In the innocence of early spring, Al Lopez, the manager of the Chicago White Sox, believed that beating the Yankees meant winning the pennant. So did everyone else. But as summer burned its way toward fall, it became clear that Lopez, and everyone else, had been wrong. The White Sox, after years of trying, had finally beaten the Yankees, but the pennant was not yet theirs. Cleveland, too, had beaten the Yankees and was pressing Chicago hard. Last week, with the White Sox leading the Indians by a game and a half, the two teams met in Cleveland for a four-game series, the most important games of the season thus far.
Despite the protests of the players, coaches and managers that there was nothing necessarily crucial about the series, baseball fans from all over the Midwest crammed into overheated Cleveland. Hotel lobbies swarmed with humanity. Room clerks scurried about like nervous ants while whole families waited impatiently in line. ("Martha, the man says there aren't any more rooms with air conditioning.... But, Martha, all the other hotels are full.")
The switchboard at Municipal Stadium buzzed incessantly on Friday, the day of the first game.
"It's been lit up like a Christmas tree since early morning," said one girl, sneaking a quick puff on a cigarette. Then she returned to her work. "No, sir. The only seats we have are in the outfield. Out near Minnie Minoso and Rocky Colavito."
The afternoon papers ran preseries stories on Page One. Both managers were quoted as saying they'd play the games one at a time.
"Just once," said Joe Falls of the Detroit Times, "I'd like to hear a manager say he's going to play them three at a time."
One paper carried a picture of Luis Aparicio, baseball's leading base stealer, being manacled by a pair of Cleveland cops. Another paper ran a cartoon showing Aparicio and Nellie Fox, dressed like Chicago gangsters, complete with sawed-off shotguns, being driven toward Municipal Stadium in a black sedan.
At 5 p.m. on Friday, three hours before game time, the first fans began to arrive, strolling down West 3rd Street, which leads from the center of town to the ball park and Lake Erie. Vendors along the way offered plastic Indians and mechanical cats that meowed and rolled over.
Both teams appeared on the field early. While the Indians took batting practice, the Sox lolled about in their dugout and in the box seats near by, reflecting casual confidence. Occasionally they yelled insults at the Indians. The Indians yelled back.
Inside the Chicago dressing room, Al Lopez answered the questions of a half dozen reporters.
"You nervous before this crucial series, Al?" one of them asked.
Lopez looked at the man. "Why should I be nervous?"
Joe Gordon, Cleveland's manager, was also answering questions. Yes, he thought Cleveland could win. Of course he did. All the Indians had to do was play steady ball, the same as they had played in their last eight games, all of which they had won. You can't make mistakes against the White Sox, Gordon said.
Game time had arrived. Municipal Stadium had filled and still there were people coming in.
"Standing room only," boomed a loudspeaker outside the stadium. There were fans in nearly every seat. They were packed in the outfield, between the wire fence and the permanent stands. They were in the aisles and on the ramps. They were loud. When the Cleveland lineup was announced, the noise drowned out neighborly conversation. There were over 70,000 people on hand.
They saw a good game. The Indians tied the score at 3-3 in the fifth and had two men on base with one out. Tito Francona was up. Chicago's pitcher, Bob Shaw, looked very tired. His uniform was soaking wet. But he got Francona to pop up. That brought up Rocky Colavito, and surely Casey of Mudville never received such a roar. Rocky responded with a long drive, deep into the seats, but a few feet foul. Then he swung a third time, and this time he missed.
Shaw was never again in trouble. In the seventh inning, Chicago's Sherm Lollar hit a long fly ball with two men on. Minnie Minoso had it, then bumped against the wire fence and the ball popped out of his glove and over the fence for a three-run home run. That was the game. The White Sox lead opened to 2½ games.
The next afternoon, with 50,000 people sitting in miserable heat, the game went six innings with no score. Jim Perry, Cleveland's fine rookie pitcher, had the White Sox in hand. Then in the seventh, with two out and the speedy Jim Landis on first, Earl Torgeson singled to left field. Minnie Minoso was anxious to hold Landis to second base and, in his haste, let the ball roll two feet behind him. That was all Landis needed. He never stopped at third and, although the play at home was close, Landis was safe. The Sox added a run in the eighth on another bit of sparkling base running, this time by the veteran Jim Rivera, and won 2-0. Dick Donovan pitched the shutout. The White Sox lead was now 3½ games.
The Cleveland dressing room, which had been surprisingly chipper after the Friday night loss, was like the inside of a coffin after Saturday's game. Players sat silently on their stools, talking only in whispers. The situation was critical. Nothing but a double-header victory on Sunday could salvage the series.
On Sunday another huge crowd (more than 66,000) turned out, noisy and enthusiastic. But with Cleveland ahead 2-0 in the fifth, Chicago's tough old pitcher, Early Wynn, drove a home run deep to right field, and that undid the Indians. The White Sox scored four more runs that inning and went on to win 6-3. Their lead had grown to 4½ games.
When the lineups were read for the second game, there was hardly a murmur from the crowd. Chicago won easily, 9-4. One play summed up the game, and the series. With bases loaded and one out, White Sox Pitcher Barry Latman hit a long fly ball to right which Rocky Colavito caught over his shoulder, running away. Rocky stopped, turned, set and then threw to third base, conceding the run scoring from third in an attempt to get the man moving down from second. But the runner, Al Smith, way ahead of the throw, simply barreled around third and on into home to score. Two runs on a fly ball!
And so Chicago swept the four-game series and led the league by 5½ games. Now Al Lopez had not only beaten the Yankees, he had just won the pennant.