AFTER THE ROUND ROBIN: ONE DOWN
It was a little before midnight in Chicago, on Tuesday of last week, when Yogi Berra, the rookie manager of the New York Yankees, entered a small, dark café and took a table alone in the far corner of the room. An hour earlier Berra had watched his team lose a tense 10-inning game to the Chicago White Sox after leading 3-0 until the bottom of the eighth. The Yankee loss was the 10th in 16 games and pushed them deeper into third place, four games away from the league lead. Berra ordered a bottle of ale, and as the waitress went to get it he put his elbows on the table, bowed his head and brought his clenched fists up to cover his eyes.
Suddenly the piano player began to sing a variation on a haunting lyric—"Sit there and count your little fingers. What can you do? You know it's through. A bad day, a tough day for little boy blue." Nearly everyone in the room was looking at Berra, but Berra did not look up.
On a warm, pleasant Friday evening less than two weeks earlier, Berra had strolled happily across the thick green clubhouse carpet in Yankee Stadium with his team leading the league by .004 percentage points. He had gone to his office, put on his fresh white uniform with the dark-blue pinstripes and looked down at a desk memento, a $3 bill with his picture on it and the slogan, "What, me worry?" He had pointed to the schedule above the desk and put his stubby index finger on the date, August 7. "Between tonight and August 30," he said then, "a lot will be decided about this year's pennant race. We play Baltimore seven times and Chicago eight times. Baltimore plays Chicago eight times. Then none of us plays each other again. But we're in first now, and Baltimore and Chicago have got to come and get us."
August 30, 1964
By the end of last week both Baltimore and Chicago had come and gotten the Yankees, beating them in 10 of 15 games and leaving them groggy in third place, five games behind. This done, the Orioles and White Sox turned on each other. The Sox had a half-game lead when the two teams met last weekend in Chicago in a four-game series.
It was a series Chicago could have done without. Baltimore won the first two games 4-2, Brooks Robinson hitting home runs in each, the second to win the game in the ninth inning. Shaken, the White Sox lost the first game on Sunday, but rallied to win the second and avert the disaster of a sweep. Even so, the Orioles had regained first place and led by a game and a half.
But game-and-a-half leads are hardly conclusive—the Orioles led the White Sox by three games just a week before—and the White Sox will get another crack at the Orioles this weekend. Some 135,000 people will show up at Memorial Stadium to watch the two teams play for the last time, thus boosting the total audience that will have seen this round robin to 800,000 in 19 dates. These large crowds, drawn by the first authentic three-team pennant chase in the American League since 1960, will have spent nearly $3½ million for tickets, parking and concession items.
The stresses of the past three weeks have laid bare the enduring strengths and irreparable weaknesses of the three teams, for it is virtually too late for major changes in personnel or playing style. The New York Yankees are a troubled team. They are waiting for something big and good to happen to them as it has over so many winning years in the past. But something big is not apt to come along, just as it did not on the very first night of the round robin, August 7. Norm Siebern of the Orioles hit a pop fly down the right-field line with a runner on base, and three Yankees watched it drop. It was the type of play that the Yankees are supposed to make blindfolded, but they did not and it led to a run. That run held up for seven innings while the big electric scoreboard in right center field kept trying to lure people to the Stadium and to make those that were there happy. "Welcome Fire Co. No. 1 of Union Beach, N.J.," said the board; "Welcome Star of the Sea Council 371 Bayonne, N.J." The Yankees will put anything on that board this year; a man with a two-chair barbershop can get a lot of free advertising by buying a ticket to Yankee Stadium.
The eighth inning told a little bit more about the Yankees, more than the fact that they are not fielding the way they are supposed to. Bill Stafford came in to relieve after Yogi Berra had sent Phil Linz up to pinch-hit in the bottom of the seventh with a runner on first and two outs. Once upon a time when the Yankees were behind by a run with a man on base they sent up a pinch hitter like Mize, Blanchard or Berra himself, and he would hit one into the right-field seats for a Yankee win. Linz struck out. However, the Yankees were still in the game until Stafford got to the mound. He threw one pitch to Jerry Adair and the ball went into the left-field seats. Baltimore led 2-0. Harvey Haddix held the Yankees in the eighth and ninth and Baltimore won. New York had lost a big ball game because its power hitters could not produce, its two pinch hitters struck out, and the relief pitching could not hold. The team fell from first place in the first skirmish of the war.
The Orioles beat the Yankees three out of four, but New York went on to a four-game split against Chicago and then beat Baltimore two out of three. In Chicago last week, however, the Yanks lost four in a row while playing extremely poor ball. In the first game they made two errors, and the deciding run was set up when Whitey Ford picked Floyd Robinson off first base—or tried to. As Robinson danced in the rundown, Phil Linz hit Robinson with a throw, but when Robinson raced to second he found Bobby Richardson waiting there for him with the ball. Robinson kicked the ball out of Richardson's glove, and later he scored on a line single by Pete Ward.
When the Yankees started to rally in the eighth Al Lopez called Hoyt Wilhelm from the bullpen. As Wilhelm approaches the mound in Chicago, the stadium organist plays the theme from Medic. This year Wilhelm has saved 17 games for the Sox and won six others. He promptly set down five Yankees in a row to end the game. Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher (the organist plays The Most Beautiful Girl in the World when Fisher comes in) give the White Sox two excellent knuckle-ball relievers. Wilhelm tucks his head into his left shoulder when he works, because he has a lazy muscle in his right eye and when he holds his head straight he sees double. "I could wear glasses and see all right." he says, "but I don't want to use glasses when I'm pitching."
After the Yankees lost the final game in Chicago, the now-famous harmonica incident occurred on the bus taking them to the airport for a chartered flight to Boston. Phil Linz, the reserve infielder who has established himself as the Yankee clubhouse wit, took out a harmonica and played a few notes of Mary Had a Little Lamb. Berra shouted at Linz, "Stuff that harmonica," but Linz played a few more notes, and Berra came down the aisle of the bus, enraged. Linz flipped the harmonica into the air, and Berra slapped it down. "What are you getting on me for?" asked Linz. "I give 100% all the time." Unmollified, Berra shouted. "You'd think you had just won the series instead of losing it." Frank Crosetti, the third-base coach, started to yell at Linz. and Linz told Crosetti to mind his own business. Phil Linz does not know how to play the harmonica. He went out one day in Chicago and bought it, and Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson and Clete Boyer bought harmonicas, too. This was one of the more eventful bus rides in Yankee history, but it cost Phil Linz a $200 fine, and Berra kept him out of the Yankee starting lineup for four straight games.
(Another bus ride may have had a marked effect on the pennant race. On the night of May 14 a busload of Orioles pulled out of Washington after a 4-1 loss to the Senators. The defeat put the Orioles into fourth place at the time, a game out of the league lead. Hank Bauer heard some singing and laughter in the back of the bus, and he let his team have it. "Losers don't sing as long as I'm around," said Bauer, and then he said a few other—stronger—things. The Orioles won 17 of their next 23 games.)
Baltimore has been winning games all season that it probably should have lost: 14 of the team's first 77 victories were achieved in its last time at bat, and it has won an amazing 29 of 39 one-run decisions. Once considered the playboys of the western world, the Orioles are now the idols of the Eastern Shore, and Bauer deserves a great deal of the credit. He has handled his pitchers especially well, somehow keeping their confidence while taking them out quickly when they get into trouble. "A couple of times early this year," he says, "I let myself get talked into going along with a guy, but before I got my foot back on the top step of the dugout I heard the awful sound of a hit. That stopped that." Bauer dashes to the runway between innings for a smoke to settle his nerves, but he has gambled effectively time and time again to win tight games. "I know," he says, "I have a face like a clenched fist, but that's not all there is to managing. These guys believe they can win, and I think they can."
The Oriole management wanted Yogi Berra to be its manager this year, but Berra refused. Eddie Stanky was then asked, but he said no also, and Bauer, who had been a coach last year under Billy Hitchcock, was next in line. Bauer knew if he could get a good, full year from Third Baseman Brooks Robinson and a good year from Second Baseman Jerry Adair to go with good pitching. Baltimore could be a contender. Adair's batting average is up 30 points over 1963, but Robinson and the recently injured Boog Powell have been the key hitters. This year Robinson has special incentive for a better second half of the season than last year's, when he hit only .219 after the All-Star break. In July he read a story that quoted Berra as saying the Orioles would slip if Robinson tailed off the way he had so often in the past. Robinson says, "I read that story three or four times, and it didn't make me violent or anything, but I just keep remembering it." He was the hitting star of the first part of the round robin, driving in 19 of the 58 runs that the Orioles scored.
If the race comes down to Baltimore and Chicago after this week's series, every game will still be important to both teams as they meet the rest of the league. Baltimore must get Powell back into the lineup as quickly as possible or suffer against right-handed pitching. Without Powell, Robinson and rookie Sam Bowens will have a hefty offensive load to carry. The Orioles have a fine bullpen, but the starters are not overpowering; the White Sox have a fine bullpen, and the starters are overpowering. Chicago may not hit in the clutch very often, but it has the best pitching staff in the league.
The man who probably will play a decisive role in the final weeks of the season is Gary Peters, the 27-year-old White Sox left-hander. Peters is an excellent hitter on a pitching staff of good hitters. Lopez uses him and Juan Pizarro as pinch hitters regularly. Peters does everything to help the White Sox. He warms up the batting-practice pitchers, he catches the balls for the coaches hitting grounders to the infielders, and one night he stunned an attendant by scrubbing up the sinks in the clubhouse after a game. Peters got to the major leagues late, some say because he was more interested in making boomerangs than pitching, but he was Rookie of the Year last season and he was 14-3 from the middle of July to the end of the year.
Failure to hit with men on base still plagues Chicago, though Pete Ward and Floyd Robinson, at least, have begun to connect when it counts. If Moose Skowron also begins to demonstrate why he was acquired from Washington—namely, to worry left-handed pitching—then the White Sox will be in contention all the way.
HOW THE YANKEES LOST THOSE SIX STRAIGHT GAMES
After losing four in Chicago, the Yanks went to Boston and dropped two more last weekend. The reasons were the same as those revealed in that big game in New York on August 7. Weakness No. 1: the power hitters did not hit. Weakness No. 2: the relief pitching was inadequate when Berra dared to use it. Weakness No. 3: the pinch hitters were worse than the regulars when Yogi dared try them.
Weakness No. 1—three singles and a double were the extent of the Yankee attack—and a rare error by Second Baseman Bobby Richardson that led to Chicago's winning run nullified some good pitching, both starting and relieving, by Ralph Terry, Whitey Ford and Pete Mikkelson. After Richardson's error put the White Sox ahead 2-0 in the seventh inning, the Yankees came back with a run in the eighth but might have had a bigger inning if Manager Yogi Berra had a stronger bench. With a man on first and no outs, he called on his best pinch hitter, Mickey Mantle, who had not played because of an injured left knee. Mantle hobbled to the plate and weakly popped out. Charge this game to puny hitting by the regulars and a lack of reserve power.
All three major weaknesses contributed to this 4-3 loss to the White Sox in 10 innings. New York actually led 3-0 at the end of seven. It was the 16th time this season that the Yankees have lost a game after leading in the sixth inning or later, a sharp indictment of the bullpen. Starter Al Downing was fast for seven innings, during which he gave up only two hits. He began to tire noticeably in the eighth when he served up a three-run homer to tie the score, and he finally lost the game in the 10th when he allowed three line-drive singles. Berra showed his disdain for his bullpen when he let his starting pitcher bat for himself at the start of the 10th inning. Downing, of course, went out quickly, as did the Yankee nonhitters after him. Charge this game to weaknesses No. 2 and No. 3, especially No. 2.
The strong New York defense, so far the only thing left that reminded fans of bygone Yankee teams, finally succumbed, too. Four unearned runs, on three critical errors, were thrust upon the White Sox, and that was all they needed to win 4-2. After Starter Jim Bouton had made the first two errors on the same play for Chicago's first two unearned runs, Clete Boyer missed a tag-out at third to load the bases for the White Sox. Bouton then walked Jim Landis, pushing in the winning run, and Reliever Mikkelson allowed a long sacrifice fly to send in the insurance run. The Yankees could muster only eight scattered hits, six of them singles. Charge this game to surprisingly poor defense, light hitting and, once again, inadequate relief.
Weakness No. 1 was the culprit again as Chicago's Johnny Buzhardt shut out the Yankees 5-0, allowing seven singles. When Berra gazed at his bench in the late innings he saw Phil Linz and Archie Moore, a pleasant youngster who makes a living with the Yankees as a pinch runner. Both were used as pinch hitters, and both were quick outs. The game itself was lost in the first four innings when Whitey Ford faced 19 men and gave up nine singles and all the Sox runs.
Weakness No. 1 was glaringly underlined as the Yankees faced an ordinary Red Sox pitcher named Bob Heffner, winner of but five games all season, and got only six hits, all of them singles, and no runs. The relief pitching was also shoddy, but that did not matter too much this time. After Ralph Terry left the game at the end of the sixth inning with the score 3-0, Reliever Stan Williams insured the Yankee defeat by giving up a grand slam home run in a final 7-0 Boston victory.
The Yankees almost got away with a minimum of hitting, but poor pitching, both starting and relieving, finally did them in. They led the Red Sox 3-2 at the end of seven and a half innings by making five hits go a long way. In the bottom of the eighth, Al Downing tossed a fat home run pitch with a man on base, and the Sox went ahead 4-3. After Downing walked the next batter, Mikkelson came on in relief and forced in a run on three straight bases on balls. Charge this game to mediocre hitting and awful relieving.