The National League is famous for its pennant races, and this looks like one of the best. Seven teams have led the league during the first two months of the season. No team has won more than five consecutive games, and only the World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers have lost more than four in a row. Even the Houston Colts, destined for the depths, have clung tenaciously to the pack. During the past month the Giants and the Phillies have set the pace, exchanging the league lead 10 times, while the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds and Braves have stayed close behind, waiting their turns to take over. "If you look at the teams in this league," says Phillie Manager Gene Mauch, "you realize the rest of the season is going to be rough. Our club knows it is good, and it believes in itself." The Phils have been helped by spectacular play from rookies Richie Allen, Danny Cater and John Herrnstein, plus superb pitching from Jim Bunning, the old Detroit Tiger. The Giants have been plagued by poor performances by their array of powerful hitters, save for the remarkable Willie Mays, who has carried the team. But it seems Just a question of time before the explosion. Says Mauch apprehensively: "The Giants are the only team in the league that can overcome their mistakes with hitting." Even so, the Giants will have to prove it to the rest of the league.
Second Baseman Pete Rose of Cincinnati flies through air after forcing out Gene Oliver of Milwaukee. Despite spotty pitching from what should be an excellent staff, the Reds have finally begun to move behind the hard hitting of three players who were dormant most of last season—Leo Cardenas, Gordy Coleman and Frank Robinson. Milwaukee's Warren Spahn is off to a typically slow start (4-4) and neither Eddie Mathews nor Henry Aaron is driving in many runs, but several of the young Brave pitchers and the versatile play of Joe Torre and Denis Menke have helped take up the slack.
The .400 hitting of Chicago's Billy Williams is spinning Cub runners around the bases and keeping the team in contention. Ron Santo and a rejuvenated Ernie Banks are knocking in runs. St. Louis Third Baseman Ken Boyer(shown at left fielding in game against Cubs), young Tim McCarver and Curt Flood are hitting consistently, but the Cardinal bullpen has been disappointing.
A bright spot in a dull season for the Los Angeles Dodgers was Sandy Koufax' annual no-hitter. Otherwise, ugh. Two-time Batting Champion Tommy Davis, hitting .250, was benched. Frank Howard, with 14 home runs but a .215 average, found himself benched, too. Result: no runs at all to go along with the Dodgers' generally good pitching, and a struggle to keep the leaders in sight.
Roberto Clemente of the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates is the leading hitter on what has turned out to be the best hitting team in the league. Clemente, who won the league batting championship in 1961, is—at .368—second only to Billy Williams of the Cubs. Backing Clemente are Willie Stargell and Gene Freese, who have been winning games with timely hits, but Pirate pitching has been nondescript and may look a lot worse when the attack cools off.
The New York Mets do not concern themselves with pennant races, but their fans could hardly care less. A sure last, the Mets have, nonetheless, won one game 19-1 and played another to 23 innings. Last week they welcomed the Dodgers back to New York and gave them an 8-0 shellacking. Most amazing of all, the Mets have drawn nearly 600,000 people to Shea Stadium, more than twice as many as their rich neighbors, the New York Yankees.