of by Maley. Bowen lifted a twisting foul that the
Brooklyn catcher did not have to stir out of his tracks to get. Joe hit
a smoking liner that was superbly caught by Tonsten, who had to go up
in the air for it, but held on.

In the Brooklyns’ third, Joe made a great play on a well-placed bunt by
Reis that rolled between the box and third base. Joe slipped and fell
as he grasped it, but while in a sitting position he shot it over to
first in time to nail the runner. Rance hit a sharp bounder to the box
that Joe fielded in plenty of time. Tighe went out on a Texas leaguer
that was gathered in by Larry.

“That boy’s got ’em eating out of his hand,” exulted Robbie, his red
face beaming with satisfaction.

“Yes, now,” agreed the more cautious McRae. “But at any time they may
turn and bite the hand that’s feeding them. They’re an ungrateful lot.”

In their half of the inning, the Giants failed to score. Rance was
pitching like a house afire. Mylert went back to the bench after three
futile offers at the elusive sphere. Curry popped a weak fly to Trench,
and, Iredell, after fouling the ball off half a dozen times, grounded
to Mornier at first, who only had to step on the bag to register an out.

It was Larry’s turn to be in the limelight in the Brooklyns’ half of
the fourth. Leete raised a fly that seemed destined to fall between
second and left. It was certain that Wheeler at left could not get to
it in time, though he came in racing like an express train. But Larry
had started at the crack of the bat, running in the direction of the
ball. He reached it just as it was going over his head, and with a wild
leap grasped it with one hand and held on to it.

It was one of the finest catches ever made on the Polo Grounds. For
a moment the crowd sat stupefied. Then, when they realized that a
baseball “miracle” had occurred, they raised a din that could have
been heard a mile away.

“Great stuff, Larry, old boy!” congratulated Joe, as the second baseman
resumed his position. “No pitcher could ask for any better support than
that.”

“Let that go for my share of your birthday present,” returned the
grinning Larry.

The next two went out in jig time, one on a grounder and the other on
strikes.

The Giants added one more run in their half of the fourth by a clever
combination of bunts and singles. Joe knew that Rance was weak on
fielding bunts, and he directed his men to play on that weakness. The
Brooklyn pitcher fell all over himself in trying to handle them, and
this had a double advantage, for it not only let men get on bases but
it shook for a moment the morale of the boxman and made it easier for
the succeeding batsman. It was only by virtue of a lucky double play
that Rance got by with only one run scored against him in that inning.

With two runs to the good, the Giants went out on the field in a
cheerful mood. They were getting onto the redoubtable Rance, not
heavily, but still they were hitting him. Joe, on the other hand,
seemed to be invincible. He was not trying for strike-outs except when
necessary. But his curves were working perfectly, his control was
marvelous, and when a third strike was in order he called upon his hop
ball or his fadeaway and it did the trick.

And the boys behind him were certainly backing him up in fine style.
They were fairly “eating up” everything that came their way, digging
them out of the dirt, spearing them out of the air, throwing with the
precision of expert riflemen. None of them was playing that day for
records. They were playing for the team. Already the new spirit that
Joe had infused as captain was beginning to tell.

In the Giant’s half of the fifth, Joe was the first man up. Rance tried
him on an outcurve, but Joe refused to bite. The next was a fast,
straight one, and Joe caught it fairly for a terrific smash over the
centerfielder’s head. The outfield had gone back when he first came to
the bat, but they had not gone back far enough. It was a whale of a
hit, and Joe trotted home easily, even then reaching the plate before
Maley had laid his hand on the ball.

“Frozen hoptoads!” cried Robbie, fairly jumping up and down in
exultation. “It’s a murderer he is. He isn’t satisfied with anything
less than killing the ball.”

“He’s some killer, all right,” assented McRae. “With one other man like
him on the team, the race would be over. The Giants would simply walk
in with the flag.”

That mammoth hit should have been the beginning of a rally, but Rance
tightened up and the next three went out in order, one on strikes and
the other two on infield outs.

Joe still had control of the situation, and he seemed to grow more
unhittable as the game went on. He simply toyed with his opponents,
and their vain attempts to land on the ball made them at times seem
ludicrous.

“Sure, Joe, ’tis a shame what you’re doin’ to those poor boobs,”
chuckled Larry, as they came in to the bench together.

“But don’t forget that they’re always dangerous,” cautioned Joe. “Do
you remember the fourteen runs they made in one of their games against
the Phillies? They may stage a comeback any minute.”

“Not while you’re in the box, old boy,” declared Larry. “You’ll have to
break a leg to lose this game.”

Burkett thought it was up to him to do something, and lammed out a
terrific liner to left for three bases, sliding into third just a
fraction of a second before the return of the ball. Wheeler tried to
sacrifice, but Tonsten held Burkett at third by a threatening gesture
before putting out Wheeler at first. With the infield pulled in for
a play at the plate, Jackwell double-crossed them by a single over
short that scored Burkett with the fourth run for the Giants. Barrett
went out on a grounder to Mornier, Jackwell taking second. Bowen made
a determined effort to bring him in, but his long fly to center was
gathered in by Maley.

The “lucky seventh” was misnamed as far as the Brooklyns were
concerned, for their luck was conspicuous by its absence. Although the
heavy end of their batting order was up, they failed to get the ball
out of the infield. Leete, their chief slugger, was utterly bewildered
by Joe’s offerings and struck out among the jeers of the Giant fans.
Mornier popped up a fly that Joe gobbled up, and Larry had no trouble
in getting Tonsten’s grounder into the waiting hands of Burkett.

The Giants did a little better, and yet were unable to add to their
score. Joe started off with a ripping single to left. Mylert tried to
advance him by sacrificing, but after sending up two fouls was struck
out by Rance. Curry sent a liner to the box that was too hot to handle,
but Rance deflected it to Tonsten who got Curry at first, Joe in the
meantime getting to second. Iredell was an easy victim, driving the
ball straight into the hands of Mornier at first.

“Well, Joe,” chuckled Jim, as the eighth inning began, “we haven’t
given you your present yet, but we’re in a fair way to put it over.
Not to say that you’re not earning most of the present yourself.”

“I don’t care how it comes as long as we get it,” laughed Joe, as he
slipped on his glove.

The time was now growing fearfully short in which the men from the
other side of the bridge could make their final bid for the game. Those
four runs that the Giants had scored were like so many mountains to be
scaled, and with the airtight pitching that Joe was handing out, it
seemed like an impossible task.

Still, they had pulled many a game out of the fire with even greater
odds against them, and they came up to the plate determined to do it
again, if it were at all possible.

Trench got a ball just where he liked it, and sent it whistling to
left field for a single. Naylor followed with a fierce grasser that
Iredell knocked down, but could not field in time to catch the runner.
It looked like the beginning of a rally, and the Brooklyn bench was
in commotion. Their coaches on the base lines jumped up and down,
alternately shouting encouragement to their men and hurling gibes at
Joe in the attempt to rattle him.

“We’ve got him going now,” yelled one.

“We’ve just been kidding him along so far,” shouted another. “All
together now, boys! Send him to the showers!”

Maley came next, with orders to strike at the first ball pitched. He
followed orders and missed. Again he swung several inches under Joe’s
throw, which took a most tantalizing hop just before it reached the
plate.

He set himself for the third and caught it fairly. The ball started as
a screaming liner, going straight for the box. Joe leaped in the air
and caught it in his gloved hand. Like a flash he turned and hurled it
to Larry at second. Trench, who had started for third at the crack of
the ball, tried frantically to scramble back to second, but was too
late. Larry wheeled and shot down the ball to first, beating Naylor to
the bag by an eyelash. Three men had been put out in the twinkling of
an eye!

It was the first triple play that had been made that season, and the
third that had been made on the Polo Grounds since that famous park had
been opened. It had all occurred so quickly that half the spectators
did not for the moment realize what had occurred. But they woke up, and
roar after roar rose from the stands as the spectators saw the Giants
running in gleefully, while the discomfited Brooklyns, with their rally
nipped in the bud, went out gloomily to their positions.

“You’ll send him to the showers, will you?” yelled Larry to the
Brooklyn coaches, as he threw his cap hilariously into the air.

Rance’s face was a study as he took his place in the box. He saw his
winning streak going glimmering. It was a hard game for him to lose,
for he had pitched in a way that would have won most games. But he had
drawn a hard assignment in having to face pitching against which his
teammates, fence breakers as they usually were, could make no headway.

Still, he was game, and there was still another inning, and nothing was
impossible in baseball. If the Giants had expected him to crack, they
were quickly undeceived. Burkett grounded out to Trench, who made a
rattling stop and got him at first with feet to spare. Wheeler fouled
out to Tighe. Jackwell went out on three successive strikes.

It was a plucky exhibition of pitching under discouraging conditions,
and Rance well deserved the hand that he received as he went in to the
bench.

“I say, Joe,” remarked Jim, as his chum was preparing to go out for the
ninth Brooklyn inning. “Celebrate your birthday by showing those birds
the three-men-to-a-game stunt. It will be a glorious wind-up.”

“I’ll see,” replied Joe, with a grin that was half a promise.

Thompson, the manager of the Brooklyns, who had been having a little
run-in with the umpire, and was standing in a disgruntled mood near the
batter’s box, overheard the dialogue and stared in wonderment at Jim.

“What’s that three-men-to-a-game stunt you’re talking about?” he asked.

“Haven’t you ever heard of it?” asked Jim.

“I never have,” replied Thompson. “And I was in the game before you
were born.”

“Then you’ve got a treat in store for you,” Jim assured him. “Just you
watch this inning, and you’ll see that only three men will be needed to
turn your men back without a run, or even the smell of a hit. They’ll
be the pitcher, the catcher and the first baseman. The rest of the
Giants will have nothing to do and might as well be off the field. In
fact, if it wasn’t against the regulations of the game, we would call
them into the bench just now.”

Thompson looked at Jim as though he were crazy.

“Trying to kid me?” the Brooklyn manager asked, with a savage
inflection in his voice.

“Not at all,” replied Jim, grinning cheerfully. “Just keep your eye on
that pitcher of ours.”



CHAPTER XII

AN AMAZING FEAT


Thompson, still believing that Jim was trying to get a rise out of him,
walked back to his own bench, growling to himself.

Reis was the first to face Joe in the last half of the ninth. Joe
measured him carefully, took his time in winding up, and then, with all
the signs of delivering a fast high one, sent over a floater that Reis
reached for and hit into the dirt in front of the plate. Joe ran on it,
picked it up and tossed it to Burkett for an easy out.

Rance, the Brooklyn pitcher, came to the plate. Joe sent over a hop
that Rance caught on the under side for a foul high up back of the
rubber that Mylert caught without moving from his position.

With two out, Tighe missed the first one that came over so fast that
it had settled in Mylert’s glove before the batter had completed his
swing. The next he fouled off for strike two. Then Joe whizzed over his
old reliable fadeaway.

“You’re out!” cried the umpire.

The game was over and the Giants had beaten their redoubtable foes by a
score of four to none. They had whitewashed their opponents and broken
their winning streak.

And what was sweeter to Jim at the moment was that Joe had fulfilled
his prediction. Only the pitcher, catcher and first baseman had been
necessary to turn the Brooklyns back. The other six men of the Giant
team had had nothing to do and might as well have been off the field.
It was almost magical pitching, the climax of the art.

Joe and Jim grinned at each other in a knowing way as the former came
into the bench.

“You pulled it off that time all right, Joe!” exclaimed Jim gleefully,
as he threw his arm around his chum’s shoulder. “I piped off Thompson
to what you were going to do and he thought I had gone nutty. He’d have
given me an awful razz if it had failed to go through.”

“You were taking awful chances,” laughed Joe. “Of course, I might do
that once in a while, but only a superman could do it all the time. But
in this inning, luck was with us.”

Thompson at this moment came strolling over toward them. He was
evidently consumed with curiosity.

“I’ll take the wind out of your sails at the start by admitting that
you put one over on me,” he said, addressing himself to Jim. “Though
how you knew what was about to happen is beyond me. How did you do it?”
he asked, turning to Joe. “Have you got a horseshoe or rabbit’s foot
concealed about you?”

“I assure you that I have nothing up my sleeve to deceive you,” Joe
said, rolling up his sleeves in the best manner of the professional
conjurer. “It simply means that the hand is quicker than the eye.”

“Cut out the funny stuff and tell me just how you did it,” persisted
Thompson.

“I’ll tell you,” said McRae, who had been an amused listener to the
conversation. “That’s an old trick of Joe’s that he’s tried out when
we’ve been playing exhibition games in the spring training practice.
More than once, we’ve called in the whole team, except Joe, the
catcher, and the first baseman. Then Joe’s done just what he did this
afternoon. Of course, it doesn’t always go through, but in many cases
he has put it over.”

“There isn’t another pitcher in the League who would dare try it!”
exclaimed Thompson.

“There’s only one Matson in the world,” said McRae simply. “On the
level, Thompson, what would you give to have him on your team?”

“A quarter of a million dollars,” blurted out Thompson.

“You couldn’t have him for half a million,” said McRae, with a grin, as
he turned away.

It was a jubilant crowd of Giants that gathered in the clubhouse after
the game.

“How was that for your birthday present, Joe?” sang out Larry. “It
wasn’t quite what you asked for, but it was the best we could do.”

“It was plenty,” laughed Joe. “I’d rather have those runs you gave me
than a diamond ring. Keep it up, boys, and we’ll soon be up at the top
of the League. We’ve been a long time in getting started, but now just
watch our smoke. This game pulls us out of the second division. We’re
right on the heels of the Brooklyns. Let’s give those fellows to-morrow
the same dose they got to-day. Then we’ll get after the Pittsburghs and
the Chicagos.”

“That’s the stuff!” cried Larry. “We’ll show ’em where they get off.
They’ve been hogging the best seats in this show. Now we’ll send ’em
back to the gallery.”

Joe smiled happily at the enthusiasm of the boys. It was what he had
been trying to instill ever since he had been made the captain of the
team. He knew that the material was there--the batting, the fielding,
and the pitching. But all this counted for nothing as long as the
spirit was lacking, the will to victory, the confidence that they could
win.

There was just one piece of the machinery, however, that was not
working smoothly, and that was Iredell. He had been sulky and mutinous
ever since he had been displaced by Joe in the captaincy of the team.
Joe had been most considerate and had gone out of his way to be kind to
him, but all his advances had been rebuffed.

“You’re certainly getting the team into fine shape, Joe,” said Jim, as
they made their way out of the grounds. “They played championship ball
behind you this afternoon.”

“They sure did,” agreed Joe. “Those plays by Larry, especially, were
sparklers. I never saw the old boy in better form. He’s one of the
veterans of the game, and you might expect him to be slipping, but
to-day he played like a youngster with all a veteran’s skill. If
everybody had the same spirit, I’d have nothing more to ask.”

“Meaning Iredell, I suppose,” said Jim.

“Just him,” replied Joe. “It isn’t that there’s anything especially I
can lay my hands on. He plays good mechanical ball. His fielding is
good and he’s keeping up fairly well with the stick. But the mischief
of it is, it’s all mechanical. He’s like a galvanized dead man going
through the motions, but a dead man just the same. I wish I could put
some life into him. After a while, that dulness of his will begin to
affect the rest of the team. It takes only one drop of ink to darken a
whole glass of water.”

“I noticed that in the clubhouse this afternoon,” said Jim thoughtfully,
“all the rest of the fellows were bubbling over, while he sat apart
with a frown on his face as though we’d lost the game instead of having
won it.”

“Well, he’ll have to get over that and get over it quickly,” said Joe
with decision. “We can’t have him casting a wet blanket over the rest
of the team. The trouble is, we haven’t any one available to put in his
place just now, and it’s hard to get one at this stage of the season.
Renton’s a likely youngster, but he needs a little more seasoning
before I could trust him in such a responsible position as that of
shortstop.”

“If that Mornsby deal had only gone through, we’d have had a
crackerjack,” said Jim regretfully.

“We sure would!” replied Joe. “But I felt from the beginning that we
didn’t have much chance of getting him. If the St. Louis management had
let him go, they might as well have shut up shop. The fans would have
hooted them out of town. Anyway, I’d rather develop a player than buy
him. I’m going to coach young Renton with a possible view to taking
Iredell’s place, if it becomes necessary.”

The next day Brooklyn again came to the Polo Grounds, determined to
regain their lost laurels of the day before. This time they relied on
Reuter, while McRae sent Jim into the box.

That Reuter was good, became evident before the game had gone very far.
He had a world of speed and his curves were breaking well. Up to the
seventh inning, only two hits had been made off of him, one of which
was a homer by Joe and another a two-base hit by Burkett. His support
was superb, and more than one apparent hit was turned into an out by
clever fielding.

Jim, in the early innings, was not up to his usual mark. He had most of
the stuff that had given him such high repute as a pitcher, except that
he could not handle his wide-breaking curve with his usual skill. The
failure of that curve to break over the plate got him several times in
the hole. He relied too much also on his slow ball when, with the dull,
cloudy weather that prevailed, speed would have been more effective.

But, although he was not in his best form, his courage never faltered.
He was game in the pinches. Leete, for instance, in the fifth inning,
laced the first ball pitched into leftfield for a clean homer. There
was no one out when the mighty clout was made, but Jim refused to be
disconcerted. He struck out Mornier, the heavy hitting first baseman of
the Dodgers, made Tonsten hit a slow roller to the box that went for
an easy out, and fanned Trench, after the latter had sent up two fouls
in his unavailing attempt to hit the ball squarely.

Again in the sixth, after a triple and a single in succession had
scored another run, he settled down and mowed the next three down in
order.

But though his nerve was with him, the Brooklyn batsmen kept getting to
him, picking up one run after the other until at the end of the seventh
inning they had four runs to their credit while only one lone score had
been made by the Giants. The Brooklyn rooters were jubilant, for it
looked as though their pets had just about sewed up the game.

But in the Giants’ half of the eighth Reuter began to crack. He started
well enough by making Curry pop to Mornier. Iredell came next and shot
a single to left, his first hit of the game and the third that had been
made off Reuter up to that time. Then Burkett followed suit with a
beauty to right that sent Iredell to third, though a good return throw
by Reis held Burkett to the initial bag.

The two hits in succession seemed to affect Reuter’s control, and he
gave Wheeler a base on balls. Now the bags were full, with only one man
out, and the Giant rooters, who had hitherto been glum, were standing
up in their places and shouting like mad.

McRae sent Ledwith, a much faster man than Wheeler, to take the
latter’s place on first, while he himself ran out on the coaching line
and Robbie scurried in the direction of third.

Jackwell was next at bat, and the chances were good for a double play
by Brooklyn. But Reuter’s tired arm had lost its cunning and, try as he
would, he could not get the ball over the plate. Amid a pandemonium of
yells from the excited fans he passed Jackwell to first, forcing a run
over the plate. And still the bases were full.

It was evident that Reuter was “through,” and Thompson signaled him to
come in. He took off his glove and walked into the bench to a chorus of
sympathetic cheers from the partisans of both sides in recognition of
the superb work he had done up to that fateful inning.

Grimm took his place and tossed a few balls to the catcher in order to
warm up. It was a hard assignment to take up the pitcher’s burden with
the bases full.

The first ball he put over came so near to “beaning” Larry that the
latter only saved himself by dropping to the ground. McRae signaled to
him to wait the pitcher out. He did so, with the result that he, too,
trotted to first on four bad balls, forcing another run home and making
the score four to three in favor of the Brooklyns.

Grimm braced for the next man, Bowen, and struck him out, as Bowen let
even good balls go by, hoping to profit by the pitcher’s wildness. But
this time he reckoned without his host and retired discomfited to the
bench.

Joe came next and received a mighty hand as he went to the plate. His
three comrades on the bases implored him to bring them home.

Grimm was in a dilemma. Under ordinary circumstances he would have
passed Joe and taken a chance on Mylert. But to pass him now meant
the forcing home of another run, which would have tied the score. On
the other hand, a clean hit would bring at least two men home and put
the Giants ahead. There was still, however, the third chance--that
Joe might not make a hit. In that case there would be three men out,
leaving the Brooklyns ahead.

He took the third alternative and pitched to Joe, putting all the stuff
he had on the ball. Joe swung at it and missed. Two balls followed
in succession. Then he whizzed over a high, fast one that Joe caught
fairly and sent out on a line between left and center for a sizzling
triple, clearing the bases and himself coming into third standing up.

The Giants and their partisans went wild with joy as the three men
followed each over the plate, making the score six to four in favor of
the home team.

And at that figure the score remained, for Jim pitched like a man
possessed in the Brooklyn’s half of the ninth and set them down as fast
as they came to the bat.

“That’s what you call pulling the game out of the fire,” exulted Larry,
as the Giants were holding a jubilee in the clubhouse after the game.

“Yes,” agreed Jim. “But it was a hard game for Reuter to lose. He
outpitched me up to that fatal eighth inning. He had a world of stuff
on the ball.”

“He’s a crackerjack, all right,” agreed Joe. “And it certainly looked
as though he had us going.”

“Didn’t have you going much that I could notice, except going around
the bases,” declared Larry, with a wide grin. “That was a corking homer
of yours, and the triple was almost as good.”

“Better, as far as the results were concerned,” put in Jim. “For it
brought home three men and settled the game. It was a life saver, and
no mistake. Talk about Johnny on the spot. Joe on the spot is the
salvation of the Giants!”



CHAPTER XIII

CLEVER STRATEGY


“Quit your kidding,” laughed Joe. “Let’s just say that the breaks of
the game were with us and let it go at that. The main thing is that
we’ve put another game on the right side of the ledger. We’ve turned
the Brooklyns back, and now it’s up to us to give the same dose to the
Bostons and the Phillies.”

“They’ll be easy,” prophesied Curry, as he finished fastening his shoe
laces.

“Don’t fool yourself,” cautioned Joe. “They’re playing better now than
they were earlier in the season, and they won’t be such cinches as they
were in the last series. We’ll have to step lively to beat them, and
keep trying every minute. Ginger’s the word from now on.”

“Ginger” had been his watchword ever since he had been made captain of
the team. He had tried to inspire them with his own indomitable energy
and vim, and was gratified to see that with the exception of Iredell he
was succeeding. It was doubly necessary in the case of the Giants, for
most of the team was composed of veterans. They were superb players,
but some of them were letting up on their speed and needed prodding to
keep them at the top of their form.

Still there had been an infusion of new blood, and McRae was constantly
on the lookout for more. The Giants’ roster contained a number of
promising rookies, such as Renton, Ledwith, Merton and others, and Joe
was constantly coaching them in the fine points of the game.

In Merton, especially, he thought he had all the material of a
promising pitcher. The youngster had been obtained from the Oakland
Seals, and had won a high reputation in the Pacific Coast League. He
had speed, a good assortment of curves, and a fair measure of control.
But pitching against big leaguers was a very different matter from
trying to outguess minor league batters, and Joe had not thought it
advisable as yet to send him in for a full game.

One of his chief faults was that opponents could steal bases on him
with comparative impunity. It was almost uncanny to note the ease with
which a runner on the bases could detect whether Merton was going to
pitch to the batter or throw the ball to first. Joe was not long in
discovering the reason.

“Here’s your trouble, Merton,” he said. “You invariably lift your
right heel from the ground when you are about to throw to the plate.
You keep it on the ground when you’re planning to throw to first. So,
by watching you, those fellows can get a long lead off first and easily
make second. Just try now, and see.”

“You’re right,” admitted Merton, after practising a few minutes. “Funny
that I never noticed that before. But none of the fellows in the
Pacific Coast League noticed it, either. They didn’t steal much on me
there.”

“That’s just because they were minor leaguers,” returned Joe. “But
you’re in big-league company now, and the wise birds on the other teams
get on to you at once.”

Merton was grateful for the tip, and practised assiduously until he had
got rid of the mannerism. He was docile and willing to learn, and Joe
could see his pitching ability increase from day to day.

Not only in pitching, but in batting, Joe was able to be of incalculable
value to the younger members of the team. How to outguess the pitcher,
when to wait him out, how to walk into the ball instead of drawing away
from it, the best way of laying down bunts--these and a host of other
things in which he was a past master were freely imparted to his charges
and illustrated by object lessons that were even more effective than
the spoken word.

McRae and Robbie were delighted with the results of the change of
captains, and more and more they gave him a free hand, knowing that
Joe would get out of the Giants all that was in them. And, knowing the
power of the Giant machine when going at full speed, that was all that
they asked.

The next series on the Giants’ schedule was with the Boston Braves on
the latter’s grounds. As Joe had anticipated, the Braves put up a much
stiffer fight than they had earlier in the season. They were going
well, had already passed the Phillies and the Cardinals and were making
a desperate attempt to get into the first division.

Markwith pitched the first game, and did very well until the last two
frames. Then a veritable torrent of hits broke from the Bostons’ bats
and drove the southpaw from the mound. Joe took his place, and the
hitting suddenly ceased. But the damage had already been done, and the
game was placed in the Boston column.

Jim pitched in the second game and chalked up a victory. Young Merton
was given his chance in the third, and justified Joe’s confidence by
also winning, although the score was close.

Joe himself went in for the fourth and won, thus getting three out
of four in the series, which, for a team on the road, was not to be
complained of.

With the Phillies, on the latter’s grounds, the Giants cleaned up the
first three games right off the reel. In the fourth, the Phillies woke
up and played like champions. They fielded and batted like demons, so
well indeed that when the ninth inning began, the Phillies were ahead
by a score of three to two.

In the Giants’ half, with one man on base, Joe cut loose with a homer
that put his team a run to the good. Not daunted, however, the Phillies
came in for their half. Two men were out, and a couple of Giant fumbles
had permitted two to get on the bases.

Mallinson, the heaviest batter of the Phillies, was up. He shook his
bat menacingly and glared at Joe. With the team behind him the least
bit shaky on account of the fumbles, Joe tried a new stunt on Mallinson.

“I’m going to tell you exactly the kind of a ball I’m going to throw to
you,” he remarked, with a disarming grin.

“Yes, you are,” sneered Mallinson, unbelievingly, while even Mylert,
the Giant catcher, looked bewildered.

“Honest Injun,” declared Joe. “This first one is going to be a high
fast one right over the plate and just below the shoulder.”

“G’wan and stop your kidding,” growled the burly Philadelphia batter.

He set himself for a curve, not believing for a moment that Joe would
be crazy enough to tell him in advance what he was going to pitch. It
was just on that disbelief that Joe had counted.

Joe wound up and hurled one over exactly as he had promised. Mallinson,
all set for a curve, was so flustered that he struck at it hurriedly
and missed.

Joe grinned tantalizingly, while Mallinson glowered at him.

“Didn’t believe me, did you?” Joe asked. “Why don’t you have more faith
in your fellow men? I ought to be real peeved at you for your lack of
confidence. But I’m of a forgiving nature and I’ll overlook it this
time.”

“Cut it out,” snapped Mallinson savagely. “Go ahead and play the game.”

“No pleasing some fellows,” mourned Joe plaintively. “Now this time,
I’m going to pitch an outcurve. Ready? Let’s go.”

Mallinson, sure that this time he was going to be double-crossed, got
ready for a high fast one, and the outcurve that Joe pitched cut the
corner of the plate and settled in Mylert’s glove for the second strike.

“You see!” complained Joe. “There you are again. What’s the use of my
tipping you off if you don’t take advantage? Don’t you believe me?
Doesn’t anybody ever tell the truth in Philadelphia?”

Mallinson tried to say something, but he was so mad that he could only
stutter, while his face looked as though he were going to have a fit of
apoplexy.

“Now,” said Joe, “this is your last chance. I’m going to give you my
hop ball this time, and that’s just because it’s you. I wouldn’t do it
for everybody. It’ll take a jump just as it comes to the plate.”

By this time Mallinson was in an almost pitiable state of bewilderment.
Would the pitcher again keep his word? Or would Joe figure that now
that he had twice tipped him off correctly, Mallinson would really
get set for the hop ball and that now was the time to fool him with
something else?

He was so up in the air by this time that he could not have hit a
balloon, and he struck six inches below the hop ball that Joe sent
whistling over the plate for an out. The game was over and the Giants
had won.

“What was all that chatter that was going on between you and Mallinson?”
asked McRae, as he and Robbie, with their faces all smiles, came up to
Joe. “I couldn’t quite get what it was from the bench. But you seemed to
get his goat for fair.”

Joe told them, and the pair went into paroxysms of laughter, Robbie
choking until they had to pound him on the back.

“For the love of Pete, Mac!” he gurgled, as soon as he could speak,
“you’ll have to do something with this fellow or he’ll be the death
of me yet. To win a ball game just by telling the batsman what he was
going to pitch to him! Did you ever hear anything like it before in
your life?”

“I never did,” replied the grinning McRae.

At the clubhouse later, there were guffaws of laughter as Mylert
described the way that Joe had stood Mallinson on his head.

“And me thinking Joe had simply gone nutty!” Mylert said. “When he
pitched that first ball just as he said, I didn’t know where I was at.
Then the second one got me going still more. But I saw that it had
Mallinson going, too, and then I began to catch on. How on earth did
you ever come to think of that, Joe?”

“Just a matter of psychology,” Jim answered for him. “And mighty good
psychology, if you ask me. Baseball Joe’s a dabster at that.”

“Sike-sike what?” asked Larry, whose vocabulary was not very extensive.

“Psychology,” repeated Jim, with a grin. “No, it isn’t a new kind of
breakfast food. Joe simply knew how Mallinson’s mind would work and he
took advantage of it. Mallinson coppered everything Joe said to him.
He figured that Joe was there to deceive him. He couldn’t conceive that
Joe would tell him the truth. And so it was just by telling the truth
that Joe got him.”

“It just got by because it was new,” laughed Joe. “I couldn’t do it
often, for if I did they’d begin to take me at my word, and then they’d
bat me all over the lot.”

By the time the Eastern inter-city games were over, the Giants had
considerably bettered their team standing. They had passed the
Brooklyns, who had let down a good deal and were now playing in-and-out
ball. The Chicagos were still in the lead, with Pittsburgh three games
behind them, but pressing them closely. Then came the Giants, two games
in the rear of the men from the Smoky City. The Cincinnati Reds brought
up the rear of the first division, but the conviction was strong in the
minds of the Giants that it was either the Pirates or the Cubs they had
to beat in order to win the pennant.

On the eve of the invasion of the East by the Western teams, McRae
called his men together for a heart-to-heart talk in the clubhouse.

“You boys know that I can give you the rough edge of my tongue when you
lay down on me,” he said, as he looked around on the group of earnest
young athletes, who listened to him with respectful attention. “But you
know, too, that I’m always ready to give a man credit when he deserves
it. I’m glad to say that just now I’m proud of the men who wear the
Giant uniform. You’ve done good work in cleaning up the Eastern teams.
You’ve played ball right up to the end of the ninth inning, and many a
game that looked lost you’ve pulled out of the fire.

“Now, that’s all right as far as it goes. But the Western clubs are
coming, and they’re out for scalps. You remember what they did to us
on our first trip out there. They gave us one of the most disgraceful
beatings we’ve had for years. They took everything but our shirts, and
they nearly got those. Are you going to let them do it again?”

There was a yell of dissent that warmed McRae’s heart.

“That’s the right spirit,” he declared approvingly. “Now, go in and
show the same spirit on the field that you’re showing in the clubhouse.
Beat them to a frazzle. Show them that you’re yet the class of the
League. Don’t be satisfied with an even break. That won’t get us
anywhere. Take three out of four from every one of them. Make a clean
sweep if you can. Keep on your toes every minute. You’ve got the
pitching, you’ve got the fielding, you’ve got the batting, and you’ve
got the best captain that ever wore baseball shoes. What more does any
club want?”

“Nothing!” shouted Larry. “We’ll wipe up the earth with them!”

“That’s the stuff,” replied McRae. “Now go out and say it with your
bats. I want another championship this year, and I want it so bad that
it hurts. You’re the boys that can give it to me, and I’m counting on
you to do it. Show them that you’re Giants not only in name, but in
fact. That’s about all.”

“What’s the matter with McRae?” cried Curry, as the manager, having
said his say, turned to leave.

“He’s all right!” came in a thundering chorus from all except Iredell,
who maintained a moody silence.

McRae waved his hand and vanished through the door.

The Cincinnati Reds were the first of the invaders to make their
appearance at the Polo Grounds. They always drew large crowds, not
only because they usually played good ball against the Giants, but
especially because of the popularity of Hughson, their manager, who for
many years had been a mainstay of the Giants and the idol of New York
fans.

Hughson was one of the straight, clean, upstanding men who are a
credit to the national game. McRae had taken him when he was a raw
rookie and given him his chance with the Giants to show what he could
do. The result had been a sensation. In less than a year Hughson
had leaped into fame as the greatest pitcher in the country. He had
everything--courage, speed, curves and control--and with them all
a baseball head that enabled him to outguess the craftiest of his
opponents.

For a dozen years he had been the chief reliance of the Giants and one
of the greatest drawing cards in the game. At the time that Joe had
joined the Giants, however, Hughson’s arm was beginning to fail. The
latter was quick to discover Joe’s phenomenal ability and, instead of
showing any mean jealousy, had done his best to develop it. Between him
and Joe a friendship had sprung up that had never diminished.

Hughson’s services were in demand as a manager and he was snapped up by
the Cincinnati club to take charge of the Reds. With rather indifferent
material to start with, he had built up a strong team that had several
times given the Giants a hot race for the championship.

On the afternoon of the first game, Hughson, big and genial as ever,
shook Joe’s hand warmly when the latter met him near the plate.

“We’re going to give you the same dose that we did when you were on our
stamping ground the last time, Joe,” he remarked, with a laugh, after
they had interchanged greetings. “I love the Giants, but, oh, you Reds!”

“If you’re so sure of it, why go through the trouble of playing the
game?” retorted Joe.

“Oh, we’ll have to do that as a matter of form and to give the crowd
their money’s worth,” joked Hughson. “But honestly, Joe, we’re going
to put up the stiffest kind of a battle. My men have their fighting
clothes on, and they’re going good just now.”

“I’ve noticed that,” replied Joe. “You took the Pirates neatly into
camp in that last series. The return of Haskins has plugged up a weak
point in your outfield. I see he didn’t lose his batting eye while he
was a hold-out.”

“No,” said Hughson, “he’s as good as ever. I began to think we’d never
come to terms on the question of salary. You see, after his phenomenal
season last year he got a swelled head and demanded a salary that was
out of all reason. Said he wouldn’t play this year unless he got it.
But we got together on a compromise at last, and now he’s in uniform
again and cavorting around like a two-year-old. Wait until you see him
knock the ball out of the lot this afternoon.”

“I’ll wait,” retorted Joe with a grin, “and I’ll bet I’ll wait a good
long while.”



CHAPTER XIV

DEEPENING MYSTERY


After a little more chaffing, Joe left Hughson and walked over towards
the Giants’ dugout. He felt a touch on his shoulder and, turning
around, saw Jackwell.

“What is it, Dan?” he asked, noting at the same time that the player
was pale.

“I don’t feel quite in shape, Captain,” said Jackwell in a voice that
was far from steady. “I was wondering whether you couldn’t put someone
in my place to-day.”

“What’s the matter?” asked Joe. “Look here, Jackwell,” he went on
sharply, “are you trying to pull some of that ptomaine poisoning stuff
again? Because, if you are, I tell you right now, you’re wasting your
time.”

“It--it isn’t that,” stammered Jackwell, nervously fingering his cap.
“I just feel kind of unstrung, shaky-like. I’m afraid I can’t play the
bag as it ought to be played, that’s all.”

“Jackwell,” commanded Joe sternly, “come right out like a man and tell
me what’s the matter with you. Lay your cards on the table. Are you
playing for your release? Do you want to go to some other team?”

“No, no! Nothing like that!” ejaculated Jackwell, in alarm. “I’d rather
play for the Giants than for any other team in the country.”

“Well, I’ll tell you straight that you won’t be playing for the Giants
or any other team very long if this sort of thing keeps on,” said Joe
sharply. “What do you think this is, a sanitarium for invalids? Here,
McRae’s taken you from the bush league and given you the chance of your
lives with the best team in the country. Do you want to go back to the
sticks?”

“Nothing like that,” muttered Jackwell, twisting about uneasily.

“Then go out and play the game,” commanded Joe. “I’m getting fed up
with all this mystery stuff. There’ll have to be a show-down before
long, unless you get back your nerve.”

Jackwell said no more and went back to the bench, where he had a
whispered colloquy with Bowen, who seemed equally nervous.

When they went out to their positions, Joe noticed that both had their
caps drawn down over their faces much more than usual. It could not
have been to keep the sun out of their eyes, for clouds obscured the
sky and rain threatened.

Fortunately, that is, for the Giants, for despite Hughson’s prediction,
it was not the Reds’ winning day. Jim pitched for the Giants, and
though he was nicked for seven hits, he was never in danger and held
his opponents all the way. He did not have to extend himself, as his
teammates, by free batting, gave him a commanding lead as early as the
third inning, and after that the Giants simply breezed in.

Allison was the first of the Cincinnati pitchers to fall a victim to
the fury of the Giants’ bats. In the third inning, with the Giants
one run to the good, Barrett, the first man up, sent a sharp single
to left. Iredell followed with another in almost identically the
same place, and an error by the Red shortstop filled the bases. Then
Jackwell singled sharply over second, bringing in two runs.

It was clear that Allison’s usefulness for that day was at an end, and
Hughson replaced him by Elkins. Bowen lifted a sacrifice to Gerry in
center and another run came over the plate. Mylert doubled and Jackwell
scampered home. Curry hit to third and Mylert was tagged on the base
line. Burkett was passed, as was also Wheeler. Then Joe, who, in the
new shake-up of the batting order, occupied the position of “clean-up”
man, justified the name by coming to the plate and hammering out a
mighty triple that cleared the bases. There he was left, however, for
Larry, up for the second time in the same inning, popped an easy fly
that was gathered in by the second baseman. Seven runs had been the
fruit of that avalanche of hits in that fateful inning.

From that time on it seemed only a question of how big would be the
score. Two other pitchers were called into service by Hughson before
the game was over, and although the torrent of Giant hits had almost
spent its force, they came often enough to keep the Red outfielders on
the jump.

In the eighth the Reds made a rally and succeeded in getting three men
on bases with only one man out. But the rally ended suddenly when Jim
made Haskins, the star batter of the Reds, hit to short for a snappy
double play that ended the inning.

No further runs were made by either side, and the first game of the
Western invasion went into the Giants’ column by a score of ten to two.

In the clubhouse, after the game, Joe asked Jackwell and Bowen to stay
after the others had gone, in order that he might have a word with them.

“I don’t want to pry into your personal affairs, boys,” he said to them
kindly, when they were at last left alone. “I’d be the last one to do
that. But I’m captain of this team, and I’ve got to see that my men
are in fit condition to play. And if there’s anything that prevents you
showing your best form, it’s up to me to find just what it is.”

They made no answer, and Joe went on:

“I notice that whatever it is that’s bothering you seems to affect you
both. You both were sick, or said you were, at the same time the other
day. You, Jackwell, told me that you were not feeling fit to-day, and
although Bowen didn’t say anything, I suppose it was because you told
him it was of no use. I noticed that right after your talk with me, you
went back to Bowen and held a whispered conversation with him. And when
you went out on the field, you both pulled your caps over your faces
more than usual.

“Then, too, neither of you played your usual game to-day. Luckily,
we had such a big lead that the errors didn’t lose the game, but
in a close game any one of them might have been fatal. That was a
ridiculously easy grounder, Jackwell, that you fumbled in the fourth,
and in the sixth you failed to back up Iredell on that throw-in by
Curry. And that was a bad muff you, Bowen, made of Haskins’ fly to
center, to say nothing of the wild throw you made to second right
afterwards.

“Now, what’s the trouble? Let’s have a showdown. Speak up.”



CHAPTER XV

TROUBLE BREWING


Still Jackwell and Bowen stood mute, neither of them venturing to meet
Joe’s gaze.

“If you don’t tell it to me, you’ll have to tell it to McRae,”
suggested Joe. “I’m trying to let you down easy, without calling it
to his attention. If we can settle it among ourselves, so much the
better. Is it some trouble at home that’s weighing on your mind? Is it
something about money matters? If it’s that, perhaps I can help you
out.”

“That’s very kind of you, Mr. Matson,” said Jackwell, who seemed by
common consent to be the spokesman for the two. “But it isn’t either of
those two. It’s something else that neither Ben nor I are quite ready
yet to talk about.

“I know very well that you have a right to know anything that’s
interfering with our playing the game as it ought to be played. And
I’ll admit, and I guess Ben will, too, that we were off our game
to-day. But I think we’ll soon be able to settle the trouble so it
won’t bother us any more.

“I wish you could see your way clear to give us a little more time.
Let Ben and me have time to think and talk it over together. If we can
settle the matter without letting any one else know about it, we’d much
rather do so.”

Joe pondered for a moment.

“I’m willing to go as far as this,” he announced at last. “I’ll give
you a little more time, on this condition. If I note any further
falling off in your play, or you come to me with any excuses to be let
off from a game, I’m going to come down on you like a load of brick.
Then you’ll have to come across, and come across quick, or you’ll be
put off the team. Do you understand?”

“That’s all right,” said Jackwell. “You won’t have any further cause to
complain of me, Mr. Matson. I’ll play my very best.”

“I’ll work my head off to win,” declared Bowen.

They kept their promise in the series of games with the Western teams
that followed. Jackwell played at third with a skill that brought back
the memory of Jerry Denny, and Bowen covered his territory splendidly
in the outfield. It seemed as though Joe’s problem was solved, as far
as they were concerned.

But the worry about them was replaced by another regarding Jim. There
was no denying that the latter was not doing his best work. He was
intensely loyal and wrapped up in the success of the team. But the
opposing teams were getting to him much more freely than they had
before that season. He was getting by in many of his games because the
“breaks” happened to be with him, and because the Giants, with the
new spirit that Joe had infused into them, were playing a phenomenal
fielding game. But there was something missing.

There was nothing amiss in Jim’s physical condition. His arm was in
perfect shape and his control as good as ever. But his mind was not on
the game, as it had formerly been. He worked mechanically, sometimes
abstractedly. He was always trying, but it was as though he were
applying whip and spur to his energies, instead of having them act
joyously and spontaneously.

Joe knew perfectly well what was worrying his chum. Ever since that
involuntary hesitation of Mabel’s, when asked about Clara, Jim had been
a different person. Where formerly he and Joe had laughed and jested
together on the closest terms of friendship and mutual understanding,
there was now a shadow between them, a very slight and nebulous
shadow, but a shadow nevertheless. Jim’s old jollity, the bubbling
effervescence, the sheer joy in living, were conspicuous by their
absence.

It was a matter that could not be talked about, and Joe, grieved to
the heart, could only wait and hope that the matter would be cleared up
happily. To his regret on his chum’s account was added worry about the
influence the trouble might have on the chances of the Giants.

For if there was any weak place in the Giants’ armor, it was in the
pitching staff. At the best, it was none too strong. Joe himself, of
course, was a tower of strength, and Jim was one of the finest twirlers
in either League. But Markwith, though still turning in a fair number
of victories, was past his prime and unquestionably on the down grade.
In another season or two, he would be ready for the minors. Bradley
was coming along fairly well, and Merton, too, had all the signs of a
comer, but they were still too unseasoned to be depended on.

If the deal for Hays had gone through, he would have been a most
welcome addition to the ranks of the Giant boxmen. But the Yankees had
had a change of heart, and had decided to retain him for a while.

So Joe’s dismay at the thought of Jim, his main standby, letting down
in his efficiency was amply justified.

The Cincinnatis came back, as Hughson had prophesied, and took the next
game. But the two following ones went into the Giants’ bat bag, and
with three out of four they felt that they had got revenge for the
trimming that had been handed to them on their last trip to Redland.

St. Louis came next, and this time the Giants made a clean sweep of the
series. They were not so successful with the Pittsburghs, and had to be
satisfied with an even break. But when the latter went over the bridge
the Brooklyns rose in their might and took the whole four games right
off the reel, thus enabling the Giants to pass them and take second
place in the race.

Then came the Chicagos, who were still leading the League, but only by
the narrow margin of one game. If the Giants could take three out of
four from them, the Cubs would fall to second place.

Joe had made his pitching arrangements so that he himself would pitch
the first and fourth games. He did so, and won them both. He had never
pitched with more superb skill, strength and confidence, and the
ordinarily savage Cubs were forced to be as meek as lapdogs.

They got even, to an extent, with Markwith, whom they fairly clawed
to pieces in the second game. Jim pitched in the third, and but for a
senseless play might have won.

That play was made by Iredell in the ninth inning, with the Giants
making their last stand. The Cubs were three runs to the good. One man
was out in the Giants’ half, Curry was on third and Iredell was on
second, with Joe at the bat.

Suddenly, moved by what impulse nobody knew, Iredell tried to steal
third, forgetting for the moment that it was already occupied.

“Back!” yelled Joe in consternation. “Go back!”

With the shout, Iredell realized what he had done, and turned to go
back. But it was too late. The Cub catcher had shot the ball down to
second, and Holstein, with a chuckle, clapped the ball on Iredell as he
slid into the bag.

A roar, partly of rage, partly of glee, rose from the spectators, and
Iredell was unmercifully joshed as he made his way back to the bench.

Joe, a minute later, smashed out a terrific homer on which Curry and he
both dented the plate. But the next man went out on strikes, and with
him went the game. If Iredell had been on second, he also would have
come home on Joe’s circuit clout and the score would have been tied.
The game would have gone into extra innings, with the Giants having at
least an even chance of victory.

As it was, the Chicagos were still leading the League by one game when
they packed their bats and turned their backs upon Manhattan.

McRae was white with rage, as he told Iredell after the game what he
thought of him.

“You ought to have your brain examined,” he whipped out at him. “That
is, if you have enough brain to be seen without a microscope. To steal
third when there was a man already on the bag! You ought to have a
guard to see that the squirrels don’t get you. What in the name of the
Seven Jumping Juggernauts did you do it for?”

“I didn’t know there was a man there,” said Iredell lamely.

McRae looked as though he were going to have a fit.

“Didn’t know a man was there!” he sputtered. “Didn’t know a man was
there! Didn’t know a-- Look here, you fellows,” he shouted to the rest
of the Giants gathered round. “I want you to understand there are no
secrets on this team. You tell Iredell after this whenever there’s a
man on third. Understand?”

He stalked away from the clubhouse in high dudgeon to share his woes
with the ever-faithful Robbie.

It was a hard game to lose, but Joe, as he summed up the results of the
Western invasion felt pretty good over the record. The Giants had won
eleven out of sixteen games from the strongest teams in the League, and
were now only one game behind the leaders. They had climbed steadily
ever since he had become captain.

But though he was elated at the showing of the team his heart was
heavily burdened by his personal troubles. His mother was still in a
precarious condition. He tore open eagerly every letter from home, only
to have his hopes sink again when he learned that she was no better.
Sometimes the strain seemed more than he could bear.

Then there was Jim, dear old Jim, with the cloud on his brow and look
of suffering in his eyes that made Joe’s heart ache whenever he looked
at him. From being the soul of good fellowship, Jim had withdrawn
within himself, a prey to consuming anxiety. He seemed ten years older
than he had a year ago. And as a player, he had slipped undeniably. He
was no longer the terror to opposing batsmen that he had been such a
short time before. Joe gritted his teeth, and mentally scored Clara,
who had brought his friend to such a pass.

But, troubled as he was, Joe summoned up his resolution and bent to his
task. His work lay clearly before him. He was captain of the Giants.
And the Giants must win the pennant!



CHAPTER XVI

OUT FOR REVENGE


“Joe,” said McRae, on the eve of the Giants’ second trip West, “I want
to have a serious talk with you.”

“That sounds ominous, Mac,” replied Joe, with a twinkle in his eye.
“What have I been doing?”

“What I wish every member of the team had been doing,” responded McRae.
“Pitching like a wizard, batting like a fiend, and playing the game
generally as it’s never been played before in my long experience as
a manager. No, it isn’t you, Joe, that I have to growl about. You’re
top-notch in every department of the game, and as a captain you’ve more
than met my expectations. You’ve brought the team up from the second
division to a point where any day they may step into the lead.”

“Give credit to the boys,” said Joe, modestly. “They’re certainly
playing championship ball. That is, with one exception,” he added
hesitatingly.

“With one exception,” repeated McRae. “Exactly! And it’s just about
that exception I want to talk to you. Of course, we’re both thinking of
the same man--Iredell.”

Joe nodded assent.

“I’ve worked myself half sick trying to brace him up,” he said. “But
he’s taken a bitter dislike to me since he was displaced as captain
of the team. He only responds in monosyllables, or oftener yet with
a grunt. He’s such a crack player when he wants to be that I’ve been
hoping he’d wake up and change his tactics.”

“Same here,” said McRae. “He’s been with the team for a long time, and
for that reason I’ve been more patient with him than I otherwise would.
But there comes a time when patience ceases to be a virtue, and I have
a hunch that that time is now.”

“You may be right,” assented Joe. “I’m sorry for Iredell.”

“So am I,” replied McRae. “I’m sorry to see any man throw himself away.
And that’s just what Iredell is doing. If it were only a slump in his
playing, such as any player has at times, it would be different. But
it’s more than that. I’ve had detectives keeping track of him for
the last week or two, and they report that he has been drinking and
frequenting low resorts. You know as well as I do, that no man can do
that and play the game. So I’m going to bench him for a while and see
if that doesn’t bring him to his senses. If it does, well and good. If
it doesn’t, I’ll trade him at the end of the season.”

“That’ll mean Renton in his place,” said Joe, thoughtfully.

“Do you think he measures up to the position?” inquired McRae.

“I’m inclined to think he will,” affirmed Joe. “Of course, he isn’t the
player that Iredell is when he’s going right. But he’ll certainly play
the position as well as Iredell has since we returned from the last
trip. He is an upstanding, ambitious young chap, and he’ll play his
head off to make good. He has all the earmarks of a coming star. With
Larry on one side of him and Jackwell on the other, and with you and me
to drill the fine points of the game into him, I think he’ll fill the
bill.”

“Then it’s a go,” declared McRae. “I’ll have a talk with Iredell
to-night. You tell Renton that he’s to play short to-morrow, and that
it’s up to him to prove that he’s the right man for the job.”

Joe did so, and the young fellow was delighted to learn that his chance
had come.

“I’ll do my best, Mr. Matson,” he promised, “and give you and the team
all I’ve got. If I fall down, it won’t be for the lack of trying.”

Pittsburgh was the first stop on the Giants’ schedule, and Forbes
Field was crowded to repletion when the teams came out on the field.
The local fans had been worked up to a high pitch of enthusiasm by the
closeness of the race, and they looked to see their favorites put the
Giants to rout, as they had on the first visit of the latter to the
Smoky City.

“Look who’s here,” said Jim to Joe, as the two friends drew near to the
grandstand before the preliminary practice.

“Meaning whom?” asked Joe, as his eyes swept the stands without
recognizing any one he knew.

“In the second row near that post on the right of the middle section,”
indicated Jim.

Joe glanced toward that part of the stand, and gave a violent start of
surprise, not unmixed with a deeper emotion.

“That lob-eared scoundrel, Lemblow!” he ejaculated. “And confabbing
with Hupft and McCarney.”

“Evidently as thick as thieves,” commented Jim. “A precious trio. I
wonder they have the face to show themselves at a baseball game when
they’ve done the best they could to bring the sport into disgrace.”

“Three of the worst enemies we have in the world,” murmured Joe, as his
mind ran over the exciting events of the previous season.

Hupft and McCarney had been members of the Giant team that year. They
were good players, but had entered into a conspiracy with a gang of
gamblers--who had bet heavily against the Giants--to lose the pennant.
Lemblow was a minor-league pitcher who had long wanted to get a chance
to play with the Giants. If Joe, their star pitcher, could be put
out of the game, Lemblow figured that his chance for a berth would
be better. He also, therefore, had fallen in with the plans of the
gambling ring, and had, seemingly, stopped at nothing to bring Joe to
grief. How their plans miscarried, how Hupft and McCarney had been put
on the blacklist that debarred them forever from playing in organized
baseball, how Lemblow had been exposed and disgraced, are familiar to
those who have read the preceding volume of this series.

“Wonder what they’re doing here,” puzzled Joe.

“Rogues naturally drift together,” said Jim. “I heard some time ago
that the bunch was playing with one of the semi-pro teams in the
Pittsburgh district. But they usually play only on Saturdays and
Sundays, so I suppose they’re choosing this way to spend their off
time. I suppose if we could hear what they’re saying about us at this
moment, our ears would be blistered.”

“Whatever it is doesn’t matter,” laughed Joe. “They made acquaintance
with our fists once, and I don’t think they’re anxious to repeat the
experience. But I guess we’d better pick out catchers and begin to warm
up. I’ve a hunch that the Pirates are going to pitch Miles to-day, and
if they do we’ll need the best we have in stock to turn them back.”

By the time the bell rang for the beginning of the game, the stands
were black with spectators. The Giant supporters were comparatively
few, but they made up in vehemence what they lacked in numbers.

From the beginning it was evident that the game would be a pitchers’
duel. Miles was in superb form, and up to the ninth inning had only
given three hits, and these so scattered that no runs resulted.

But Joe was in the box for the Giants and was pitching for a no-hit
game. Up to the ninth, not even the scratchiest kind of hit had been
registered from his delivery.

Could he keep it up? The crowd waited breathlessly for the answer.



CHAPTER XVII

STEALING HOME


With Burkett, Barrett and Joe at the bat for the Giants in their half
of the ninth inning, it looked as though the nine might have a chance
to score.

But Miles had turned those same batters back earlier in the game, and
he nerved himself to repeat.

“Murderer, are you?” he sneered, as the burly Burkett came to the bat,
and referring to a nickname gained because of the many balls “killed.”
“Well, see me send you to the electric chair.”

“Aw, pitch with your arm instead of your mouth,” retorted Burkett.
“You’re due to blow up anyway. You’re only a toy balloon, and I’m going
to stick a pin in you.”

But Miles had the last laugh, for he fanned Burkett with three
successive strikes, and the latter went sheepishly back to the bench.

“That pin must have lost its point,” Miles called after him. “I knew
you were bluffing all the time.”

Larry came up to the plate, swinging three bats. He threw away two of
them and faced the pitcher.

“Why don’t you throw that one away too?” queried Miles. “You might as
well, for all the good it’s going to do you.”

“Your name is Miles, ain’t it?” asked Larry. “Well, that’s the way I’m
going to hit the ball--miles.”

He lunged savagely at the first ball that came over the plate and
lashed it into the crowded grandstand for what would have been a sure
homer, if it had not been a few inches on the wrong side of the foul
line.

Larry kicked at the decision, but to no avail, and he came back
disappointedly to the plate. But the mighty clout had sobered Miles
somewhat, and the next two were out of Larry’s reach and went as balls.
Larry fouled off the next for strike two, and let the next go by for
the third ball.

“Good eye, Larry,” called Joe approvingly. “He’s in the hole now and
will have to put the next one over. Soak it on the seam.”

Larry caught the next one fairly, and it started on a journey between
right and center. Platz, the Pirate rightfielder, took one look at it
and turned and ran in the direction the ball was going. At the back of
the park was a low fence that separated the field from the bleachers.
Just as the ball was passing over this, Platz reached out his hand and
grabbed it. The force of the ball and the rate at which he was running
carried him head over heels to the other side, but when he rose, the
ball was in his hand.

It was a magnificent catch, and well deserved the thunderous applause
that rose from the stand, applause in which even the Giant supporters
joined, though it seemed to sound the death knell of their hopes.

“Hard luck, old man, to be robbed that way,” said Joe consolingly, as
Larry came back, sore and muttering to himself.

“To crack out two homers in one turn at bat and not even get a hit,”
mourned Larry. “Sure, if I was starvin’ and it started to rain soup,
I’d be out in it with only a fork to catch it with.”

Joe received a generous hand as he came to the bat, due not only to his
general popularity but to the wonderful game he had so far pitched.

“Oh, you home-run king!” shouted an enthusiastic fan. “Show them that
you deserve the name. Win your own game.”

“Watch Miles pass him,” yelled another.

Whether Miles was deliberately trying to pass him, Joe could not tell.
In any event, the first two balls pitched were wide of the plate, and
the crowd began to jeer.

The third was by no means a good one, but still it was within reach,
and Joe reached out and hit it between third and short to leftfield.
With sharp fielding it would have gone for only a clean single, but the
leftfielder fumbled it for a moment, and Joe, noting this, kept right
on to second, which he reached a fraction of a second before the ball.

That extra base was worth a great deal at that stage, for now a single
would probably bring Joe in for the first and perhaps the winning run
of the game.

But would that single materialize? There were already two men out, and
the chances were always against the batter.

Joe noticed that Miles was getting nervous. Wheeler was at the bat, and
Miles was so anxious to strike him out that he was more deliberate than
usual in winding up. Joe took a long lead off the bag, and watched the
pitcher with the eye of a hawk.

The first ball whizzed over the plate for a strike. Joe noted that
Wheeler hit full six inches under the ball. Evidently his batting eye
was off. There was little to be hoped for from that quarter.

When Miles started his long wind-up, Joe darted like a flash for third.
The startled catcher dropped the ball, and Joe came into the bag
standing up.

“Easy to steal on you fellows,” Joe joshed Miles, as he danced around
the bag.

“That’s as far as you’ll get,” snapped Miles. “I’ve got this fellow’s
number.”

And Joe was inclined to think he was right, for when the next ball went
over, Wheeler missed it “by a mile.” One more strike, and the inning
would be over.

Jamieson, the Pirate catcher, threw the ball back to Miles. Before it
had fairly left his hand Joe was legging it to the plate. There was a
yell from the spectators, and Miles, aghast at Joe’s audacity, threw
hurriedly to Jamieson.

Twenty feet from the plate, Joe launched himself into the air and
slid into the rubber in a cloud of dust. The ball had come high to
Jamieson, and he had to leap for it. He came down with it on Joe like a
thunderbolt, and the two rolled over and over.

“Safe!” cried the umpire.



CHAPTER XVIII

A TEST OF NERVE


The play was so close and so much depended on it that there was a rush
of Pirate players to the plate to dispute the decision. But the umpire
refused to change it, and curtly ordered them to get back into the game.

Joe picked himself up, and, smiling happily, walked into the Giants’
dugout, where he was mauled about by his hilarious clubmates, while
McRae and Robbie beamed their delight.

“You timed that exactly, Joe,” cried Robbie, “and you came down that
base path like a streak. It’s plays like that that stand the other
fellows on their heads. Look at Miles. He’s mad enough to bite nails.
You’ve got his goat for fair.”

“It looks like the winning run,” said McRae. “And it’s lucky that you
didn’t depend on Wheeler to bring you in, for there goes the third
strike. Now it’s up to you to hold the Pirates down in their last half.”

“And rub it in by making it a no-hit game,” adjured Robbie, as Joe put
on his glove and went out to the box.

Joe needed no urging, for his blood was up and his imagination was
fired by the prospect of doing what had not been done in either League
so far that season.

But the Pirates were making their last stand in that inning, and he
knew that he would have his work cut out for him. Their coachers were
out on the diamond, trying to rattle him and waving their arms to get
the fans to join in the chorus. From stands and bleachers rose a din
that was almost overpowering.

Joe sized up Murphy, the first man up, and sent one over that fairly
smoked. Murphy lashed out savagely and hit only the empty air.

“Strike one!” cried the umpire.

Murphy gritted his teeth, got a good toe hold, and prepared for the
next. Joe drifted up a slow one that fooled him utterly.

Then for the third, Joe resorted to his fadeaway, and Murphy, baffled,
went back to the bench.

Jamieson, who succeeded him, gauged the ball better and sent it on a
line to the box. A roar went up that died away suddenly when Joe thrust
out his gloved hand, knocked it down and sent it down to first like a
bullet, getting it there six feet ahead of the runner.

Then Miles, the last hope, came up, and Joe wound up the game in a
blaze of glory by letting him down on three successive strikes.

The Giants had won 1 to 0 in the best-played game of the year. The
newspaper correspondents exhausted their stock of adjectives in
describing it in the next day’s papers.

Only twenty-seven men had faced Joe in that game. Not a man had reached
first. Not a pass had been issued. Not a hit had been made. It was one
of the rarest things in baseball--a perfect game.

And as the crowning feature, the one run that gave the victory to the
Giants had been scored by Joe himself by those dazzling steals to third
and home.

It was a good omen for the success of the Western trip, and the Giant
players were jubilant.

“No jinx after us this time,” chuckled Larry.

“If there is, he got a black-eye to-day,” laughed Jim. “Gee, Joe, that
was a wonderful game. You won it almost by your lonesome. The rest
didn’t have much to do.”

“They had plenty,” corrected Joe. “More than one of those Pirate clouts
would have gone for a hit if it hadn’t been for the stone-wall defense
the boys put up. No man ever won a no-hit game with bad playing behind
him.”

At the hotel table that night Joe noticed that Iredell was not present.

“Wonder where Iredell is,” he remarked to Jim, who was sitting beside
him.

“Search me,” answered the latter. “He may be in later. He’s so grouchy
just now that he seems to be keeping away from the rest of the fellows
as much as he can. You can’t get a pleasant word out of him these days.
I spoke to him to-day on the bench, and he nearly snapped my head off.”

“Too bad,” remarked Joe, regretfully. “I’ve gone out of my way to be
friendly with him, but he won’t have it. Seems to think that I’m to
blame for all his troubles.”

They would have been still more concerned about the missing member of
the team, could they have seen him at that moment.

Iredell, on his way to the hotel, had drifted into one of the low
resorts which ostensibly sold only soft drinks, but where it was easy
enough to get any kind of liquor in the back room. To his surprise, he
saw Hupft, McCarney and Lemblow sitting at one of the tables.

There was a momentary hesitation on the part of the trio before they
ventured to speak to him, for they did not feel sure how their advances
would be received. But a glance at his face showed that he was in a
dejected and reckless mood, and that decided them.

“Hello, Iredell,” called out McCarney, with an assumption of boisterous
cordiality. “Sit down here and take a load off your feet. Have
something with us at my expense.”

Three months before, Iredell would have scorned the invitation. Now he
accepted it.

They talked of indifferent matters, the others studying Iredell
intently.

“I noticed you weren’t playing to-day,” remarked McCarney, with a
sickly grin.

“No,” said Iredell, bitterly. “I ain’t good enough for the Giants any
more. They’ve benched me and put that young brat, Renton, in my place.”

“Case of favoritism, I suppose,” said McCarney, sympathetically. “Why,
you can run rings around Renton when it comes to playing short!”

“That fellow, Matson, has got it in for me,” growled Iredell. “But I’ll
get even with him yet.”

“Sure, you will,” broke in Hupft. “Nobody with the spirit of a man
would take that thing lying down. He’s jealous of you, that’s what he
is. You’ve been captain once, and he’s afraid you may be again, and so
he wants to freeze you off the team.”



CHAPTER XIX

THE WARNING BUZZ


“Matson has a swelled head,” declared McCarney. “He thinks he’s the
whole show. He’s done us dirt, and now he’s thrown you down. Are you
going to stand for it?”

“No, I’m not!” snarled Iredell, now in the ugliest of moods. “I’ll get
even with him if it’s the last thing I do.”

“That’s the way I like to hear a man talk,” said Lemblow. “I owe him
a lot for the way he’s treated me, and so does every man here. We all
hate him like poison. Then why don’t we do something? It ought to be
easy enough for the four of us to figure out some way to put the kibosh
on him.”

“It would be easy enough if he weren’t so much in the limelight,” said
Hupft, uneasily. “If we put anything across on him, the whole country
would be ringing with it. The League itself would spend any amount of
money to run us down.”

“Bigger men than he is have got theirs,” rejoined McCarney. “It all
depends on the way it’s done. Now, a scheme has popped into my head
while we’ve been talking. I don’t know how good it is, but I think it
may work. If it goes through, we’ll have our revenge. If it doesn’t
we’ll be no worse off and we can try something else. Now listen to me.”

They put their heads together over the table, while McCarney in a low
voice unfolded his scheme. That it was a black one was evident from the
involuntary start the others gave when it was first broached. But as
McCarney went on to explain the impunity with which he figured it could
be carried out and the completeness of their revenge if it succeeded,
they gave their adhesion to it. Iredell was the most reluctant of the
four, but his drink-inflamed brain was not proof against the arguments
of the others, and he finally acquiesced and put up his share of the
estimated expense.

The next day witnessed another battle royal between the Giants and the
Pirates. Jim pitched, and although his work was marked by some of the
raggedness that Joe knew only too well the reason for, he held the
Pittsburghs fairly well, and the Giants batted out a victory by a score
of 7 to 3.

“Sure of an even break, anyway, on the series,” remarked Curry
complacently, after the game.

“Yes,” replied Joe. “But that doesn’t get us anywhere. That only shows
that we’re as good as the other fellows. We want to prove that we’re
better. To play for a draw is a confession of weakness. I want the next
two games just as hard as I wanted the first two. That’s the spirit
that we’ve got to have, if we cop the flag.”

But though Markwith twirled a good game the next day and was well
supported, the best he could do was to carry the game into extra
innings, and the Pirates won in the eleventh.

“Beaten, but not disgraced,” was Joe’s laconic comment, as he and
Jim made their way to the hotel. “Let’s hope we’ll have better luck
to-morrow.”

“I’ve had a box sent up to your room, Mr. Matson,” said the hotel
clerk, as he handed the young captain his key. “It came in a little
while ago.”

“Thanks,” said Joe, and went upstairs with Jim to the room they
occupied together.

In the corner was a wooden box, about two feet long, a foot wide, and
of about the same depth. On the top was Joe’s name and the address
neatly printed, but nothing else, except the tag of the express
company.

“Wonder what it is,” remarked Joe, with some curiosity.

“It isn’t very heavy,” said Jim, as he lifted it and set it down again.
“Some flowers for you perhaps from an unknown admirer,” he added, with
a grin.

“It’s nailed down pretty tightly,” said Joe. “Got anything we can open
it with?”

“Nothing here,” answered Jim, as he searched about the room. “Guess
we’ll have to phone down to the office and have them send us up a
chisel to pry the cover off.”

“Oh, well, it will keep,” said Joe. “I’m as hungry as a wolf, and I
want to get my supper. We’ll stop at the desk on our way back and get
something from the clerk.”

They had a hearty meal, over which they lingered long, discussing the
game of the afternoon. Then they stopped at the desk, secured a chisel,
and returned with it to their room.

Jim switched on the electric light, while Joe lifted the box and placed
it on a table, preparatory to opening it.

“What’s that?” Jim exclaimed suddenly, turning from the switch.

“What’s what?” queried Joe in his turn.

“That buzzing sound.”

“You must be dreaming,” scoffed Joe. “I didn’t hear anything.”

“It seemed to come from the box when you lifted it up,” said Jim. “Lift
it up again.”

Joe did so, and this time both of them heard a faint buzzing, whirring
sound that, without their exactly knowing why, sent a little thrill
through them.

Again he lifted it with the same result.

The two young men looked at each other with speculation in their eyes.

“Lay off it, Joe,” warned Jim, as a thought struck him. “Perhaps it’s
an infernal machine.”

“Nonsense,” laughed Joe, though the laugh was a little forced. “Who’d
send me anything like that?”

“There are plenty who might,” affirmed Jim, earnestly. “Remember those
crooks we saw at the game the other day! They hate you for exposing
them. I wouldn’t put anything past them. They’d go to all lengths to
injure you.”

Joe took out his flashlight and sent the intense beam all over the
sides of the box. Suddenly he uttered an ejaculation, and pointed to a
number of small holes, not visible on a casual inspection.

“Look!” he cried. “Air holes! Jim, there’s some living thing in that
box!”



CHAPTER XX

THE PACKAGE OF MYSTERY


“A living thing!” exclaimed Jim, in wonderment.

“Yes,” replied Joe, whose quick mind had already reached a conclusion.
“And I can make a guess at what it is. It’s a rattlesnake!”

“What?” cried Jim, aghast. “Oh, no, Joe, you must be dreaming. No one
would send you a thing like that.”

“Well, I’ll bet that somebody has,” said Joe, grimly. “That would
explain the buzz we heard just now. It was the whirr of the snake’s
rattles. We disturbed him when we lifted the box, and he’s given us
warning that he’s on the job. Lucky we didn’t open the box while it was
on the floor. See here.”

He lifted the box and let it fall with a sharp jolt on the table. This
time there was no mistaking the angry rattle that issued from the box.
They had heard it more than once when they had occasionally come across
one of the deadly reptiles while out hunting. It was one of the sounds
that once clearly heard could never be mistaken for anything else. Even
now, with the box closed, it sent a thrill of horror through them.

Their faces were pale as they looked at each other and realized what
might have been the fate of one or both of them but for that ominous
warning.

“You see the dope?” questioned Joe, with an angry note in his voice. “I
would be curious to see what had been sent to me, and would open the
box probably with my face close above it. Then something would strike
me like a bolt of lightning, and it would be good-night. I would have
been out of the game with neatness and dispatch.”

“The scoundrel!” ejaculated Jim, fiercely. “Oh, if I only had my hands
on whoever did it!”

“I’d like to have a hand in settling that little matter, too,” said
Joe, with a blaze in his eyes that boded ill for the miscreant if he
should ever be discovered. “But that can wait. The first thing to do is
to put this rattler beyond the power of doing mischief.”

Jim’s eyes searched the room for some weapon.

“No,” said Joe, “there’s a safer way than that. That ugly head must
never be thrust alive out of that box. Just turn on the water in the
bathtub.”

They had a private bath adjoining their room, and Jim turned on the
tap. When the tub was half full, Joe brought in the box and put it
in the tub, placing sufficient weight upon it to keep it beneath the
surface of the water.

“Those air holes will do the business, I think,” said Joe. “In a few
minutes the box will be full of water. We’ll leave it there a little
while, and then we’ll open the box and see if we guessed right.”

At the expiration of twenty minutes, they drained the water out of the
tub. Then Joe got the chisel, and with considerable effort forced open
the cover of the box.

“You see,” he said.

Jim saw and shuddered.

Lying in the water that was still seeping out through the air holes was
a rattlesnake all of four feet long.

They viewed the creature with a feeling of loathing. But still deeper
was the feeling they had against the scoundrels who had chosen that
cowardly way of attempting to injure Joe. The snake, after all, was
just the instrument. Infinitely worse were the rascals who had employed
it as their weapon.

“We’ve had some pretty narrow escapes,” said Joe. “And this is one of
them. If you hadn’t happened to hear that buzz, I might be a dead man
this minute.”

“It’s too horrible for words!” exclaimed Jim, “It seems incredible
that any one could plan such a thing for their worst enemy. Who do you
think did it?”

“One guess is as good as another,” replied Joe. “But if you ask me, I
should say that the man or men who did it sat in the grandstand on the
first day we played in this city.”

“Lemblow, Hupft and McCarney,” said Jim. “One or perhaps all of them.
Well, why not? Lemblow tried deliberately to harm us both last year
when he pushed that pile of lumber over from the scaffold above us. We
came within an ace of being killed. If he were ready to harm us then,
why shouldn’t he be again, especially as he hates us worse now than he
did before?”

“The box was certainly sent from somewhere in this city,” said Joe,
examining the cover carefully. “There’s nothing to indicate that it
came by railroad. And there are plenty of rattlesnakes in this part of
Pennsylvania. Some of the stores exhibit them as curiosities.”

“It’s up to us to put the police on the trail right away,” suggested
Jim.

“I don’t know about giving this thing publicity,” mused Joe
thoughtfully. “In the first place, it would create a sensation. It
would be featured on the first page of every newspaper in the country.
And you can see in a minute how it might react against baseball. The
public would begin to figure that gamblers were trying to put the
Giants out of the race. They haven’t forgotten the Black Sox scandal
that came near to ruining the game. We’ve got to think of the game
first of all. You remember what hard work we had to save the League
last year, and how we had to forego punishing the scoundrels in order
to keep every inkling of the gamblers’ scheme from the public. Baseball
has to be above suspicion.”

“Then do you mean to say that whoever did this is to get away scot
free?” demanded Jim, hotly.

“No,” said Joe, grimly, “I don’t mean that. When the season closes,
I’m going to make a quiet investigation of my own. And if I find the
villains I’ll thrash them within an inch of their lives and make them
wish they had never been born. But they won’t tell why I did it, and I
certainly won’t. At any cost, this thing must be kept from the public.
The good of the game comes before everything else.”



CHAPTER XXI

DROPPING BACK


“I suppose you are right, Joe,” assented Jim, regretfully. “But it
makes me boil not to be able to put the scoundrels behind prison bars.
Those human snakes ought to have some punishment meted out to them.”

“They surely ought,” agreed Baseball Joe. “But we’ll have to postpone
their punishment. Everything will have to wait till the end of the
season. Apart from anything else, if we found them out now and had them
arrested, see how it would break into our work. We’d have to leave the
team to come here to testify at the trial and perhaps stay away for
weeks, and that would cost the Giants the pennant. But speaking of this
fellow here in the box, what are we going to do with him? We can’t
leave him here.”

“It’s rather awkward,” remarked Jim. “I suppose we could take him down
to the cellar and have him burned in the furnace.”

“Not without arousing the curiosity of the furnace man and leading
to talk,” objected Joe. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We leave town
to-morrow night. We’ll wrap the snake up in a compact package and carry
it along in a suitcase. Then at night while the train is speeding
along, we’ll open a window and drop him out.”

They agreed on this as the best solution.

“I suppose there’s no question that the snake is dead,” remarked Jim,
with an inflection of uncertainty in his voice. “It would be mighty
awkward to have him come to life again in the suitcase.”

“I guess he’s drowned all right,” returned Joe. “He was a long time
under water. But just to make assurance doubly sure, I’ll cut off his
head.”

He took out his heavy jackknife and severed the reptile’s head from his
body. Handling the grisly creature was a repugnant task, and they were
glad when it was finished.

“Guess I’ll keep this head,” remarked Joe, as a thought came to
him. “I’ll slip it into a jar of alcohol and that will preserve it
indefinitely.”

“What on earth do you want it for?” queried Jim. “I shouldn’t think
you’d care for that kind of souvenir.”

“I have a hunch it may come in handy some time,” answered Joe. “Now
let’s wrap up this body and get it out of our sight.”

Their dreams that night were featured by wriggling, writhing forms.

“I’m glad I’m not scheduled to pitch to-day,” remarked Jim, at
breakfast. “I’m afraid the Pirates would bat me all over the lot. I
never felt less fit.”

“Such an experience isn’t exactly the best kind of preparation for box
work,” replied Joe, with a ghost of a smile. “I guess Bradley will
start, while I’ll stand ready to relieve him if he gets in a jam. I’m
hoping, though, that he’ll pull through all right.”

After lunch they took a taxicab to the grounds, but the vehicle got in
a traffic jam, and it was later than they expected when they finally
reached Forbes Field.

They hurried over to the clubhouse and were entering the door when they
met Iredell, who was coming out.

Iredell gave a sharp ejaculation and started back, while his face went
as white as chalk.

“Why, what’s the matter, Iredell?” asked Joe.

“N--nothing,” stammered Iredell, by a mighty effort regaining control
of himself and walking away.

Their wondering glances followed him, and they noticed that his gait
was wavering.

“What do you suppose was the reason for that?” asked Jim.

“I’m afraid he’s been drinking again,” conjectured Joe, regretfully.
“His nerves seem to be all unstrung. When he looked at me, you might
think that he saw a ghost.”

“Perhaps he did,” said Jim, slowly but significantly.

“What do you mean?” asked Joe, quickly.

“Just what I say,” answered Jim. “Perhaps he thought that you
were--well, in the doctor’s hands, and that what he saw must be a
ghost.”

“You don’t mean----”

“You know what I mean.”

“No, no!” exclaimed Joe, in horror. “Lemblow, Hupft, McCarney? Yes! But
Iredell! A man on our own team! A man we’ve played with for years! No,
Jim, I can’t believe it possible.”

“Perhaps not,” admitted Jim. “I hate even to think of it. I hope I’m
wrong. But drink, you know, will weaken a man’s moral fiber until he’s
capable of anything. Iredell’s been steadily going to the dogs of late.
Perhaps he’s fallen in with McCarney’s gang. He knows all of them, and
a drinking man isn’t particular about his company. Let a man hate you
and then let him drink, and you have a mighty bad combination. Just
suppose Iredell was in the plot. Suppose he knew that rattler was sent
to you yesterday. Wouldn’t he act just as he did when he saw you turn
up safe and sound to-day?”

“It certainly was queer,” admitted Joe, half-convinced. “I can only
hope you’re wrong. At any rate, it won’t hurt to keep our eyes on him
and be doubly on our guard.”

Bradley showed more form that afternoon than he had before that
season, and took the Pirates into camp in first class fashion by a
score of 5 to 3. Apart from victory itself, it was gratifying to McRae
and Robbie to note that Bradley was improving rapidly and furnishing
a reinforcement to Joe and Jim, who, in a pitching sense, had been
carrying the team on their backs.

Three out of four from so strong a team as the Pittsburghs was a good
beginning for the swing around the Western circuit, and the Giants were
in high feather when they arrived in Cincinnati.

“Hate to do it, old boy,” declared the grinning McRae, as he shook
hands with Hughson, “but we’ll have to take the whole four from you
this time.”

“Threatened men live long, Mac,” retorted Hughson. “Just for being
so sassy about it, I don’t think we’ll give you one. Just remember
the walloping we gave you the last time you were here. That wasn’t a
circumstance compared to what’s coming to you now.”

As it turned out, both were false prophets, for each team took two
games.

“Five out of eight aren’t so bad for a team away from home,” Jim
remarked.

“Better than a black eye,” admitted Joe. “But still not good enough. We
want twelve games out of the sixteen before we start back home.”

It was an ambitious goal, but the Giants reached it, taking three out
of four from the Chicagos and making a clean sweep in St. Louis. It was
the best road record that the Giants had made for a long time past, and
it was a jubilant crowd of athletes that swung on board the train for
New York.

“I’m already spending my World Series money,” crowed Larry, the
irrepressible, to his comrades gathered about him in the smoker.

“Better go slow, Larry,” laughed Joe. “There’s many a slip between the
cup and the lip. We haven’t got the pennant clinched yet, by any means.
And even if we win the pennant, there’s the World Series, and that’s
something else again. It looks as though the Yankees would repeat in
the American, and you know what tough customers they proved last time.
And when Kid Rose gets going with that old wagon-tongue of his----”

“Kid Rose!” interrupted Larry, with infinite scorn. “Who gives a hoot
for Kid Rose? What’s Kid Rose compared with Baseball Joe?”

Joe’s caution was justified by what followed after the Giants’ return
home. Suddenly, without warning, came one of the mysterious slumps that
no baseball man can explain. If they had gone up like a rocket, they
came down like the stick. They fielded raggedly, batted weakly, and
fell off in all departments of the game. Perhaps it was the reaction
after the strain of the Western trip. Whatever the cause, the slump was
there.

McRae raged, Joe pleaded. They shook up the batting order, they
benched some of the regulars temporarily, and put the reserve men in
their places. Nothing seemed to avail. The “jinx” was on the job. The
Phillies and Boston trampled them underfoot. In three weeks they had
lost the lead, and the Chicagos and Pittsburghs had crowded in ahead of
them.

Still Joe kept his nerve and struggled desperately to turn the tide.
He himself had never pitched or batted better, and what occasional
victories were turned in were chiefly due to him. But he was only one
man--not nine--and the Giants kept on steadily losing.

Only one ray of light illumined the darkness for Baseball Joe. Mabel
had come to him.



CHAPTER XXII

UNDER HEAVY STRAIN


“I can’t believe you are real,” said Joe, contentedly, lounging in a
big chair and watching Mabel as she flitted about the room, putting
small things in order and seeming by her very presence to make the
hotel room a home. “I think you must be a dream or something. Come sit
down here and let me look at you.”

Mabel sat down beside him and looked at him with dancing eyes.

“I might almost think you were glad to see me, Joe dear,” she said.
Then, as Joe moved toward her, added quickly: “Do you know you haven’t
asked me a single thing about the home folks yet?”

Joe’s face clouded and he rubbed a hand across his forehead.

“Truth is, I’ve been afraid to,” he confessed. “I have a hunch that
neither mother nor Clara has been frank in their letters to me. I’ve
been worried sick!” he finished, in an unusual outburst of feeling.

Mabel, studying the new lines about his mouth and the strained look of
his eyes, was inclined to be worried herself, though not so much for
Mother Matson as for Joe. She said, as cheerfully as she could:

“I wouldn’t worry so dreadfully, Joe, if I were you. Mother’s heart is
stronger than it has been for some time and she is wonderfully brave
and courageous.”

“She would be,” muttered Joe, adding in swift anxiety: “In the last
letter I had from her she said she was in the hospital and the
operation was slated to take place in about a week’s time. That would
make it somewhere around day after to-morrow. Good heavens! I can’t
bear to think of it!”

“You mustn’t, any more than you can help,” said Mabel, gently. “It
won’t do Mother Matson or the rest of us any good for you to get down
sick yourself, Joe. I wonder Dougherty doesn’t order you off the team
for a rest.”

“You wrote in one of your letters that you had taken a flying trip to
Riverside,” Joe reminded her, and Mabel nodded.

“I didn’t want to stay long. Mother Matson was so sick and I was afraid
she would think she must exert herself to entertain me. So I just
stayed overnight and caught the morning train back to Goldsboro.”

“Did Mother give you any message for me?” Joe’s voice was husky.

“Just her love--and this,” said Mabel, softly. She held out her hand,
and in the palm of it lay a tiny, heart-shaped locket. Joe recognized
it as one that had long rested in his mother’s jewelry case. He took
it and opened it, and the sweet face of his mother in her youth smiled
back at him.

Joe got up abruptly and went to the window, standing for a long time
looking out, with his back to his wife. Mabel knew that he was having a
struggle with himself, and waited quietly until he turned and came back
to her.

“If I could get away from the team long enough to go to her!” he said
huskily. “But I can’t just now. It’s impossible. I’ve got to keep after
the men every minute, or they’re apt to go to pieces.”

“She doesn’t expect you just now, dear,” said Mabel, soothingly. “She
knows you can’t leave the team. Now don’t worry.”

Joe sank down in the chair again, his head in his hands. Finally he
looked up and asked:

“How about Clara? Are things as bad there as we thought they were?”

“I’m afraid so, Joe. It seems to me that Clara is getting more and
more entangled with that millionaire all the time. He reads poetry to
her, too, in spite of the fact that he’s a great, strapping, athletic
looking chap.”

“Oh, then you saw him?” cried Joe, all interest at once.

“Saw him!” repeated Mabel, with a short laugh. “You might better ask me
if I saw anything else. He was around the place from morning to night.
I think if Mother Matson hadn’t been in such poor health he would have
come around to breakfast, too.”

Joe got to his feet and strode around the room, hands thrust deep in
his pockets.

“Serious as all that!” Mabel heard him mutter to himself. “How does
Clara act? How does she treat this--boob?” he demanded, suddenly
stopping short in front of Mabel and glaring at her in exasperation.
“Does she encourage him?”

“You might call it that,” Mabel returned, with a puzzled frown.
“She certainly accepts his attentions. Lets him take her out in his
beautiful car, plays tennis with him, and listens while he reads his
foolish poems to her.”

Joe literally ground his teeth in futile rage and exasperation. He
began again his restless pacing of the room.

“Did you have a chance to talk to her?” he continued his
cross-examination. “Did you ask her what she meant by treating a fine
fellow like Jim so shabbily?”

“You forget, Joe dear, that I’m not Clara’s guardian. It wasn’t my
place to take her to task. All I could do was try to sound her. She
evaded all my questions with some light answer, and when I asked her
point-blank whether she intended to turn Jim down in favor of her
millionaire----”

“What did she say?” interrupted Joe, swiftly.

“She merely remarked that I ought to know better. She seemed to be
offended, and if I had pressed things just then the result might have
been a real quarrel. I thought the best thing to do was drop the whole
thing. After all, Clara is old enough to know her own mind.”

“I doubt it!” said Joe, bitterly, adding in helpless indignation as he
again faced his wife: “Can you imagine any reasonably intelligent girl
turning down good old Jim for a flossy millionaire?”

“Well, money sometimes dazzles a girl, especially young and very pretty
ones like Clara,” returned Mabel, judicially. “I tell you what let’s
do, Joe. I know it would be lovely to have our first dinner alone
to-night, but don’t you think we might include Jim? It might cheer him
up.”

“It would be an act of charity,” agreed Joe. “Jim is pretty low in his
mind these days. I’m sure he guesses there is something wrong.”

But in spite of their whole-souled attempt to give Jim a good time
that night, both Joe and Mabel felt that they had failed. Jim tried
to rouse himself and meet their fun with some of his own, but nothing
could disguise the fact that his heart was not in it.

He asked one or two listless questions about Clara, almost, Mabel
thought, as though from a sense of duty, and after that maintained a
dead silence on the subject they both knew was uppermost in his mind.

They had dined in a jolly restaurant full of lights and music, but
despite the hilarity all about them, their party had been a dismal
failure. They were glad when the last course was over and they could
leave the place.

It was when they had reached the hotel and Mabel had slipped into
another room to remove her hat and cloak that Joe turned to his chum
with a casual question.

“Got your letter from Clara all right this week, did you?” he asked, in
a tone that was not quite natural.

Jim looked at him, surprised, then turned away before he answered
shortly:

“Not yet.”



CHAPTER XXIII

BLUNDERING OLD REGGIE


“Oh, Joe, I do believe I’ll go shopping to-day.”

Mabel turned from the window where she had been standing looking down
into the street. It was a glorious day, bright and sunshiny, and her
face reflected the brightness of it.

“I do so like to shop in nice weather,” she added, as she saw Joe’s
indulgent smile. “And if you like, I’ll stop and buy you some gorgeous
neckties.”

“Dear girl, is that a threat or a promise?” teased Joe.

“Very well, I shall be completely selfish and buy everything for
myself,” Mabel promptly replied, adding with a sigh: “How you do wreck
my generous impulses!”

“Didn’t mean to, honey, honestly,” said Joe, contritely, adding with a
courage that none appreciated more than Mabel herself: “If you buy me a
necktie, I swear to wear it whatever happens!”

Mabel made a face at him and disappeared into the other room, returning
almost immediately with her hat and coat on.

“I won’t have much time between practice and the game,” Joe told her,
as they went down together in the elevator. “So have a good time, girl.
Take in a show if you like.”

Mabel promised to enjoy herself, and a few moments later they parted in
the sunny street, going their separate ways. Mabel turned to wave to
him before she was swallowed up in the crowd, and Joe thought with a
full heart how lucky he was.

“If I were in poor old Jim’s place now, how would I feel?” he asked
himself, and instinctively thrust the unpleasant thought away from him.
He knew the agony of mind he would have suffered if at any time he had
been in danger of losing Mabel, and pity for his chum took on a new
intensity. He was almost afraid to meet Jim for fear of seeing that
hopeless, lost look in his eyes.

“He certainly knows--or guesses--something,” he told himself. “If I
get a chance to-day I’ll sound him out on the subject. After all, it
sometimes helps a patient to have the wound lanced.”

After the Giants had dropped another game, the chums, tired and
disgruntled, turned their steps toward the hotel again. Jim seemed
more than ordinarily depressed and met Joe’s attempts at conversation
with discouraging monosyllables. Several times Joe tried to lead up to
the subject of Clara, only to be rebuffed by Jim’s laconic replies.

After that Joe relapsed into silence, studying his chum thoughtfully.
The thing was getting serious. Jim’s silence and moroseness were
growing on him. And the worst of it was that he did not seem to care.
It was this very lethargy that Joe found most alarming. He would have
welcomed an outburst of some sort, even condemnation of Clara and her
actions. It was Jim’s brooding taciturnity that baffled him.

They had almost reached the hotel when Joe felt a hand on his arm and
turned to find himself confronted by a dazzling person. He blinked, and
discovered that the vision was Reggie, dressed as always, in the latest
fashion from smart soft hat to immaculate spats. Reggie swung his cane
and beamed. Perhaps because the friendly face with its inevitable
monocle was a welcome contrast to Jim’s moodiness, Joe greeted his
brother-in-law with more than usual enthusiasm.

“Say, but you’re a sight for sore eyes, old chap!” he cried. “When did
you blow in?”

“About an hour ago. Been busy all this time lookin’ up a novel tie or
two. Stopped in all the shops hereabouts and, bah Jove, the best they
could show me was a creation of salmon pink with yellowish polka dots.
No taste, no taste whatever, one might say!”

“Poor old Reggie!” said Joe, piloting him toward the hotel entrance
and looking invitingly at Jim. “I’ll put you wise to a couple of shops
where you can get all the novel neckties you want. Come on upstairs,
old boy, and see Mabel. She’ll be pleasantly surprised. Coming, Jim?”

Jim hesitated for a moment, then nodded. The three stepped into the
elevator and were swiftly shot up to the fourth floor. As they left the
elevator, Reggie looked Jim over critically and gave vent to one of his
too-frank observations.

“Lookin’ rather seedy, old chap,” he said. “Off the feed bag and
sleepin’ badly, eh?”

“Not at all. I’m feeling as fit as a fiddle,” retorted Jim, brusquely.

The curt tone caused Reggie to look at the other in mild surprise, and,
seeing that he was about to give voice to this emotion, Joe quickly
changed the subject, keeping the conversation on safe ground until they
reached the door of his rooms.

Mabel had not yet returned from her shopping expedition, and Joe felt
curiously deserted as he led the way into the quiet place.

“Mabel is out buying up the department stores,” he said. “Reckon she
will be back most any time now. Tell us about yourself, Reggie. Every
one well at home?”

Reggie glanced briefly at Jim, who had slumped into a chair and was
staring abstractedly out of a window, then turned to Joe.

“Very well, old chap. In excellent health and spirits,” he replied,
puffing at a cigarette. “Missing Mabel, of course. It is really quite
remarkable how that girl stirs things up. Bah Jove, it’s a gift. Bally
place gone dead without her, you know.”

“Do you think you can tell me anything about that?” inquired Joe, with
a humorously uplifted eyebrow. “I know all there is to know about
missing Mabel!”

Jim turned from the window, rousing himself with difficulty from his
abstracted mood.

“I think she’s coming now,” he said. “Thought I caught a glimpse of a
red hat in the crowd. Guess I’ll be going, Joe,” he added, listlessly.
“You three will have a lot to talk about.”

“Hang around, old boy,” urged Reggie, cordially, placing the monocle in
his eye the better to stare at the disconsolate Jim. “Always regard you
as one of the family, don’t we? You would be offending Mabel by running
away just as she arrives, you know. Stick around, old chap. She will
be here presently. Ah, here she is now.” He rose quickly, the monocle
falling to his immaculate waistcoat, the most genuine pleasure on his
thin face.

He took a step toward the door, but Joe was before him. He caught his
young wife--and several bulky parcels--in a bear’s hug, and when she
emerged several seconds later, her face was flushed and the little red
hat was set distractingly over one eye.

“Oh, Joe, and it was a new one, too!” she wailed, evidently referring
to the hat. “I had such a gorgeous time. I bought and bought and
bought-- Who is that in the corner? Reggie, you old darling! Come here
and give me a hug. Oh, this is just the best surprise ever.”

“Rippin’. Had an idea you would like it all along,” replied Reggie,
complacently, as he favored his sister with a brotherly embrace. “You
look perfectly stunning, you know. I say,” he added thoughtfully, “did
you see old Jim, hidin’ over here in his corner? I take it your neglect
is not intentional? No feud or the like, is there?”

“Oh, Reggie, don’t be so silly,” said Mabel, flushing a little as she
went over to Jim. “I just didn’t see him at first, that’s all.”

She held out her hand and Jim squeezed it heartily. There was a dumb
suffering in his eyes that tugged at her heart. If she could only tell
him something about Clara, something reassuring and heartening!

Mabel was in the midst of a laughing recital of her shopping tour when
the telephone rang and Joe, answering it, found that McRae was in the
hotel lobby waiting to speak to him. Reluctantly Joe excused himself,
while Mabel disappeared into the other room to get ready for dinner.

Reggie, left alone with Jim, turned his quizzical gaze upon the latter.
It was evident that Reggie was very much puzzled by Jim’s strange
behavior. And when Reggie scented a mystery he headed straight for the
solution of it with a doggedness worthy of a better cause.

“Hard luck the team’s been runnin’ in lately, old chap?” he began.

“No hard luck about it. Bad playing. Bad team work,” snapped Jim.

“Well, you shouldn’t worry, anyway, old chap, you really shouldn’t,”
reproved Reggie, mildly. “Bad for the game you know, and bad for the
good old constitution.”

Jim looked at him, a slow anger in his eyes.

“If I never had anything worse than my constitution to worry about, I’d
be all right,” he said, and turned his back upon Reggie, hoping that
such action would terminate the conversation. But Reggie, in sublime
ignorance, blundered on.

“I say, Jim, I’ve got it now. Worried because Clara couldn’t come on
with Mabel, eh? No doubt she wanted to come--rather. I say, old chap,”
he added, archly, lighting another gold-tipped cigarette, “better tend
to your knittin’.”

Jim, who had risen and was moodily pacing up and down, stopped and
looked at Reggie.

“What’s that?”

The quiet of his tone disarmed Reggie, who went on beaming pleasantly.

“Why, that millionaire who is hangin’ around Clara, you know. Mabel
has told you, hasn’t she? Have I spilled the beans, Jim--let the jolly
old cat out of the bag, and all that? Frightfully sorry. I thought you
knew----”

Reggie’s explanations and excuses wavered into silence before the
expression on Jim’s face. At that moment he thought of nothing but
escape, and with a few muttered phrases about “huntin’ up Joe,”
blundered from the room, leaving Jim to his furious thoughts.

When, a few moments later, the door opened to admit Joe, Jim turned
upon him, all the pent-up worry and nerve strain of the last few weeks
finding vent in a flood of words.

“I knew you and Mabel were holding something back all the time, Joe.
I’ve known from Clara’s letters, for a long time, that something was
wrong. If you’re a friend of mine and have any regard for me, tell me
about this millionaire who is hanging around Clara.”

“Has Reggie----”

“Yes, Reggie has!” retorted Jim, grimly. “Go ahead, Joe, and tell me
the truth.”

Seeing that there was nothing for it, Joe told all he knew about Jim’s
rival, glossing over the details and making as light of the whole thing
as possible.

“So that’s that!” said Jim, quietly, when Joe’s explanation had
stumbled into silence. “The end of everything!”

Joe, feeling deeply for his chum but powerless to comfort him, said,
with a forced cheerfulness, “All this probably sounds a hundred times
worse than it really is, Jim. When you go down there----”

“If she wants to marry for money, let her!” interrupted Jim, with sudden
ferocity. “Do you suppose I’d deprive her of her pet millionaire? Not
much!”



CHAPTER XXIV

GETTING A CONFESSION


“It cuts me to the heart, Jim,” said Joe, with deep feeling, laying his
hand affectionately on his chum’s arm. “I can’t tell you how sick I
feel about the whole thing. Nothing that affects you can fail to affect
me. You know that, don’t you, Jim?”

“Of course I do, Joe. You’ve been a brother to me ever since I joined
the Giants. Whatever success I’ve had in my work has been due to your
kindness, your teaching, your encouragement. Don’t think I’ll ever
forget it. I shouldn’t have burst out the way I did, but you can’t know
the misery I’ve endured in the last few weeks. It was bad enough when
I only had a vague suspicion that things weren’t right. Now it seems
more than I can stand. It’s hard, Joe, to see your house of cards come
tumbling to the ground.”

“I know it is, Jim,” replied Joe, with warm sympathy. “But take it from
me, Jim, your house hasn’t fallen yet. I’m sure that Clara is true
blue at heart, and that no matter how things look, there must be some
explanation that will clear up everything.”

“I hope so,” said Jim, though there was not much hopefulness in his
tone. “I’ve got to know soon or I’ll go crazy. You see how this thing
has knocked me out of my stride. I’m not pitching up to my usual form,
and you know it.”

“I’ve noticed it, of course,” said Joe. “And I’ve guessed the reason.
You’ve got all the old stuff, all the strength and cunning, but you
haven’t been able to use it because of the burden on your mind. Even
at that, though, you’ve been turning in more victories than the other
fellows.”

“Which isn’t saying much, the way the team is running now.”

“All the more reason for taking a big brace, old boy!” exclaimed Joe,
giving him a hearty slap on the shoulder. “Try to throw off your
troubles and work your head off for the success of the team.”

“I’ll do it,” promised Jim, as he shook his chum’s hand to bind the
bargain.

“Good,” said Joe, heartily. “And promise me one thing, Jim. Don’t
hint at anything of this in your letters to Clara. Nothing can
really be explained in a letter. Nothing in the world has caused
so much estrangement, so much heartache, as trying to arrange a
misunderstanding by letter. You can’t say just what you want, and what
you do say is never understood just in the way you want it to be. Wait
until you can see Clara face to face, and I’ll bet the whole thing will
be cleared up in five minutes.”

“But that will be at the end of the season!” exclaimed Jim, in dismay.

“Not so long as that, I guess,” said Joe. “I’m going to see if I can’t
by some means get Clara to make a flying visit to New York.” He paused
a moment, and his brow clouded with anxiety. Then he resumed: “Of
course she can’t do it right now because my mother is in too critical a
condition. But if the operation turns out all right and she has a good
recovery, it might be managed. If not, I have something else in mind
that I’ll talk to you about later.”

To Joe’s already overburdened mind was added another worry in the game
with the Bostons the next afternoon.

Jackwell and Bowen, while they had been affected by the general
slump of the team, had given no evidence of a return of the peculiar
nervousness that had marked their actions earlier in the season. But
Joe noticed on that afternoon, the frequent looks at the stand and the
pulling of their caps over their faces for which he had before taken
them to task.

Merton was pitching, and Joe was playing in left. In the fourth
inning, an easy fly came out to Bowen and he made a miserable muff.
Jackwell also made a couple of errors at third. In each case the
blunders were costly, as they let in runs.

“What made you drop that fly, Bowen?” Joe asked, as the Giants came in
from the field.

“I lost it in the sun,” replied Bowen. “At this time in the year the
sun comes over the grandstand in such a way that it’s right in my eyes.”

“Haven’t heard you complain of it before,” remarked Joe, dryly. “For
the rest of this game I’ll play center, and you shift over to left.”

The change was made accordingly. In the eighth inning another fly came
to Bowen and again he dropped it while the crowd booed. The error let
in what proved to be the winning run for the Bostons.

“I want to see you fellows after the game,” said Joe, curtly, to the
two men. “Wait around the clubhouse after the others have gone.”

When the clubhouse was finally deserted by all but the three, Joe
turned to them sternly.

“I’m fed up with this mystery stuff,” he said. “It’s got to end right
here. It lost the game for us this afternoon, but it isn’t going to
lose another. Come across now and make a clean breast of it.”

The two men looked at each other uncertainly.

“You heard me,” said Joe. “Out with it now, or I’ll see that you’re
fired off the team.”

“All right, Mr. Matson,” Jackwell spoke up with sudden resolution.
“I’ll tell you just what the trouble is. Ben and I are afraid that
detectives are after us.”

“Detectives!” ejaculated Joe, with a start. “What are they after you
for? What have you been doing?”

“Nothing wrong,” declared Jackwell, earnestly, and Bowen echoed him.

“Why should they be after you, then?” asked Joe, with a faint tinge of
skepticism in his tone.

“We got mixed up in a shady business,” explained Jackwell, with a look
of misery on his face. “But we didn’t know there was anything wrong
about it till it went up with a bang. You see, Mr. Matson, this is
the way it came about. Last winter, Ben and I were rather up against
it--short of ready money. You know what poor salaries they pay in the
league we came from. We were down in Dallas, Texas, and the oil boom
was on. We saw an ad for men to sell oil stocks, and we answered it.
The fellow at the head of it--Bromley was his name--was a smooth sort
of chap and could talk any one into anything. From his description,
we thought his oil well was an honest-to-goodness well, and we sold
a lot of stock for him. Then came the blow-up, and it turned out
that his well was just a dry hole in the ground. He got out from
under just before the crash came, and I heard he went to Mexico. The
federal officers got after him and all connected with it. We heard that
warrants were out for us, and we skipped North. But until the company
broke we thought they were straight as a string. We wouldn’t have had
anything to do with it if we had thought it was crooked. We were just
roped into it. That’s as true as that we’re sitting here this moment.
All that either of us got out of it was part of our salaries and part
of the commissions that were promised.”



CHAPTER XXV

IN THE DEPTHS


The story had a ring of sincerity that was not without its appeal to
Joe. Still, he knew that some of the most plausible stories are told
by the worst of crooks, and before accepting it fully he determined to
make some investigations on his own account.

“Dallas is a long way from here,” he remarked, as he eyed the two men
keenly. “What makes you think the federal agents are looking for you?”

“Because we know some of the men that are in the Dallas branch,”
replied Jackwell, “and on several occasions we’ve seen one or more of
them at the Polo Grounds and at other fields on the circuit.”

“That doesn’t say they’re looking for you,” said Joe. “I suppose all
of them take in a game when they get a chance. Besides,” he went on,
as another thought struck him, “if they really wanted you, it would be
no trick to get you. Your names appear in the papers in the scores of
the game every day. Every one that follows the game knows Jackwell and
Bowen.”

“True enough,” admitted Jackwell, a little shamefacedly. “But, as a
matter of fact, we didn’t go by our own names while in Dallas. You
see we thought the rest of the baseball players would think that we
were kind of hard up to be working in the season when most of them are
resting. I can see now that it was a foolish sort of feeling. But,
as Ben said, actors and actresses don’t go by their right names, and
authors use names that are not their own, and we had as much right to
do it as they had.”

“I suppose you had,” admitted Joe. “Though in business I think it’s a
mistake not to go under your own name. What names did you go by?”

“Dan was Miller and I was Thompson,” put in Bowen, who up to now had
let Jackwell do most of the talking. “So you see they don’t know
Jackwell and Bowen, but they might recognize our faces, just the same.
I suppose they have descriptions of us, and that’s the reason we hate
to go on the field when we see they’re around.”

“And why you pull your caps down over your faces when you do go out,”
added Joe. “Well, boys, I’m glad you’ve told me what’s been bothering
you. Perhaps the very telling will take some of the load off your mind.
For the present, I’m going to take your word for it that you didn’t
knowingly do any wrong. But I tell you frankly that I’m going to have
the matter looked up, and if you haven’t told me the truth, you’ll have
to get off the team. McRae won’t have any one on the Giants that isn’t
as white as a hound’s tooth, as far as character is concerned.

“But in the meantime, you’ve got to play ball. We can’t let your
personal troubles interfere with the success of the Giants. There’s
been many a time when I’ve had a load of trouble on my mind, but I’ve
played ball just the same. The chances are that you’re magnifying this
thing, anyway. You don’t really know that there are any warrants out
for you at all. You say you heard there were, but the chances are that
if there were they’d have nabbed you before you heard anything about
the warrants. Those government fellows don’t hire a brass band to let
you know they’re coming. Perhaps you’re tormenting yourselves about
something that never happened. And even if it did, the agents have lots
of bigger cases to look after, and they may have forgotten that you’re
alive. But whether they have or not, the thing that interests me just
now as captain of the Giants, is whether or not you fellows are going
to play the game. How about it?”

“I will, Mr. Matson,” said Jackwell, with decision. “I’m going to put
this thing out of my mind and play the game for all it’s worth.”

“Count me in on that,” declared Bowen, with emphasis.

“That’s the stuff!” returned Joe. “Just remember that the coward
dies a thousand deaths while the brave man dies only once. Half the
troubles that worry us in life are those that never happen. Now forget
everything but that you’re ball-players, that as honest men you owe
your best services to the team, and that the Giants have got to win the
flag this year. That’s all for now.”

The results of this heart-to-heart talk were not long in coming. Both
Jackwell and Bowen seemed to brace up wonderfully. The former took
in everything that came his way and made plays that seemed almost
impossible. Bowen ranged the outer garden in first-class style and put
Wheeler and Curry on their mettle to keep up with him.

The brace that they had taken was not long in communicating itself to
other members of the team, and the Giants began to come out of their
slump. A stern chase is proverbially a long chase, and it proved so in
this case, for the Pirates and the Chicagos had made hay while the sun
shone, and had piled up a commanding lead. But the case, though hard,
was not yet desperate, and the Giants had not relinquished hope of
coming out ultimately at the head of the heap.

As Joe had promised himself, he looked up the Dallas matter. He had
fully made up his mind that if the men had been guilty of crookedness
they would have to get off the team. He would miss their playing
sorely, and would have all kinds of trouble in plugging up the holes
that would be left by their departure, but anything was better than a
scandal that would damage the game. Of course, the ultimate decision
would be made by McRae, but Joe knew his manager well enough to feel
sure that he would be in accord with him in this matter.

Joe got in touch with a lawyer, who in turn communicated confidentially
with a Dallas law firm, asking it to make inquiries in the oil-well
case and find out whether there had been any warrants or indictments
out for men named Miller and Thompson, and if so, to find out the exact
charges on which the instruments were based.

A week or so elapsed before a reply was received. Joe tore the letter
open eagerly and ran his eyes over the contents. Then he gave a shout
of exultation and brought his hand down on his knee with a resounding
slap.

“What’s the matter?” asked Jim, looking up in some surprise. “Any one
left you a million dollars?”

“Not exactly that,” laughed Joe. “But I’ve just learned something that
makes me feel mighty good, just the same.”

His elation was caused by these words in the letter:

    “In re Miller and Thompson, we beg to report that there were
    no warrants or indictments handed down for these men in the
    Bromley case. Investigation convinced officials that they had
    no guilty knowledge of the fraud. The only documents connected
    with them were subpœnas calling them as witnesses before the
    Grand Jury. Their testimony was not needed, however, as a
    true bill was found against Bromley, who is an international
    swindler with many aliases. He is believed to have fled to
    Mexico. A reward of five thousand dollars is offered for his
    capture.”

“Maybe this won’t be good news for Jackwell and Bowen,” chuckled Joe,
as he folded up the letter.



CHAPTER XXVI

OFF HIS STRIDE


Joe pitched the next day against the Phillies, and won a hard fought
battle. Atkins, the Philly pitcher, was in capital form, and the game
was a seesaw affair, first one and then the other getting the lead, and
it was not until the ninth inning that the contest was decided.

Farley, the third baseman of the Quaker team, was a “rough house”
player, who never hesitated to transgress the rules of the game,
provided that he could get away with it.

One of his favorite tricks was to grab the belt of an opposing player
as he rounded third base. This was often sufficient to throw the runner
off his stride and slow him up for a second, and in a game where
fractions of a second often marked the difference between a run and an
out, the momentary delay many times permitted the ball to get to the
plate before the runner.

He resorted to the same trick also, when the third base was occupied by
an opponent and a long fly was hit to the outfield. If the ball was
caught, the runner, of course, had to touch the bag after the catch
before he started for the plate. Just as he started, Farley would grab
his belt. The umpire’s eyes would be on the ball to see if it were
caught, and Farley could do this with impunity.

It was of little use complaining to the umpire, for that functionary,
not having seen the action, could not well punish it. His eyes were his
only guide in making decisions.

Twice in this series with the Phillies the Giants had lost in this way
what would have been sure runs.

On the day in question, Joe had made a two-bagger and had got to third
on a fielder’s choice. There was but one man out, and the proper play
at this juncture was a long sacrifice fly to the outfield.

Wheeler got the signal and obeyed orders. He sent out a towering fly
that settled into the rightfielder’s hands. The ball had gone high
rather than far, which gave the outfielder a good chance to get it home
in time to nail the runner.

If Joe was to make the plate, he had to get a quick start and do some
fast running. The fly was caught, and Joe broke from the bag just as
Farley grabbed his belt. But not for a second did Joe slacken speed. He
flew along the base path at a rattling clip and beat the ball to the
rubber by an eyelash.

With the roar that went up from the crowd was mingled boisterous
laughter.

Farley was standing at third with a ludicrous look of bewilderment on
his face, holding in his hand Joe’s belt. He did not seem to know what
to do with it, and shifted it from one hand to another as though it
were a hot potato.

Joe had unfastened it on the sly as he stood at the bag, and when
Farley grabbed it, it came away in his hand without Joe even feeling
it. Farley had braced himself for the pull, and the lack of resistance
nearly threw him to the ground. He had to stagger some steps before he
could regain his balance.

Peal after peal of uproarious laughter at Farley’s foolish appearance
rose from the spectators. If ever there was a case of being “caught
with the goods,” Farley furnished it at that moment.

And the merriment swelled up anew when Joe walked out to third, and
with his hand on his heart and a ceremonious bow, politely asked
Mr. Farley to return his property. With his face flaming red from
mortification, Farley threw it to him with a scowl and a grunt, and Joe
with a tantalizing grin took his time in putting it on.

“Joe,” said McRae, as he shook his hand, “when it comes to outguessing
the other fellow there’s nobody in the game that can compare with
you. You spring things that nobody ever thought of before. To-day’s an
instance. More power to you, my boy.”

Though the Giants had made an immense improvement over their previous
recent showing, they were still far from the form they had showed on
their last Western trip. And a great part of this, Joe had to admit to
himself, was due to Jim’s indifferent showing.

It was not that Jim did not try. He was intensely loyal to the team,
of which he had been one of the principal supports. But the old
spontaneity was lacking. He had to force himself to his work, where
formerly it had been a joy to him. And no man can do his best work
under those conditions. Twice within the last few weeks he had been
batted out of the box.

“Joe,” said McRae to his captain, “on the dead level, what is the
matter with Jim? He isn’t the pitcher he was last season or in the
early part of this. What ails him?”

“I’ll tell you, Mac,” replied Joe, who saw the opening he desired. “Jim
has heart trouble.”

“What?” cried McRae, in consternation. “Did a doctor tell him so?”

“It isn’t a case for a doctor,” explained Joe. “The only one who can
cure Jim’s trouble is a certain girl.”

“Oh, that’s it!” exclaimed McRae with relief. “The girls! The girls!
The mischief they make!”

“Don’t forget you were young once yourself, Mac,” said Joe, with a
grin. “Now I want to ask you a favor. I have an idea that five minutes’
talk with that girl will set things all right. Why not give Jim a few
days off? I don’t ask this simply because Jim is my friend. I think it
will be for the good of the team.”

“We’re pretty hard up for pitchers,” said McRae, dubiously.

“I’ll double up while he’s gone,” promised Joe. “I’ll pitch his game as
well as my own. I’m as fit as a fiddle.”

“You’re always that,” answered McRae. “Well, have it your own way,” and
he walked away muttering again: “The girls! The girls!”

“Jim,” said Joe, later that afternoon, “how about taking a train
to-morrow afternoon for Riverside?”

Jim jumped about a foot.

“Do you mean it?” he cried.

“Sure thing,” replied Joe. “I’ve fixed it up with Mac.”

“Glory hallelujah!” shouted Jim. “Joe, you’re the best ever! Where’s
that suitcase of mine?”



CHAPTER XXVII

TAKEN BY SURPRISE


“At last I’ll know where I stand, anyway,” muttered Jim to himself,
as the train sped on toward Riverside. “It wouldn’t have done a bit
of good to write to her. Her letters are so vague and unsatisfactory
these days. I must see her. Then I’ll be able to tell whether there is
anything to this story of my millionaire rival.”

He tried to make himself think that there was nothing in what Reggie
had let slip, in what Joe had reluctantly told him. Surely, they had
been mistaken. Clara, after all that had passed between them, could not
treat him so shabbily!

And yet--the thought made him frown and bite his lip fiercely--where
there was so much smoke it seemed certain there must be some fire. Long
before he had known definitely of a rival with millions who had been
besieging Clara with his attentions, he had thought he sensed a change
in her attitude toward him. Her letters had not been so regular. Once
or twice he had missed them altogether. Those that did come had left
him vaguely disappointed, unhappy. The reason for his dissatisfaction
had eluded him. Then suddenly, it had all become clear. Clara was being
won away from him by a chap with more money than he had! He clenched
his hands and his mouth became grim. At any rate he would have one
satisfaction. He would tell this fellow just what he thought of him,
and that in no uncertain terms! Perhaps the chap would give him some
excuse for thrashing him. His eyes glinted and his fists clenched.

The swift motion of the train was grateful to him. It seemed to keep
time with his hurried thoughts. But the knowledge that every mile of
ground they covered brought him nearer to Clara was more terrifying
than anything else. He thought of the last time he had boarded a train
to go to his sweetheart, and the lines about his mouth grew deeper. He
dreaded what he might find at the end of the journey.

He had expected a letter from Clara that morning, had hoped he would
get it before leaving. But, as had been the case more and more often in
the last few weeks, he had been disappointed, had been forced to start
on his trip with no word from her.

He took out a magazine and tried to read. The words were a meaningless
blur before his eyes, and he threw the magazine away from him with an
exclamation of disgust. What good was he, anyway? He could not, even
for a few moments, force his mind away from his troubles.

And so it was with a mixture of perturbation and relief that he at last
came to an alert consciousness of his surroundings, to find himself at
the next station to Riverside. He pulled himself together and prepared
to face facts. His uncertainty was nearly at an end. It seemed to him
that nothing that could happen in the future could be any worse than
what he had already been through.

Before the train had stopped at Riverside, Jim had flung himself and
his one bag on to the platform. He glanced about him quickly to assure
himself that no old acquaintances were around the place, then started
off at a brisk pace in the direction of the Matson home.

As he approached nearer his destination, he unconsciously slackened
his pace. He had sent Clara no word of his coming. That part had been
intentional. Since he was about to find out the truth, it would be far
better to take the girl by surprise than to warn her of his coming and
so give her time to prepare for it.

Perhaps, he thought bitterly, and his steps lagged still more, Clara
would not even care to deceive him with a show of affection. This
hated millionaire might even have dazzled her to the extent of a
broken engagement with him, Jim.

At the thought, new anger kindled in him, and he strode forward with
resolution. At the moment, all he cared about was a meeting with his
rival. He did not know how soon that desire was to be gratified.

A turn in the road brought him within view of the pleasant Matson
home. At the familiar sight of it, something swelled in Jim’s throat.
He had felt so a part of that household, had been so wonderfully sure
of Clara’s love. Could it be possible that all his faith had been
misplaced, all his hopes and dreams only idle and vain imaginings?

The house was coming nearer, seemed to be rushing to meet him. With
every step he dreaded more to know the secret it was hiding from him.

He had reached the gate, had swung it open noiselessly. The porch steps
invited--the steps where he and Clara had often sat in the twilight,
dreamily planning their life together. But for some reason he avoided
them.

He had no desire to see any one but Clara just then, and instinct
told him he would find her in the garden. So to the garden he turned,
hungrily drinking in the fragrance of the flowers, the ache at his
heart more poignant as each new and familiar object met his eye.

He heard voices and stopped still. One of them was Clara’s. She
was laughing lightly at some pleasantry directed to her in a deep,
masculine voice.

At the sound, Jim suddenly saw red. All the anxiety, the worry, the
heartache of the last few weeks, took toll at once. With a grumble of
wrath away down in his throat, he almost ran the remaining few feet
that hid from him the two in the garden.

Clara was sitting on a rustic bench. She wore a pretty dress of rosy
material that matched the color in her cheeks. She was looking up at a
blond giant whose attitude expressed complete devotion. The giant was
speaking in the deep, musical voice which had so infuriated Jim.

“Miss Matson, I’m going to Europe in a few days and I must know if I
have any chance at all with you. It isn’t possible for me to go on this
way----”

“Good afternoon,” said Jim, in a voice of suppressed emotion. “Sorry to
intrude.”



CHAPTER XXVIII

A FRESH SPURT


Joe had taken the first occasion to see Jackwell and Bowen alone after
he had received the letter from Dallas.

“I’ve learned that there were papers out against you in Dallas in
connection with that oil swindle,” he said, with an assumed expression
of gloom.

“Then they were after us, just as we thought!” exclaimed Jackwell, in
alarm, while Bowen turned pale.

“They were after you all right, but only as witnesses,” laughed Joe,
tossing them the letter. “Read that.”

The expression of relief and happiness that came to both, as they
scanned the welcome lines, was good to see.

“I’d rather have that than a million dollars!” cried Jackwell, his face
fairly beaming with delight.

“We can’t thank you enough for such good news,” said Bowen, equally
jubilant.

“That’s all right,” said Joe. “I had a hunch right along that you
fellows were on the square. All the thanks I want now is to have you
play the game. You’ve been doing well lately, and I want you to keep it
up.”

“That isn’t a circumstance to what we’re going to do,” promised
Jackwell, and Bowen nodded assent. “From this time on, just watch our
smoke.”

And Joe had no reason to complain of their work for the rest of the
season. With the incubus removed that had been lying on their spirits,
they played like wild men, and their work soon enthroned them as
favorites with the Giant fans.

Now the Giants were really climbing again, and the grounds began to be
crowded as in the days of old. The games were played “for blood” from
the ring of the gong.

And what put the capsheaf on Joe’s satisfaction was that Jim came
bursting in upon him one morning like a whirlwind, his face radiant,
and sheer delight in living shining in his eyes.

Joe sprang up to greet him, and Jim grabbed him and whirled him around
the room until both of them were gasping for breath.

“For the love of Pete, Jim!” expostulated Joe, laughingly.

“I’m a curly wolf!” shouted Jim. “I eat catamounts for breakfast and
pick my teeth with pine trees! Where are those Cubs and Pirates and
all the rest of that riffraff? Lead me to them! I want ber-lud!”

“You’ll get your chance,” answered Joe, grinning. “Now sit down and try
to be sensible for a minute.”

“Sensible!” scoffed Jim. “Who wants to be sensible? I’m happy!”

“And so am I,” laughed Joe, “because of the news you bring.”

“I haven’t told you any yet,” countered Jim.

“Yes, you have,” declared Joe. “You’ve told me everything. I know that
everything’s all right between you and Clara.”

“Clara!” repeated Jim, dwelling on the name. “Clara! Say, Joe, that
sister of yours is--is-- Oh, well, what’s the use? There isn’t any word
in the English language to describe her. She’s--she’s----”

“Yes, I know,” laughed Joe. “I’m her brother. Now, old boy, take a
minute to get your breath, and then tell me the whole story.”

So Jim perforce had to restrain his ecstasies and get down to earth,
while Joe listened happily to all the details of the visit that had
swept away the last shadow of misunderstanding between his sister and
his dearest friend.

“You were right, Joe, when you said that five minutes’ talk, face to
face, would wipe out all misunderstanding,” said Jim. “Why, in less
than five minutes after I saw her I was the happiest fellow on earth.
If you could have seen the way she flew to me!”

“What about that Pepperil?” asked Joe.

“Never was in it for a minute,” declared Jim, happily. “Of course, the
poor man was in love with her; but you can’t blame him for that. Who
wouldn’t be? As a matter of fact, I think he was trying to propose to
her at the time I got there. But she forgot he was alive when she saw
me. You see, she’d simply tolerated him for the sake of your father’s
invention that Pepperil had arranged to finance. She couldn’t be rude
to him for fear of injuring the deal, though he bored her to death.
What with the nuisance of his hanging around there and your father’s
anxiety about his invention and your mother’s sickness and the cares of
the household bearing down upon her, the poor girl was nearly crazy.
Told me that when she sat down to write to me her head was in such a
whirl that she hardly knew what she was writing. That’s why her letters
sometimes seemed so abstracted and unsatisfying. But now the deal has
gone through, your mother’s getting steadily better, Pepperil’s sailing
for Europe, and we’re going to be married as soon as the baseball
season is over.”

“Fine!” cried Joe, his eyes beaming.

“And to think that I ever doubted her for a minute!” Jim berated
himself. “Joe, I’m the meanest hound dog that ever lived. I’m not fit
for such a girl. Why, Joe, she’s----”

“Yes, I know,” interrupted the grinning Joe. “Write me a letter and
describe her perfections in that. But honestly, Jim, I’m as happy as
you are.”

“You can’t be!” declared Jim. “It isn’t possible for any one to be as
happy as I am.”

“Well, only a little less happy,” corrected Joe. “And there’s some one
else that will be just as happy as I am. Mabel will be in the seventh
heaven. She’s worried herself sick.”

“Too bad.”

“Feel fit to pitch now?” asked Joe, after a while.

“Fit?” cried Jim. “That’s no word for it. Bring on your teams. They’ll
all look alike to me.”

And Jim proved in the games that followed that this was no idle boast.
He was superb, the old invincible Jim, toying with his opponents and
turning in victory after victory. McRae rubbed his eyes and Robbie
chortled in glee.

“Sure, Mac, ’twas the best thing you ever did, letting Jim off to see
that girl of his,” said Robbie. “’Tis a new man he is since he came
back.”

The Giants were now like a team of runaway horses. They could not
be stopped. With their pitching staff going at top speed, the team
played behind them like men possessed. At home or on the road made no
difference. The Giants were simply bent on having that pennant, and
they strode over everything in their way.

They kept their stride without faltering, and in the last weeks of the
season were rapidly closing in on the Chicagos, who were struggling
desperately to maintain their lead.

On the last Western trip, their strongest opposition was encountered in
Pittsburgh, and they had to exert themselves to the utmost.

The first game resulted in a Giant victory by a close margin, the
visiting team just managing to nose through after a terrific struggle.

Just after the game had ended, Jackwell made a sudden rush for the
grandstand. Bowen, to whom he had shouted, was close behind him.

Joe and Jim followed to see what it was all about, and found a stout,
red-faced man in the grasp of the two athletes, while a policeman was
edging his way through the crowd.

“Arrest this man!” cried Jackwell, to the officer. “He’s a swindler.
His name is Bromley, and he’s wanted in Texas. Detectives have been
searching all over the country for him.”

The man denied it, but Jackwell persisted. The officer turned
uncertainly to Joe.

“I don’t know the man,” said Joe. “But I know that the federal agents
are after a man named Bromley. If this isn’t the man, he can easily
establish his identity at headquarters. These men seem to be pretty
sure of him.”

The officer put his hand on the man’s arm.

“Better come with me and see the Chief,” he said, and the man, still
protesting, was led away. Later, federal agents identified him as the
man wanted, and Jackwell and Bowen split the five thousand dollar
reward between them.

“Glad those boys have settled their account with that rascal,” remarked
Joe, after the crowd had dispersed.

“Yes,” replied Jim. “I wish we could say as much.”

“You mean with the McCarney crowd?”

“Just that. My blood fairly boiled when I saw those scoundrels in the
stand this afternoon.”

“Were they there?” asked Joe.

“Very much there! Heads close together and talking all the time.
Probably hatching up some other plan to down you. I tell you, Joe,
you’re in danger every minute that you’re in this town!”



CHAPTER XXIX

THE SNAKE’S HEAD


“I suppose I am,” replied Joe, impressed by the earnestness of Jim’s
tone. “It’s up to us to keep our eyes open. Luckily, we have only three
more days to stay here. All I want is to have them keep away from me
till the season’s ended. Then the tables will be turned, and I’ll get
after them.”

Joe and Jim changed into their street clothes and came out of the
clubhouse. All the other men had gone, except Iredell, who had not
quite finished dressing.

“Dandy weather,” remarked Joe, as they lingered for a moment on the
steps. “What do you say, Jim, to a little auto ride to-morrow morning,
along the Lincoln pike? Splendid road and fine scenery.”

“I’m on,” assented Jim. “I’d like nothing better.”

The weather was perfect the next day, and shortly after breakfast
the chums hired a speedy little car and set out for their ride. The
machine purred along smoothly, with Joe at the wheel, and as travelers
were comparatively few at that early hour, they had the road largely
to themselves, and on the long stretches could let the car out to an
exhilarating speed.

“This is the life!” exclaimed Jim, jubilantly, as he settled back in
his seat and drew in long breaths of the invigorating air. “It does a
fellow good sometimes to-- Look out, Joe! Look out!”

His shout of alarm was torn from him by a great motor truck that
came darting at high speed from a side road that had been partially
concealed by trees and underbrush.

It came thundering down upon the little car as though it were bent on
annihilating it.

Joe’s quick glance took in the danger, and he swerved sharply to one
side. Not sharply enough, however, to escape the impact altogether. The
truck caught the car a glancing blow that hurled it like a catapult
against a fence at the side of the road, which at that point ran along
the edge of a deep ravine.

The car crashed through the fence, and had it not been that one of the
wheels struck the trunk of a tree, would have plunged headlong into the
gulch. The blow slewed the machine around, where it hung partly over
the edge.

Jim had been thrown against the windshield and his hands were cut by
the flying glass. Joe had clung desperately to the wheel, and though
badly shaken up, had sustained no injury.

Without waiting to see the extent of the damage, the truck had gone on
at breakneck speed. By the time the young men had leaped to the ground,
the truck had vanished around a turn in the road.

Joe and Jim looked at each other, pale with anger.

“Are you hurt, Jim?” asked Joe, as he saw the blood on his comrade’s
hands.

“Only scratches,” was the reply. “And I’m so thankful I’m not dead that
I don’t mind little things like that.”

“It’s almost a miracle that we’re not lying at this moment at the
bottom of the ravine,” said Joe, soberly. “What do you think of those
fellows? Did you ever see such reckless driving?”

“It wasn’t reckless,” declared Jim, grimly. “It was deliberate. That
fellow was trying to run us down.”

“What?” exclaimed Joe.

“Just that,” reiterated Jim. “Did you see the man who was driving?”

“No,” said Joe. “I only saw the truck. I was too busy trying to get the
car out of the way to notice the driver.”

“Well, I saw him,” said Jim. “That is, I saw part of him. He had his
coat drawn up and his cap pulled down so as to hide his face. But I
caught sight of the biggest pair of lob ears I ever saw on any man.
Does that mean anything to you?”

“Lemblow!” exclaimed Joe.

“Lemblow,” assented Jim. “And probably the rest of the gang were in the
truck back of him. I tell you, Joe, those fellows are out to do you.
They failed in their first attempt, and so they tried this.”

“And they came mighty near putting this across,” said Joe. “But how on
earth did they know we were going on this ride? We didn’t mention it to
anybody.”

“No,” agreed Jim, “not directly. But when we first spoke of it
yesterday afternoon, we were on the clubhouse steps. Iredell was still
in there, dressing, and the door was open.”

“By George, you’ve hit it!” cried Joe. “Jim, the time has come for a
showdown. We won’t wait till the end of the season. We may not see the
end of the season if this kind of thing is allowed to go on. I’m going
to get even with those scoundrels before we leave Pittsburgh.”

“I’m with you till the cows come home,” declared Jim. “I’m aching to
get my hands on them. But how are you going to do it?”

“By shadowing Iredell,” replied Joe. “It’s a dead certainty that he’ll
meet the rest of the gang to talk things over before we leave the city.
We’ll keep him in sight every night from now on and follow him to their
meeting place. Then we’ll trim the bunch.”

“Good dope!” ejaculated Jim. “And now let’s get this car out to the
side of the road where the owners can send for it. There’ll be a
good-sized dent in our bankrolls by the time we get through paying for
the damage.”

They took care not to speak of the incident to any one, and at the game
that afternoon showed no antipathy or suspicion in regard to Iredell.
Several times they noticed the covert glances of that individual
directed toward Jim’s scratched hands--glances in which malignity was
mingled with disappointment--but they gave no sign, and conducted
themselves exactly as usual.

But not for a moment was Iredell out of their sight without their
knowing where he was. All their faculties were intent upon using him as
an unwitting guide to the rendezvous of the gang.

For a time after supper, Iredell hung around the lobby of the hotel. It
was nearly ten o’clock before he sauntered carelessly into the street,
where Joe and Jim were ensconced in the shadow of convenient doorways.

Iredell walked along slowly at first, glancing about from side to
side, but as he saw nothing to arouse his suspicion, he quickened his
steps and soon was making rapidly for the outskirts of the city. Joe
and Jim followed at some distance, keeping in the shadows as much as
possible.

In a little while they found themselves in a cheap quarter of the city,
not far from the bank of the Allegheny River. Factories and slag heaps
alternated with shabby dwellings, dimly lighted stores, and low resorts.

Standing in a lot, with no houses for a considerable distance on either
side, was an old one-story shack. From its battered and dilapidated
appearance, it seemed unfit for human habitation. But that some one was
in it was indicated by the light from a smoky oil lamp that threw a
flickering beam through the open window.

Iredell pushed his way along the weed-grown path and knocked three
times. After a moment the door was opened and Iredell entered.

Joe and Jim waited for a brief time, and then, with the stealth of
Indians, crept up near the open window. Bushes were growing all around
the house, and behind these the two friends crouched. The brushwood was
so thick that they were perfectly safe from detection, while at the
same time they had a clear vision of the room and its inmates.

They had no difficulty in identifying the latter. Hupft, McCarney,
Lemblow and Iredell were seated around a table, engaged in an excited
conversation.

There was practically no other furniture in the room than the table and
chairs. It was evident that none of the gang lived there, but that they
had picked out an abandoned house where they could meet in security and
talk with freedom.

There was no attempt to lower their voices, and the unseen listeners
had no difficulty in hearing every word that was said.

“So we’ve made another flivver,” growled McCarney, pounding the table
angrily with his fist.

“Seems so,” said Iredell, moodily. “They turned up at the game this
afternoon just as though nothing had happened. Barclay had some
scratches on his hand, but Matson was unhurt. At least he didn’t show
any signs of injury.”

“I’m beginning to think we can’t down that fellow,” muttered Hupft. “No
matter what we do, he comes up smiling.”

“Nonsense!” snarled Lemblow. “He’s had luck, that’s all. The pitcher
that goes to the well too often is broken at last. There’s luck in odd
numbers, and the third time we’ll get him.”

Joe felt in his pocket and took out an object that was roughly oblong
in shape. He gripped it tightly in his hand and waited.

Jim, who had noted the action, reached out and touched his friend’s arm.

“What’s the game?” he whispered.

“You’ll see in a minute,” returned Joe. “When I start, you follow me.”

“Lemblow’s right,” cried McCarney, rising to his feet, his face
inflamed with passion. “We’ve failed twice, but the third time we’ll
get him. We’ll get him so hard----”

He never finished the sentence.

Something whizzed through the open window with terrific force and
caught him right between the eyes. Taken by surprise, and partly
stunned by the force of the blow, he went down heavily to the floor.

With startled shouts, the other three leaped to their feet and stood
staring at the table on which the missile had fallen. Iredell leaned
forward, took one look and jumped back with a terrified yell.

“It’s a rattlesnake’s head!” he screamed in horror.

His shriek was echoed by the other rascals as they fell back from the
table, trembling as though with palsy.

The next instant, Joe and Jim, who had jumped through the window, were
upon the rascals, dealing out blows with the force of trip-hammers.
Iredell went down from a terrific right on the chin, and lay
motionless. Hupft and Lemblow tried to fight back, but their nerves
were so unstrung and they had been so overwhelmed with surprise at the
sudden onslaught that their efforts were pitiful. Joe and Jim, all
their pent up indignation putting double strength into their muscular
arms, gave them the beating of their lives, until they cowered in a
corner, covering their faces with their hands and whimpering for mercy.

“I guess that will do, Jim,” said Joe at last. “They’ll carry the marks
of this for a long time, and they’ll remember this night as long as
they live.

“Now listen to me, you rascals,” he said, with withering scorn, as
his eyes bored through the discomfited conspirators. “What you’ve got
to-night isn’t a circumstance to what’s coming to you if you ever
dare to lift a finger against me again. I could have every one of you
arrested and put behind bars for years to come if I wanted to, but I
prefer to settle my own quarrels. But just one more move on your part,
and you’ll go where the dogs won’t bite you for a while.

“As for you, Iredell,” he continued, in a slightly gentler tone,
addressing his teammate who was now sitting up on the floor, still half
dazed, “I could have you fired off the team in disgrace and blacklisted
forever, if I told McRae of this dirty work of yours. But I remember
that you have a family and that you’ve played on the same team with
me for years, and I’m going to give you one more chance. No one will
hear of this if you go straight from now on. Cut out these dogs of
companions and play the game like a man.

“Come along, Jim,” he concluded, “I guess our night’s work is done.
We’ll leave the snake’s head behind as a souvenir.”

The night’s work was indeed done, and done so effectively that Joe
suffered no more trouble from the precious trio. As for Iredell, the
lesson had been sufficient, and while there never was a resumption of
the cordial relations of previous years, he gave no further cause for
complaint. At the end of the season he was traded, as young Renton had
filled his place so well that the Giants could do without him.

The Giants “cleaned up” in Pittsburgh, and did so well with the other
teams that the last day of the season found them tied with Chicago for
the lead. The Cubs had played out all their games. The Giants still had
one to play with Brooklyn. If they won, they would have the pennant. If
they lost, the flag would go to Chicago.



CHAPTER XXX

THE FINAL BATTLE


The game was to be played on the Polo Grounds, and excitement was at
fever heat. It seemed as though the whole male population of Greater
New York had determined to see that game. Men waited in line all night,
and from early morning the surface cars and elevated trains were packed
with people going to the grounds.

The weather was fair, and the lovers of the game had a day that was all
that could be desired. The turf had been rolled and groomed till it
looked like green velvet.

The odds were in the Giants’ favor, because they were the stronger
team and because they were playing on their own grounds. Still, they
had been whipped by the same team before on the same grounds, and they
might be again. And the nervous tension they were under because of the
importance of the game made them the more liable to break at critical
points in the contest. The Brooklyns, on the other hand, had nothing
to lose, and for that very reason might be the cooler-headed.

McRae had picked Joe as his pitching “ace” for this deciding contest.
Grimm had been selected as the boxman for the delegation from across
the bridge. At the moment, he was going better than any other of the
Dodgers’ staff, and any team that whipped him would know at least that
it had been in a fight.

But on that day Joe feared no pitcher in the League. He was in
magnificent shape in mind and body. In the preliminary practice with
Mylert he made the latter wince, as the balls came over smoking hot.

“Save that stuff for the Brooklyns, Joe,” Mylert protested, “or you’ll
have me a cripple before the bell rings.”

Not only Joe’s arm but his heart felt good that day. Mabel was sitting
in a box, watching him proudly, and he felt that he simply couldn’t
lose. She was his mascot, and he carried near his heart the little
glove that had rested there when he won the championship of the world.

Beside her sat Clara, flushed and happy and as sweet as a rose. She had
come on from Riverside, bringing the glad news that Mrs. Matson was
making astonishing progress and had now almost entirely regained her
health.

So it was with a mind at peace and spirits high that Joe faced the
doughty sluggers of the team from across the big bridge.

From the very start, it was apparent that he had “everything.” Never
had he been in finer form. Brain and muscle worked in perfect unison.
Every ball he pitched had a reason behind it. He knew the weaknesses of
every batter, and played upon them. The man who was death on low balls
got a high one, and _vice versa_. His speed, his change of pace, his
curve, his fadeaway, his hop, his control--all of these obeyed him as
though under the spell of a magician. If ever a man made a ball “talk,”
Joe did that day.

Again and again the Brooklyns switched their tactics. Sometimes they
lashed out at the first ball pitched. Again they tried to wait him out.
These failing, they resorted to bunting. Nothing was of any avail. They
were simply up against unhittable pitching.

Inning after inning went by without a score. In the fourth, Naylor made
a scratch, and in the seventh, Leete hit the ball for a clean single.
But on these occasions, Joe tightened up, and no man got as far as
second, despite the desperate efforts of their comrades to advance the
runner.

Grimm, too, was pitching fine ball, but not by any means airtight. The
Giants had gotten to him for six hits, but, with one exception, no two
had been allowed in the same inning, and the Giants were as scoreless
as their opponents.

Grimm had thought discretion the better part of valor when Joe had
faced him, and had twice passed him deliberately to first. The boos
of the spectators failed to disturb Grimm’s equanimity. His motto was
“safety first.” On a third occasion, his cunning miscarried, and Joe,
walking into the ball in desperation, had clouted it for a two baser.
But as two were out at the time and the next man fanned, he was left
holding second.

In the ninth, Joe put on extra steam and fanned three men in a row,
amid the cheers of the Giant rooters.

Then the Giants came in for their last half. Grimm made Burkett hit
a grounder to first that was an easy out. Larry sent a Texas leaguer
behind second that was gathered in by the guardian of that bag. Then
Joe came to the bat.

Grimm still had no mind to give him a hit, and the first two balls were
wide of the plate. He tried to put the third in the same place, but his
control faltered and the ball came within Joe’s reach.

There was a mighty crash, and the ball started on a line between right
and center. At the crack of the bat, Joe was off like a frightened
jackrabbit. He rounded first and started for second.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the right- and centerfielders
running for the ball, which had struck the ground and was rolling
toward the wall. He knew that it would rebound, and that one of the
fielders would “play the angle,” and thus get it the sooner.

The people in the stands had risen now, and were shouting like madmen.
He caught just one glimpse of Mabel, standing in her box with her hands
pressed on her heart.

He made second and kept on for third. On and on he went, as though on
wings. His heart beat like a trip hammer. His lungs seemed as though
they would burst. The wind whistled in his ears. He had never run like
that in his life.

He rounded third and made for home. The ball was coming, as he knew
from the shouts of the spectators and the warning yells of his
comrades. Down that white stretch he tore. He saw the catcher set
himself for the coming ball, knew from his eyes that the ball was near.
With one mighty leap, he threw himself to the ground in a marvelous
hook slide that swung his body out of the catcher’s reach and yet
just permitted his outstretched fingers to touch the plate before the
catcher put the ball on him.

“Safe!” cried the umpire. The game was won, the pennant cinched, and
the Giants once more were the champions of the National League.

What Mabel thought of Joe she told him privately. What McRae and
Robbie and his teammates thought of him they told him publicly. What
the newspapers thought of him they told the world. As pitcher, as
batter, and as captain, Baseball Joe was proclaimed the king of them
all.

And what Mr. and Mrs. Matson, the former happy because of the success
of his invention, the latter because of her restoration to health,
thought of their famous son they told to him a few weeks later at a
wedding ceremony in the Riverside home, when Clara placed her hand in
Jim’s and made him the happiest of men.


THE END



THE BASEBALL JOE SERIES

By LESTER CHADWICK

_12mo. Illustrated. Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents
additional._


[Illustration]

   1. BASEBALL JOE OF THE SILVER STARS
      _or The Rivals of Riverside_

   2. BASEBALL JOE ON THE SCHOOL NINE
      _or Pitching for the Blue Banner_

   3. BASEBALL JOE AT YALE
      _or Pitching for the College Championship_

   4. BASEBALL JOE IN THE CENTRAL LEAGUE
      _or Making Good as a Professional Pitcher_

   5. BASEBALL JOE IN THE BIG LEAGUE
      _or A Young Pitcher’s Hardest Struggles_

   6. BASEBALL JOE ON THE GIANTS
      _or Making Good as a Twirler in the Metropolis_

   7. BASEBALL JOE IN THE WORLD SERIES
      _or Pitching for the Championship_

   8. BASEBALL JOE AROUND THE WORLD
      _or Pitching on a Grand Tour_

   9. BASEBALL JOE: HOME RUN KING
      _or The Greatest Pitcher and Batter on Record_

  10. BASEBALL JOE SAVING THE LEAGUE
      _or Breaking Up a Great Conspiracy_

  11. BASEBALL JOE CAPTAIN OF THE TEAM
      _or Bitter Struggles on the Diamond_

  12. BASEBALL JOE CHAMPION OF THE LEAGUE
      _or The Record that was Worth While_

  13. BASEBALL JOE CLUB OWNER
      _or Putting the Home Town on the Map_

  14. BASEBALL JOE PITCHING WIZARD
      _or Triumphs Off and On the Diamond_


_Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue._

  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers      New York



CHAMPION SPORTS STORIES

By NOEL SAINSBURY, JR.


[Illustration]

_Every boy enjoys sport stories. Here we present three crackerjack
stories of baseball, football, and basketball, written in the
vernacular of the boy of today, full of action, suspense and thrills,
in language every boy will understand, and which we know will be
enthusiastically endorsed by all boys._

_Large 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in color. Price 50 cents per
volume._

_Postage 10 cents additional._


  1. CRACKER STANTON
     _Or The Making of a Batsman_

Ralph Stanton, big, rawboned and serious, is a product of the
backwoods and a crack rifle shot. Quick thinking and pluck bring him a
scholarship to Clarkville School where he is branded “grind” and “dub”
by classmates. How his batting brings them first place in the League
and how he secures his appointment to West Point make CRACKER STANTON
an up-to-the-minute baseball story no lover of the game will want to
put down until the last word is read.


  2. GRIDIRON GRIT
     _Or The Making of a Fullback_

A corking story of football packed full of exciting action and good,
clean competitive rivalry. Shorty Fiske is six-foot-four and the
product of too much money and indulgence at home. How Clarkville School
and football develop Shorty’s real character and how he eventually
stars on the gridiron brings this thrilling tale of school life and
football to a grandstand finish.


  3. THE FIGHTING FIVE
     _Or the Kidnapping of Clarkville’s Basketball Team_

Clarkville School’s basketball team is kidnapped during the game for
the State Scholastic Championship. The team’s subsequent adventures
under the leadership of Captain Charlie Minor as he brings them
back to the State College Gymnasium where the two last quarters of
the Championship game are played next evening, climaxes twenty-four
pulsating hours of adventure and basketball in the FIGHTING FIVE....


  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers      New York



MYSTERY AND ADVENTURE BOOKS FOR BOYS

_12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Colored jackets._

_Price 50 cents per volume._

_Postage 10 cents additional._


[Illustration]

=SOUTH FROM HUDSON BAY=, by E. C. BRILL

A thrilling tale of the coming of settlers from France and Switzerland
to the wilderness of the Prairie country of the Red River district, and
the adventures of three boys who find themselves entangled in the fate
of the little colony.


=THE SECRET CACHE=, by E. C. BRILL

The father of two boys, a fur hunter, has been seriously injured by an
Indian. Before he dies he succeeds in telling the younger son about
a secret cache of valuable furs. The directions are incomplete but
the boys start off to find the Cache, and with the help of men from a
nearby settlement capture the Indian and bring him to justice.


=THE ISLAND OF YELLOW SANDS=, by E. C. BRILL

An exciting story of Adventure in Colonial Days in the primitive
country around Lake Superior, when the forest and waters were the
hunting ground of Indians, hunters and trappers.


=LOST CITY OF THE AZTECS=, by J. A. LATH

Four chums find a secret code stuck inside the binding of an old book
written many years ago by a famous geologist. The boys finally solve
the code and learn of the existence of the remnant of a civilized Aztec
tribe inside an extinct crater in the southern part of Arizona. How
they find these Aztecs, and their many stirring adventures makes a
story of tremendous present-day scientific interest that every boy will
enjoy.

These books may be purchased wherever books are sold

_Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue_


  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers      New York



THE BOMBA BOOKS

By ROY ROCKWOOD

_12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. With Colored jacket._

_Price 50 cents per volume. Postage 10 cents additional._


[Illustration]

_Bomba lived far back in the jungles of the Amazon with a half-demented
naturalist who told the lad nothing of his past. The jungle boy was a
lover of birds, and hunted animals with a bow and arrow and his trusty
machete. He had only a primitive education, and his daring adventures
will be followed with breathless interest by thousands._

   1. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY
   2. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AT THE MOVING MOUNTAIN
   3. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AT THE GIANT CATARACT
   4. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON JAGUAR ISLAND
   5. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN THE ABANDONED CITY
   6. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON TERROR TRAIL
   7. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN THE SWAMP OF DEATH
   8. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AMONG THE SLAVES
   9. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY ON THE UNDERGROUND RIVER
  10. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE LOST EXPLORERS
  11. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY IN A STRANGE LAND
  12. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AMONG THE PYGMIES
  13. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE CANNIBALS
  14. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE PAINTED HUNTERS
  15. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE RIVER DEMONS
  16. BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY AND THE HOSTILE CHIEFTAIN


These books may be purchased wherever books are sold

_Send for Our Free Illustrated Catalogue_


  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers      New York



 Transcriber’s Notes:

 --Copyright notice provided as in the original printed text--this
   e-text is public domain in the country of publication.

 --Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_); text in
   bold by “equal” signs (=bold=).

 --Punctuation and spelling inaccuracies were silently corrected.

 --Archaic and variable spelling is preserved.

 --Variations in hyphenation and compound words have been preserved.

 --The author’s em-dash style have been retained.

 --Inconsistencies in formatting and punctuation of individual
   advertisements have been retained.





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