For two seasons now the Cleveland Indians have been a team no one has believed in. A year ago in spring training they were picked for sixth place, but General Manager Frank Lane traded and wheedled and patched together a team that astounded everybody by finishing second. This spring no one rated the Indians very high because Lane apparently had torn his good second-place club apart. He traded Billy Martin, the so-called sparkplug second baseman; he traded Cal McLish, his 19-game-winning pitcher; he traded Minnie Minoso, his dependable left fielder, and he traded Rocky Colavito, his home run hero.
When the season began and the Indians lost four straight and fell into last place, everybody agreed, "Frank Lane's done it this time. He's ruined his team with his crazy trades." But last week the Indians, slowly climbing up through the standings, beat the New York Yankees in two successive extra-inning games and suddenly found themselves the focus of attention again. They were back in Cleveland after a successful road trip, they were in the first division, and the Chicago White Sox, the American League champions, were in town for a four-game series. While no May series can genuinely be called vital, the Cleveland papers pointed out with some bitterness that the Indians couldn't win the pennant without beating the White Sox. Had the Indians won half of their 22 games with Chicago last year, the pennant would have been theirs by three games. Instead they lost 15 times to the White Sox. It was time for a change.
Wynn Hawkins, a lean right-hander, opened the series for Cleveland, pitching in raw, 40° weather against Billy Pierce. The Indians loaded the bases with two out in the first inning, and Woodie Held, Cleveland's biggest home run hitter now that Rocky Colavito is gone, was at the plate. The roar from the crowd was the old Rocky roar, too, except that the screams of the admiring young females were missing.
Pierce got behind, three balls and one strike. Held fouled off a pitch and then drove a fast ball on a line toward right field. But Roy Sievers, playing first base, put up his glove, the ball stuck in it, and Pierce was out of the inning. He was never again in trouble.
Hawkins, on the other hand, lost his game just when he looked best. In the fifth inning, with two out and Jim Landis on first, Luis Aparicio lined a single past Hawkins' head. That seemed to rattle the young Cleveland pitcher. His next pitch came in fat and high, and Nellie Fox hit it sharply to center field. Although Landis, running from second, is as fast as anyone in the game, Center Fielder Jimmy Piersall, playing shallow, might have thrown him out at home. But after fielding the ball cleanly on the first hop, Piersall couldn't get it out of his glove, and when he did make his throw it was too late. Worse yet, it sailed far over the catcher's head. Landis scored, Aparicio went to third and Fox to second. Then Minnie Minoso singled to left, and the White Sox had three runs and the ball game.
But though Chicago won 4-2, Piersall, who becomes almost physically sick when he makes a mistake, came back to provide the game with its most memorable moment. In the fifth, with Johnny Temple up and Piersall on deck, Umpire Frank Umont called a strike that Temple objected to. From his position on deck, Piersall objected even more. After Temple went out, Piersall continued to rage at the umpire as he took his stance in the batter's box. Umont removed his mask and matched him—shout for shout, nose to nose. When the game resumed, Piersall smacked Pierce's first pitch on a line to deep left for a home run. He raced around the bases like someone in trouble, unsmiling, his face tense, his teeth clenched.
The weather was milder for the second game on Saturday afternoon, but the White Sox still used a hot-water bottle in their on-deck circle to warm their hands before hitting. Manager Al Lopez had announced that he would pitch Herb Score, Cleveland's erstwhile hero, whom the White Sox had gotten from the Indians in a trade the day before the season began. Joe Gordon, Cleveland's manager, clearly a man with a sense of drama, chose to pitch Barry Latman, the player the Indians had received for Score.
Latman got himself into trouble in the first inning. With the bases loaded and two out, Al Smith singled two runs home, the second in the large person of Ted Kluszewski, who beat Tito Francona's throw to the plate in an amusing duel between a slow runner and a weak arm.
So, in the last half of the first inning, Herb Score walked out to the familiar mound of Municipal Stadium with a two-run lead and the cheers of many Cleveland fans. Banners in the left-field grandstand said "Lots of luck, Herb" and "We know you can do it."
Pitching to Temple, the lead-off man, Score's fast ball looked good—not as shockingly quick as it did before his injury, but good. Temple popped to right, swinging late.
But then up came the high-strung Piersall, and he singlehandedly ruined Score's composure. He pushed a bunt to the right of the mound, out-raced Score to the bag as the first baseman fielded the ball, stole second and—getting a long jump on Score's elaborate pitching motion—stole third. When the catcher's throw got away from the third baseman, Piersall came all the way home.
Score walked Kuenn and Francona, and Power singled to center. By the time the inning was over, the Indians had scored three times.
In the second inning Latman walked two men, gave up a single, hit Minoso in the back with a fast ball and left the game. Score did better and he might have gotten through his half of the second, except for Piersall, who, with two out and Temple on second, hit a long drive to center. Jim Landis started back for it slowly, then sprinted, reached up and got his glove on the ball just as he hit the chest-high outfield fence. He collapsed, and the ball fell on the far side for a home run. Landis suffered a mild concussion and was helped off the field. Herb Score left with him.
The Indians built up a comfortable 10-3 lead, then held on as the White Sox fought back to 10-9. It was hardly a gallant win, but it was a win against the White Sox.
In the two games on Sunday, as in the one Friday night, Cleveland threw youth against Chicago's experience, and for most of the long afternoon youth lost. In the opener Jim Perry pitched a commendable game, but he was up against Early Wynn on one of the old man's mean days. Wynn won 4-0.
In the second game Dick Stigman, a rookie left-hander who in New York had come in from the bullpen to stop the Yankees with the winning run on third base, did well for a while, but then he walked three batters, the White Sox scored three runs and Stigman was out of the game. But the Indians tied the score in the ninth and won on a three-run homer by Harvey Kuenn in the 10th, giving them a split on the day, a split on the series and considering their weaker record so far this year, a distinct moral victory.
There is still a long season ahead but Frank Lane's Indians have made it abundantly clear that, far from being a bust, they are a team to be reckoned with.