2.13.2010

CHILLS AND THRILLS WITH MY NEW BENNY

September 22, 1924

This was the ball game day to beat all ball game days. All five boroughs were crackling, what with the Bucs at the Polo Grounds and the on-fire Cubbies at Ebbets and both games completely critical. Pittsburgh's magical digit stood at two, so the race could all be over or half-over or keep on going.

Cal thought we should each pick one of the games to go to but I said heck with that, let's try both. I pulled off the same trick when I was here with Benny back in May, and that was for games that were hardly important. We could start at Ebbets and if things got out of hand, shoot up to Coogan's Bluff on the el train. Isn't that why they invented out-of-town score boards? Anyway, I needed to be with Rachel and her father in case Brooklyn got their faces pounded in, because that's what a husband and son-in-law should do.

Pretty weird season for these Cubs, huh? They're under .500 for most of the first half, then turn into a juggernaut around the time they're eliminated and they just haven't stopped, having just beat the Giants two out of three. Luckily the Robins missed Pete Alexander this time but still got Vic Aldridge in the opener against Bill Doak. Doak can either be shaky or unhittable, and from the start it's the second category. Chicago can't even scratch a hit off him until Hartnett doinks a single leading off the 5th.

Meanwhile, High triples in a 1st inning Robins run, then scores on a passed ball. Four straight singles and a scoring double play grounder in the 4th make it 4-0, and then the crowd roars even louder because a big "3" goes up for the Giants on the score board to wipe out what was a 1-0 Bucs lead! I look at Cal, who's just bought himself a sausage roll covered in mustard and onions and doesn't look like he's ready to move.

"Whaddya think?"

"What do I think about what?"

"About going to the Polo Grounds."

"Now?? I've just purchased my lunch!"

"C'mon, Cal, you're a big reporter, right? This game's in the bag! You wanna miss the Pirates losing?"

Rachel wasn't thrilled about me leaving, mostly for superstition reasons, but she was almost too fixed on the game action in front of her to notice.

"Shake a leg, old man!" I jabbed Butterworth's arm and he grumbled and followed me out, trying to eat his sausage roll at the same time.

By the time our train rumbled over the Manhattan Bridge there were mustard drips and onion pieces on his coat, and he held onto a pole like he thought we were going to end up in the river. I guess it's what happens when you just take taxis and airplanes everywhere. We changed over to the 6th Avenue elevated line and headed north. Two newspaper boys with bundles of Herald Tribunes under their arms got on and were talking baseball so we asked if they knew the ball scores. "Giants winning, Cubs and Brooklyn all tied up!" he yelled. Butterworth went nuts. "What?? What happened?"

"You got me, mister. I just heard this from a pretzel guy near the park."

So we had to wait all the way up till our stop at 155th Street. What we didn't figure on was how jam-crowded the Polo Grounds was. The Giants were the league champs the last three years, after all, and the Pirates were trying to take their place so every seat and standing spot was filled. There was a smoky cigar haze in the air over the park, and we could even see a bunch of fans watching way up on the bluff.

Butterworth didn't have a press pass for the game so couldn't get us in that way and I hurried him around to a spot under the outfield fence that worked last time. It did this time too, except we were forced to squeeze our way through a crowd to a rope strung across the outfield. Cal was grumpy and uncomfortable but we didn't really have a choice there.

It was 4-2 Giants in the top of the 5th, with Pie Traynor in the box against Art Nehf. We could just make out the Brooklyn score on the raised board behind us, which was now 6-4 Robins after 6th. A guy next to us said he heard from someone else who heard from someone else who heard from a press row kid that Zack Taylor homered off the foul pole to put them ahead.

Then Traynor ripped a single into left that Kelly fielded right in front of us and everyone's shoulders sagged. Max Carey was up, who bats cleanup against lefties and had already doubled in the first Buc run in the 3rd. This time he bombed a pitch high and deep to our left, Kelly raced over, the crowd pulled back on the rope to try and give him more room to catch it but it was way into the crowd and the damn score was tied!

Kremer came back out, trying to get his 20th win that he missed out on last time, but the Giants pounced on him like leopards on a deer. Kelly scorched a doubled, Youngs singled him in, Wilson and Terry walked, Jackson singled in two more, Nehf hit a scoring fly and four New York runs were in! I thought of hurrying back to Brooklyn right then but me and Cal both knew how capable the Pirates were of coming back at any time.

So we stayed put and watched Traynor smack a homer in the top of the 7th to get them closer. Cuyler doubled to begin the 8th, but Nehf bore down and squirmed out of the mess, then after Kelly singled in Heinie Groh for a ninth Giants run, Grimm bounced into a huge double play started by Terry in the 9th, and Kremer had been beaten again. Everyone would survive another day!

We pushed our way through the cheering exit crowd, back to the el platform, and back onto the train. The stupid Cubs had tied the Brooklyn game again with two in the 8th and it was 6-6 going into extra innings. Most everyone on the train was talking baseball, and at every stop, whoever got on would get grilled for an Ebbets Field score.

Believe it or not, they were in the 12th inning, still tied 6-6 when me and Cal got there. Rachel had chewed most of her fingernails off and Saul sat there with a handkerchief draped over his face like an Arab person. "We've had so many chances to win this game," Rachel moaned, "SO many chances!" There was the bases loaded thing in the 7th when Brown popped out. There was the two Robins on base in both the 10th and 11th. Rube Ehrhardt had already thrown almost five relief innings for us, and wouldn't be available the rest of the series, which was bad news for tomorrow with Decatur starting.

And here were the Robins with two more on base against Rip Wheeler and left there when Taylor and Mitchell make outs. Butch Weis reached on a walk with one out in the Cubs' 13th, but Hollocher hit into a twin killing. Neis then walked with one out in our 13th, High skied to center, and up walked Zack Wheat. Rachel couldn't stand it anymore and jumped up on her seat.

"Attack it, Zack!! Attack it!" Some of the fans around us chuckled because a woman was getting loud, but most were too nervous to react. Wheat's a .370 hitter with a bushel of big hits for Brooklyn all year, but this looked like one of those games that was never going to—

CRACK!!

And there it went!! High and far and higher and farther and completely out of sight to right field and Rachel was jumping on me and hats were flying everywhere and Cal's glasses were steaming up and I think he yelled for the first time in his life and Saul was thanking whoever his God was and Wheat ran across the plate and into a hooting crowd of teammates waiting for him, something I'd never seen before and the Robins were four games out for the first time since forever and ain't this the greatest game ever invented?

—Vinny

CHC 000 022 020 000 0 - 6 10 1
BRK 200 202 000 000 2 - 8 12 1

PGH 001 120 100 - 5 9 2
NYG 003 140 01x - 9 11 2

Other National League games today:

CARDINALS 5-12-3, at BRAVES 3-8-2
Nice try for Boston to win another actual game, but no dice for them.

REDS 9-14-1, at PHILLIES 3-13-0
The same can be said for my stinky team, now with a record of 2-17 in September. Were those Black Phillies really here?










NATIONAL LEAGUE through Monday, September 22
Pittsburgh Pirates9158.611
Brooklyn Robins8762.5844
New York Giants8663.5775
Cincinnati Reds8365.5617.5
Chicago Cubs7970.53012
St. Louis Cardinals7276.48618.5
Philadelphia Phillies5692.37834.5
Boston Braves40108.27050.5

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