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The inside-the-park home run is the most exciting play in baseball," former Yankee manager Joe McCarthy once said. Last week at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, the seventh inside-the-park home run of the season was hit in the most lurid circumstances imaginable.
The Chicago Cubs, on the strength of a seven-run eighth inning, were ahead of Pittsburgh 8-5. The first man up for the Pirates in the last of the ninth walked and moved to second on a single. Another walk was issued, and the bases were loaded. Up stepped Roberto Clemente, and fresh in everyone's mind was the ninth-inning homer the little Puerto Rican had hit only four days before to win a game.
Clemente ended all speculation on the first pitch. He swung hard and drove a tremendous fly to the right of the light tower in left field. The ball hit halfway up the wall as the left fielder made a futile leap for it and then bounded along the cinder path to left center field.
The three Pirate base runners bounced across home plate in quick succession. The Pirate team erupted from the dugout shouting, "Arriba! Arriba! [Forward!]."
Clemente, running as fast as a scared Ruben Gomez, took a quick look at the ball still deep in the outfield as he headed toward third. Manager Bobby Bragan frantically signaled him to stop, shouted in Spanish and English and all but tackled Clemente as he came roaring past third with his head down. "The score was tied and I can tell there will be a close play at the plate. I was willing to settle for the tie with none out and a good chance to get Clemente home later," explained Bragan.
But Clemente kept running and flung himself at home plate as the ball arrived with him. The plate was blocked, but Clemente slid around the catcher as he dropped the ball. The game was over, and the Pirates had won 9-8.
The Pirates happily assaulted Clemente and pulled him to his feet. Most of the 11,000 fans in the stands poured onto the field. "The Arriba Kid" tore himself from his enthusiastic teammates and scooted into the locker room.
"Yeah," replied the shaken Bragan.
Clemente grinned. "Nothing would have stopped me. I theenk I have chance to make home. Score now tie and I have nothing to lose. So I just run and run and I know I will score, I theenk." Clemente grinned again and added, "Besides—my father—he say would like that I make grand slam."