1926 World Series
1926 World Series (4-3)
Introduction: A dramatic confrontation
Dark clouds, drizzling rain and chilling temperatures enveloped Yankee Stadium on October 10, 1926. The St. Louis Cardinals had hung around their hotel's lobby all morning waiting for the game to be postponed until Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis told them to get out to the ballpark.
Now a crowd of 38,089 waited as Grover Cleveland Alexander, a 39-year-old epileptic pitcher with a serious drinking problem, walked slowly, so very slowly, from the bullpen to the mound at Yankee Stadium.
"I could see Lazzeri already at the plate," Alexander said later. "He was knocking the dirt from his spikes and hopping around, and I just thought to myself, 'Well I'll give you plenty of time to get more dirt in those spikes'."
Earle Combs stood at third. Bob Meusel was at second after having forced Babe Ruth, who had hit four home runs in the Series. Lou Gehrig was on at first. All but Meusel would go to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. So would Lazzeri, a rookie from San Francisco who had driven in 114 runs for the Yankees that year.
The year before, Lazzeri had hit 60 home runs and driven in 222 runs for Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League. Yankees scout Bob Connery had told general manager Ed Barrow: "Buy him... he's the greatest thing I've ever seen."
The Yankees did, paying $65,000.
They also formed the heart of Murderers’ Row, one of the greatest lineups in the history of baseball. They led the major leagues with 847 runs scored, 121 home runs and a .437 slugging percentage in 1926.
They were 15-1 favorites to beat the Cardinals.
But as Lazzeri waited impatiently at the plate, the Yankees trailed 3-2 with two outs in the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series.
Alexander had already beaten the Yankees the day before in Game 6, his second complete-game victory of the Series, and had spent the night celebrating even though America was in the middle of Prohibition.
As he reached the mound, Hornsby looked at his pitcher and asked, "Do you feel all right?"
"Sure, I feel fine," Alexander said as he looked around. "Three on, eh? Well there's no place to put Lazzeri is there? I'll just have to give him nothin' but a lot of hell, won't I."
Alexander took off a red Cardinals sweater and took just three warmup pitches. Then he nodded that he was ready and Lazzeri stepped to the plate for one of the most dramatic confrontations in World Series history...
Yankees vs. Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals
In 1924, he set a modern-day Major League record by hitting .424, but the Cardinals still finished in sixth place under manager Branch Rickey. In 1925, when the Cardinals started off 13-25, Rickey was fired and Hornsby, after twice refusing the job, took over as manager at age 29.
O'Farrell had been the Cubs starting catcher for a couple of years before a foul tip broke through his mask and fractured his skull. The Cubs then turned the job over to Gabby Hartnett and eventually traded O'Farrell to the Cardinals.
In 1926, O'Farrell would be named the National League's Most Valuable Player as the Cardinals responded to Hornsby's stern and unrelenting managing style by going 89-65 and bringing the first pennant to St. Louis since 1888. They were the last of the eight original National League teams to go to the World Series.
The rest of the Cardinals were pretty good too, even if Hornsby's batting average dropped from .403 in 1925 to .317 in 1926. Third baseman Les Bell hit .325 and drove in 100 runs, Taylor Douthit batted .308 and scored 96 runs and first baseman Jim Bottomley hit .299 with 40 doubles, 19 triples and a league-leading 120 RBI.
Left fielder Chick Hafey, 23, was just getting started on what would be a Hall of Fame career and hit .271. He had a bad sinus condition and terrible eyesight, but he could still hit.
The Cardinals would also pick up two key players during the season that would help them hold off the Cincinnati Reds by two games.
In mid-June, they acquired right fielder Billy Southworth from the New York Giants for part-time outfielder Heinie Mueller and, on June 23, they claimed Alexander off waivers from the Chicago Cubs for $4,000.
Southworth hit .317 for the Cardinals and drove in 69 runs in 391 at-bats. Alexander was no longer the dominant pitcher who had already won 318 major league games before being acquired by the Cardinals, but he did go 9-7 with a 2.92 ERA in 16 games for the team, including a victory over the Cubs in his first game for St. Louis; Hornsby said: "I don't know if we would have won the pennant without him."
The New York Yankees
The Cardinals' opponents would be the New York Yankees, who had won their fourth American League pennant in six years by going 91-63. They had been A.L. champs from 1921 to 1923, but had fallen to seventh place in 1925 as Babe Ruth went through a messy marital separation, missed two months because of a serious stomach problem that required surgery and was suspended by manager Miller Huggins for disciplinary reasons.
In 1926, contrite and determined, Ruth was at his best again, hitting .372 while leading the league with 47 home runs, 139 runs scored and 145 RBI.
Then there was also Lou Gehrig, who would turn 23 in June of that year. Put in the lineup on June 1, 1925, he would not come out again for another 14 years. In his first full season as the Yankees first baseman, Gehrig batted .313 with 47 doubles, 16 home runs and 112 RBI.
There was pitching as well. Waite Hoyt (16-12, 3.84) and Herb Pennock (23-11, 3.62) were future Hall of Famers and Urban Shocker (19-11, 3.38) was right up there with them. Before long, this group of Yankees would be considered possibly the greatest team ever assembled. As a result, the Cardinals weren’t given much of a chance to win the World Series.
"I think a lot of people underestimated our ballclub in that Series," Les Bell said. "The Yankees were top-heavy favorites. But we were fired up."
Five days before the start of the World Series, Hornsby was informed that his mother had died back in Austin, Texas. It was assumed he would go back to Texas for the funeral but Hornsby insisted his mother had wanted him to play in the World Series first.
The funeral would wait. It would have to wait for the full seven games.
Game 1: October 2
HALL OF FAME PITCHING RULES THE DAY
|St. Louis Cardinals||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||3||1|
|New York Yankees||1||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||x||2||6||0|
|W: Herb Pennock (1-0) L: Bill Sherdel (0-1)|
- attendance: 61,658
But Sherdel walked the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the inning and Lou Gehrig brought home a run with a grounder to short, beating Rogers Hornsby's relay to first to avoid an inning-ending double play.
Pennock, the Knight of Kennett Square, was one of the best to ever pitch in the post-season and this day was one reason why. After giving up Bottomley’s single in the first, he retired 19 of 20 batters, walking the other.
He walked two in the eighth but got out of that jam by making a nice play on a grounder back to the mound and didn't give up another hit until Bottomley's single in the ninth.
Sherdel also pitched well but in the sixth, Babe Ruth led off with a single, was sacrificed to second by Bob Meusel and scored on Gehrig's single to right. Tony Lazzeri also singled but Gehrig was thrown out at third by Chick Hafey.
Ruth was 1-for-3 and the Yankees were up one game.
Game 2: October 3
|St. Louis Cardinals||0||0||2||0||0||0||3||0||1||6||12||1|
|New York Yankees||0||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||4||0|
|W: Pete Alexander (1-0) L: Urban Shocker (0-1)|
|HR: Billy Southworth STL, Tommy Thevenow STL|
- attendance: 63,600
Meusel led off with a single, went to second on Gehrig's grounder back to the mound and scored on a single by Lazzeri. Joe Dugan blooped a single to right, allowing Lazzeri to go to third, but Alexander struck out Hank Severeid, the Yankees catcher, for the second out.
The Yankees led 2-0 but Shocker struck out. Earle Combs led off the third with a single and would be the last Yankee to reach base and the only one not to strike out at some point during the game. Alexander would retire the last 21 batters and Combs' fly out to left in the eighth inning would be the only putout by a Cardinal outfielder that day.
Alexander just needed some offensive help and didn't wait long. Bottomley lined a two-run single in the third to tie the game and Billy Southworth hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning to put the Cardinals ahead.
In the ninth, Cardinals shortstop Tommy Thevenow came to bat. Thevenow had hit two inside-the-park home runs in the regular season, his first two homers ever as a big leaguer, and now he lifted a ball to deep right. Ruth got his glove on the ball but couldn't hold it. Thevenow raced around the bases and just beat Ruth's throw for another inside-the-park home run. The Cardinals led 6-2.
Thevenow had ten hits in the 1926 World Series and batted .417. He would go on to play 12 more seasons in the majors but he would never hit another home run again. He ended up going 3,347 at bats without a home run and he would never hit one out the park in his entire major league career.
Alexander had the runs he needed and the Cardinals were on their way back West with the Series tied at one game each.
They had not been home since clinching their first National League pennant and when their train arrived at 3:50 p.m. on October 4, they were met by thousands of people and paraded through downtown St. Louis to Market Square
But the best was yet to come.
Game 3: October 5
|New York Yankees||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||1|
|St. Louis Cardinals||0||0||0||3||1||0||0||0||x||4||8||0|
|W: Jesse Haines (1-0) L: Dutch Ruether (0-1)|
|HR: Jesse Haines STL|
- attendance: 37,708
On May 6, Rogers Hornsby had collided at second base with Reds catcher Val Picinich and displaced two vertebrae. He was back in the lineup three days later but he would suffer from back pain almost daily for the rest of the season.
That, and the rigors of managing, combined to drop his average from .403 in 1925 to .317 in 1926. During the 1920's, it would be the only season in which he batted lower than .361. During those ten years he would also bat over .400 three times.
But the back was a problem and continued to be so during the World Series. Maybe the greatest righthanded hitter in baseball history, Hornsby, with the death of his mother weighing on his mind, went 7-for-28 with just one double and four RBI during the Series, only one of two he played in during his Hall of Fame career.
Babe Ruth played in ten World Series, but so far he was just 1-for-7 in the first two games.
He was 1-for-3 in Game 3, played before 37,708 fans at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. Rain delayed the game for just over 30 minutes in the top of the fourth.
Thevenow then hit a grounder to Lazzeri, who got the force at second. But shortstop Mark Koenig's throw to first was wild and Bell scored the first run of the game.
The Cardinals then took a 3-0 lead on a two-run home run by Jesse "Pop" Haines, their 33-year-old knuckleball pitcher who had been purchased from Kansas City of the American Association after the 1919 season for $10,000 by Branch Rickey.
He was called "Pops" because he was easy-going and helpful to young players. But he also hated to lose and had a fearsome temper.
Haines had not hit a home run since 1920 and would hit just four, including this one, in his major league career. But October 5, 1926 belonged to the righthander from Ohio who would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
On this rainy afternoon, he allowed five hits and three walks while striking out three. His defense turned a couple of double plays behind him and the highest scoring team in the American League, 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, was shut out for only the fourth time that season.
Game 4: October 6
|New York Yankees||1||0||1||1||4||2||1||0||0||10||14||1|
|St. Louis Cardinals||1||0||0||3||0||0||0||0||1||5||14||0|
|W: Waite Hoyt (1-0) L: Art Reinhart (0-1)|
|HR: Babe Ruth NY (3)|
- attendance: 38,825
If Game 3 belonged to Haines, Game 4 belonged to Babe Ruth. The Cardinals started Flint Rhem, their 20-game winner, but he couldn't stop the Sultan of Swat.
Ruth hit the first pitch he saw in the first inning over the Sportsman's Park right field bleacher roof for a home run, the Yankees' first run in 17 innings.
In the third inning, he again went over the roof in right-center to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Across Grand Avenue, which ran behind the right field bleachers, the baseball smashed through a Chevrolet dealer's show window
The Yankees scored four in the fifth to take a 7-4 lead and were still up by three when Ruth came to the plate with one on and one out in the sixth against reliever Hi Bell.
Across the nation, people listened to the game being broadcast for the first time ever on radio. Graham McNamee was calling the game when Ruth hit one to deep center.
"The Babe hits it clear into the centerfield bleachers for a home run! For a home run! Did you hear what I said? Where is that fellow who told me not to talk about Ruth anymore? Send him up here!
"Oh, what a shot. Directly over second. The boys are all over him over there. One of the boys is riding on Ruth's back. Oh! What a shot!... That was probably the longest hit ever made in Sportsman's Park. They tell me this is the first ball ever hit in the center field stands. That is a mile and a half from here. You know what I mean?"
Estimates are the ball traveled almost 600 feet. Ruth walked in his other two plate appearances.
Incidentally, back in the bottom of the third, with two outs, a runner on second and St. Louis having just pushed across its third run of the inning to take a 4-3 lead, one of Ruth's less heralded weapons would come into play, earning yet another rave review from McNamee.
"A single to left. Babe Ruth relayed it home with a perfect throw, a gorgeous throw and gets Douthit trying to come in from second base. Babe Ruth nor no other man ever made a better throw than that. With the same position that he took in catching the ball, he threw for home. Babe shot it like an arrow and Severeid did not have to move for it."
The Yankees went on to win 10-5 and the Series was tied. Reliever Art Reinhart, who replaced Rhem at the top of the fifth inning, allowed the five batters he faced to reach base, with four of them eventually scoring, to take the loss. Waite Hoyt pitched a complete game victory for the Yankees, even if he gave up five runs and 14 hits.
Game 5: October 7
|New York Yankees||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||1||3||9||1|
|St. Louis Cardinals||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||2||7||1|
|W: Herb Pennock (2-0) L: Bill Sherdel (0-2)|
- attendance: 39,552
Herb Pennock faced Bill Sherdel in Game 5 and again they waged a tight pitching duel. But O'Farrell had three hits and his seventh-inning single drove home Les Bell to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead.
To this point, Lou Gehrig was having a quiet Series. Two years hence, Cardinals fans would get a more impressive display of his awesome offensive prowess. In 1926, he would hit .348 but with just four RBI and one run scored. That one run scored however proved to be a crucial one in Game 5.
Sherdel took that one-run lead into the ninth but Gehrig, with his biggest hit of the Series, blooped a ball into left-center that fell between Thevenow, Hafey and center fielder Wattie Holm for a leadoff double.
Lazzeri then bunted down the third base line, beating it out for a hit as Gehrig went to third. Ben Paschal, pinch-hitting for Dugan, followed with a single to center and the game was tied.
The Yankees went ahead in the 10th. Koenig singled off Sherdel and went to second on a wild pitch. Ruth walked and Meusel bunted both runners to second and third. Gehrig was walked intentionally and Lazzeri gave the Yankees the lead with a long fly ball to left.
Pennock allowed a one-out single to Thevenow in the bottom of the inning but that was it and the Yankees were going back to New York needing one more victory in two games in their home park to win the World Series.
Game 6: October 9
|St. Louis Cardinals||3||0||0||0||1||0||5||0||1||10||13||2|
|New York Yankees||0||0||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||2||8||1|
|W: Pete Alexander (2-0) L: Bob Shawkey (0-1)|
|HR: Les Bell STL|
- attendance 48,615
After her husband's victory in Game 2, Aimee Alexander asked him how he felt. "Fine," Grover Cleveland Alexander said. "May win another for Hornsby. You know I sure like that young fellow. He don't tell me nothin' except to go in there and throw them the way I see fit."
Before Game 6, Hornsby spoke to his team.
"If we don't do it today, there ain't any more Series," Hornsby told his players. "But there is going to be more Series. We're going out there today and we've got to win, and we've got to win tomorrow. So get out there and fight your butts off, knock the ball down the pitcher's throat and don't concede one damn thing to these Yankees."
The Cardinals, with Alexander on the mound, did just that.
The Cardinals scored three in the first on an RBI double by Bottomley and a two-run single by Les Bell, added one in the fifth and broke the game open with five runs in the seventh. Bell had three hits, including a home run, and four RBI.
Alexander allowed just two runs on eight hits and two walks in another complete game. He didn't dominate quite as much as he did in Game 2 but he didn't have to, not with the Cardinals swinging the bats the way they did against Bob Shawkey, Urban Shocker and Myles Thomas.
Alexander threw 104 pitches and only 29 were balls. The Yankees were 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position against him. Combs had an RBI single in the seventh. It would be the last hit for the Yankees with runners in scoring position in the Series.
Afterward, Hornsby met with Alexander and they talked about Game 7.
"I may need you Alex," Hornsby told Alexander. "You're the best we've got and if we get into trouble, you're it. So get to bed early as you can and get some rest. You've got a long winter to do whatever you please."
Alexander told Hornsby that for Game 7, "I can throw four or five of the damndest balls they ever saw. Maybe a couple of innings. But I won't warm up."
What happened next, nobody is quite sure. But there's little doubt that Alexander went out and had more than one drink that night.
Game 7: October 10
|St. Louis Cardinals||0||0||0||3||0||0||0||0||0||3||8||0|
|New York Yankees||0||0||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||2||8||3|
|W: Jesse Haines (2-0) L: Waite Hoyt (1-1) SV: Pete Alexander (1)|
|HR: Babe Ruth NY|
- attendance: 38,093
Two Hall of Fame pitchers would start Game 7.
The Cardinals went with Jesse Haines while the Yankees started Waite Hoyt, the 27-year-old righthander who was traded by the Boston Red Sox to New York after the 1920 season and would pitch on six pennant winning teams in the Bronx.
Weather limited the crowd to 38,085 at Yankee Stadium and they watched as Haines and Hoyt started the dreary afternoon with two scoreless innings each. Then Babe Ruth gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead with his fourth home run of the series in the bottom of the third.
With one out in the fourth inning, Jim Bottomley singled to left for the Cardinals. Sunny Jim had grown up on a dairy farm outside St. Louis and would retire to a farm when his playing career was over. He would hit .310, collect 2,313 hits, set a major league record with 12 RBI in one game and be elected to the Hall of Fame.
He had ten hits in the 1926 World Series and the single to left in the fourth inning would start the Cardinals' most important rally of the season.
Bell followed with a tough grounder to Mark Koenig, the Yankees shortstop who couldn't handle it for an error, and Hafey singled to left to load the bases.
That brought up O'Farrell and he lofted a fly ball to left. Bob Meusel settled under the ball and the crowd waited to see what would happen next. If Bottomley tried to score, he would be challenging one of the best outfield arms in baseball, maybe the best of that generation.
But the crowd never saw a great throw. Instead they saw Meusel drop the ball for a shocking and totally unexpected error, allowing Bottomley to score and leaving the bases loaded. Thevenow followed with a single to right, scoring two runs and the Cardinals had a 3-1 lead.
Haines danced in and out of trouble. He walked Gehrig to lead off the fourth but Lazzeri flied out to deep right and Thevenow made a terrific leaping catch of Hank Severeid's line drive to end the inning.
In the fifth, Combs singled with one out and Ruth walked with two outs, his ninth base on balls of Series, a new record. But Meusel, having a tough afternoon, grounded back to Haines and the inning was over.
Bob Meusel, who played ten seasons for the Yankees from 1920 to 1929 was an excellent hitter even if writers found him moody and his manager, Miller Huggins, considered him indifferent to the game.
Meusel had hit .315 with 81 RBI in 1926. He had driven in a career high 138 runs in 1925 and had driven in eight runs in the 1923 World Series. He would average over 100 RBI a season for the Yankees and finish his career with a .309 average.
But in the 1926 World Series, batting in the cleanup spot while Ruth was being walked a record number of times, Meusel failed to drive home a single run in seven games. He was one reason why the Yankees went 8-for-56 (.143) with runners in scoring position during the Series.
The Yankees scored in the sixth. Gehrig grounded out and Lazzeri struck out but Joe Dugan singled and Severeid, who swung a 48-ounce bat, lined one to left-center where Hafey missed making a shoestring catch. Dugan scored and Severeid, as the tying run, went into second base with a double. Then Ben Paschal pinch-hit for Hoyt and grounded back to the mound.
That left the Cardinals with a 3-2 lead when Haines went back to the mound for the seventh to face the top of the Yankees order. Combs led off with a single and was bunted to second by Koenig.
Ruth was intentionally passed and Meusel, still unable to drive home a big run, forced him with a grounder to Bell at third, leaving runners at the corners. Haines then walked Gehrig and, with two outs and the bases loaded, Hornsby called time.
On the mound, Haines' knuckles were bleeding.
"Can you throw it anymore?" Hornsby asked him.
"No," Haines said. "I can throw the fastball but not the knuckler."
"Well," Hornsby said. "We don't want any fastballs to this guy."
In the bullpen, Bill Sherdel was warming up. Legend has it Alexander was sleeping, having done some serious celebratory carousing the night before.
Alexander was one of the legendary drinkers of the game. He was hardly alone in that regard but things supposedly got worse after a year in the Army serving on the battlefields of Europe in 1918. Alexander would later claim that he drank to help combat his epilepsy.
"I don't believe Alex was much of a drinker before he went into the Army," O'Farrell said in The Glory of Their Times. "After he got back from the war, though, he was a real problem."
Alexander was not drunk at the moment but it's highly likely that he was at least hungover to some degree.
Flint Rhem was in the bullpen where Alexander was dozing with a pint of whiskey in his pocket.
According to Rhem, Alexander grinned, "staggered a little, handed me the pint, hitched up his britches and walked straight as he could to the mound."
Hornsby handed him the ball. The plan was to pitch Lazzeri low and outside.
The first pitch was a curve that missed inside, but another pitch hit the corner. Alexander threw one more curve and Lazzeri connected and connected hard...
"A home run all the way..." Hornsby said later.
"Tony jumped at it and hit the hell out of it," Bell said.
The ball went soaring down the left field line and 38,069 saw a grand slam coming until the ball hooked foul at the last instant, either by several feet or a few inches depending on the eyewitness.
"Less than a foot made the difference between a hero and a bum," Alexander said afterward.
O'Farrel went to the mound.
"I thought we were going to pitch him low and outside," O'Farrell said.
"He'll never get another one like that," Alexander replied.
The next pitch was a fastball, low and outside. Lazzeri swung and missed. The inning was over. Alexander flipped his glove into foul territory and walked off the mound.
The Yankees were now hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Alexander went through the bottom of the order in the eighth with dispatch, then started the ninth by getting Combs and Koenig on grounders. That brought up Ruth, and Alexander was hoping to strike him out to end the Series.
Instead he walked him on a full count pitch, just missing low and outside.
Alexander walked in to get the ball from O'Farrell. Home plate umpire George Hildebrand motioned that the pitch had just missed.
"If it was that close," Alexander said to Hildebrand. "I'd think you could have given it to an old geezer like me."
It was the fourth walk of the day for Ruth and the 11th of the Series.
Up came Meusel. During the regular season, Gehrig batted cleanup behind Ruth. But Huggins had switched him and Meusel, so Gehrig was waiting on deck as Alexander went to work on the Yankees' struggling left fielder.
On the first pitch, Ruth surprised everybody by breaking for second. He had stolen 11 bases during the regular season. He had also stolen off Alexander and O'Farrell in Game 6, the Yankees' only stolen base of the series.
This time though, O'Farrell made a strong throw and Hornsby was waiting. He put the tag on Ruth and, just like that, the World Series was over.
Hornsby called it the greatest moment of his career.
Of Ruth, Hornsby said, "He didn't say a word. He didn't even look around or up at me. He just picked himself up and walked away."
Ruth said later he was just trying something.
"You know. I wondered why Babe tried to steal second then," O'Farrell said in Glory of Their Times. "A year or so later I went on a barnstorming trip with the Babe and I asked him. Babe said he thought Alex had forgotten he was there. Also that the way Alex was pitching, they'd never get two hits in a row off him, so he better get in position to score if they got one. Well maybe that was good thinking and maybe not. I had him out a mile at second."
Alexander came back to the Cardinals in 1927 and won 21 games. Hornsby would not be his manager. Hornsby was traded to the New York Giants for Frankie Frisch after getting into a dispute with owner Sam Breadon. O'Farrell would become the manager.
The Yankees would come back strong in 1927 with a team that many believed should be considered the greatest of all-time. Lazzeri and Meusel were a big part of that.
Alexander would pitch for the Cardinals through 1929 and for the Philadelphia Phillies, his original team, in 1930. But he would never stop drinking and would become a virtual vagabond over the final 20 years of his life. At one point he was hired as a security guard at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
At other times, he worked in carnivals and flea circuses and never tired of telling how he struck out Tony Lazzeri in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series.
- Paul E. Doutrich: The Cardinals and the Yankees, 1926: A Classic Season and St. Louis in Seven, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2011.
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