Monday, March 14, 2011

BIGGEST STRIKEOUT IN HISTORY

I am sure you are all acquainted with Ernest Thayer's poem entitled "Casey At The Bat".  Old Ernie did a fair job of reporting that day but because of the rules of poetry he did not exactly get the story completely straight.  This is the true story of what happened that day in Mudville Pennsylvania for I was there sitting right next to Mr. Thayer when it happened.

The Mudville Hens were not exactly the greatest of teams.  They played in a small league that consisted of little towns closely located to one another.  The team from Sancrete had traveled to Mudville to play a series of games that weekend.   The Sancrete Gophers had won the Friday afternoon game by a score of 10-4.  It was not much better day on Saturday when Sancrete had defeated the Hens 6-4.  In those two games the Hens had scored a total of eight runs.  All eight runs had been driven over the fence by the same man.  Casey Kewer.  Casey was a strong young man and carried the Hens on his shoulder.  He was also their best pitcher and so when Casey would pitch there was a good chance that the Hens may just win a game.

On this Sunday afternoon Casey was pitching and was pitching fairly well.  He had given up four runs due mainly to an outfielder falling down while chasing a ball in the fourth inning.  At the bat Casey had hit two homers so far.  They had walked him the other times he came to the plate.  So the stage was set for Ernie's big poem and for me to tell the truth about that day.

It was the bottom of the ninth and as I said earlier the score was 4-2 in favor of Sancrete.  The crowd was hoping for a miracle but it didn't look too well.  Casey was due up fifth in the inning and for Mudville to get five batters up in one inning was a rare thing to happen.  Happy Cooney was the first to come to the plate.  After watching two balls slip to the outside of the plate he got a good pitch and hit it.  It was a ground ball straight to the second basemen who threw him out at first.  One down and three more batters before Casey would get a chance.

George Barrows came to the plate next and after hitting several foul balls manage to hit one that stayed in fair territory.  The problem was it was a pop up to the first baseman who calmly pulled it in to record the second out of the game.  The crowd was down hearted and knew that it looked like Mudville would suffer another loss.  They were down to their last out and up came Lefty Flynn.  Lefty had a fairly good swing and had hit the ball once earlier that day with some force.  As Flynn walked up to the plate the pitcher for Sancrete smirked.  He was about to win another ballgame.  Flynn ran the count to 3 ball and two strikes before fouling off two more pitches.  Then the pitcher made an mistake and left the ball right in the middle of the plate.  Flynn smacked it as hard as he could and before anyone in the infield knew it the ball was rolling out to the center fielder.  Flynn was on bring up the tying run in the body of Jimmy Blake.  Blake was the shortstop for the Hens and his physical nature fit his position.  He was not very big and not very powerful.  He knew he had to figure a way to get on base to give Casey a chance at winning the game.

The pitcher for the Gophers knew that Blake did not have much power so he decided to just throw the ball right down the middle three times and get this game over with.  Jimmy figured that this may be the case so on the first pitch Blake turn his body and laid down a beautiful bunt rolling slowly down the third base foul line.  The third baseman charged as hard as he could and barehanded he picked up the ball and threw to first as hard as he could.  Jimmy Blake was running his heart out and beat the throw by a half step.  The crowd was on their feet yelling and whooping.

Casey stood in the dugout holding his bat and looking it over from top to bottom.  He was going to go out there and do it once again.  He was going to save the Mudville Hens a game.

As Casey stepped up to the plate the Gopher pitcher had a difficult decision.  If he walked Casey the bases would be loaded and all it would take would be a fluke single to lose the game.  He would have to pitch to Casey as much as he did not want to.  Their eyes met as Casey stretch his bat out over the plate to measure his distance from the plate.  Sweat began to break out on the pitchers forehead but he had a job to do and so he got down to it.

The first pitch was outside and Casey smiled at the pitcher as the catcher threw the ball back to him. Casey knew now that this pitcher was going to throw around him.  He would make the proper adjustments to his swing and do what he had to do.  The second pitch was inside by a hair.  Ball two.  Now Casey prepared himself because he knew the next pitch would be hittable.

As the fastball came in it was on the inside corner.  Casey let it go by knowing that he could get a better pitch than that.  The umpire called it a strike and the crowd booed loudly.  Casey held up his hand for the crowd to calm down.  Things were still in control.  The third pitch was almost lie the one previous only off the plate.  The count now stood at three balls and one strike.  Casey was under control.  The third pitch came in a little higher than what Casey was expecting and so he let it go.  The umpire yelled "STRIKE TWO" which brought another angry response from the crowd.  Casey knew it was time to get down to business as did the pitcher.

The next pitch cam in and Casey hit it hard.  It took off like a rocket into right field and began to curve toward the foul pole.  The whole scene suddenly seemed to be in slow motion as the crowd went quiet holding their collective breath.  Then the ball landed just foul.  Casey had come literally within inches of winning the game.

The next pitch came in over the plat but low as Casey struck it and sent it flying off foul in left field territory.  This had gone on long enough as far as Casey was concerned.  He spit on the ground and dug his shoes into the ground.  He flexed his arms with his bat and sneered at the pitcher.  The sneer did not escape the pitchers eye.  He knew what a sneer from Casey meant.  It meant it was business now.

The pitcher stood there looking at Casey ready to hit a home run.  He began to think of how this whole game had come down to this pitch.  He took his wind up and just as he released the ball, eh took just a little speed off of it.  Casey saw the ball coming right where he wanted it.  This ball was gone.  Casey gritted his teeth and pulled the bat back before taking a long stride toward the ball and releasing his swing.  Casey's swing was already finished when the crowd heard the smack of the baseball in the catcher's mitt.  "STRIKE THREE... GAME OVER" yelled the umpire.

As the Gophers ran in and jumped up and down on their pitcher Casey stood at the plate.  He held his bat in front of him.  The handle in his hands still and the barrel sitting on the plate.  The crowd was hushed.  They had never seen Casey strike out before.  Sure he had been put out by fly balls being caught just at the fence and such but a strike out?  Casey Kewer had struck out?

The crowd left the stadium silently.  The rest of the hens slowly walked off to the club house.  Ernie and I sat there looking at Casey, still holding his bat and standing at the plate.  Ernie said he had to get back to the hotel to write about the game and what had just happened.  It would be huge news all over western Pennsylvania.  I decided to stay for a little while longer.

Soon Casey looked up and around himself.  He did not see me as I was to his backside, but he noticed he was all alone in that great cathedral of baseball.  He was alone after striking out for the first time in his own memory.  He had never struck out and had certainly never lost a game in this manner.

Slowly Casey picked up his bat and set it on his shoulder.  I saw his right hand go up to his cheek and the corner of his eye and wipe a tear away as he slowly walked off the field and into the dugout.

Not quite the same drama that Ernie put in his poem but that was the way it happened that day.  It was the last time Casey Kewer played baseball.  They say that during the night he slipped out of Mudville and caught a two A.M. train out of town.  No one is sure where he went to but no one ever saw Casey Kewer on a field again.

The poem became famous and as it became famous so did Casey.  Casey Kewer, possibly one of the greatest ball players of all time is famous not for his hitting and his pitching, but for one strikeout that happened on a Sunday afternoon in Mudville, Pennsylvania.  Casey Kewer was a man.  He was an ordinary man.  The fans, his fellow ball players and the press hung the moniker "The Mighty Casey" on him and he felt he needed to live up to it.  I guess Casey could not forgive himself for not living up to his reputation and so he did not expect the good people of Mudville to forgive him either.

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