During the first five weeks of the season CINCINNATI (4-1) Pitching Coach Mel Harder had every right to feel frustrated. His staff, supposedly one of the best, had been cuffed around, had a 3.55 ERA and had allowed 28 homers in 27 games. All that Red pitchers could say was, "We're only second division. We'll try, Harder." Last week their trying paid off. Enemy hitters had only two homers and batted .185 as Red pitchers put together a group 1.00 ERA. Maury Wills of LOS ANGELES (3-3) was guilty of something opponents never expected of him—lack of speed. His laggardly pace came on southern California's Harbor Freeway, where police informed him he was going too slow (45 mph in a 55-mph zone). A day later Wills shifted into high gear, stole two bases and scored twice to support Sandy Koufax' three-hit shutout of the Giants. Although Willie Mays hit only .167 for the week, SAN FRANCISCO (3-4) pitchers made the most of the few runs they had to work with. NEW' YORK'S (2-4) Ron Hunt, called Pig Pen because his all-out firebrand-type play keeps his uniform soiled, was at his dirty best against the Giants. He beat them 7-5 with five RBIs, went 7 for 11 in four games. There was singing in the PITTSBURGH (3-2) clubhouse, much of it made possible by Reliever Pete Mikkelsen, who saved one game, won another. Manager Red Schoendienst of ST. LOUIS (2-4) thought he had found a good-luck omen when he blasted not only his golf ball out of a sand trap but a $5 bill as well. If anything, it should have been a warning: it was the Reds who scored five runs and beat the Cardinals 5-3. "He goes for too many outside pitches," said HOUSTON (3-3) Manager Grady Hatton of Outfielder Jim Wynn. So what did Wynn do? He hit a game-winning single in the 11th inning on a fast ball over the outside corner. Oldtimers Dick Groat and Harvey Kuenn played like frisky colts for PHILADELPHIA (4-2). Groat used the 2,000th hit of his career to set up a 4-3 victory, and Kuenn came up with a deft hook slide into home plate to beat the Astros in the 10th, 6-5. Henry Aaron hit four home runs and batted .650, but most of his ATLANTA (3-3) teammates were limping along. CHICAGO (3-4) Manager Leo Durocher and his coaches had tried everything else, so last week they tried plain old friendliness. Buck O'Neill, a friend of slumping Billy Williams and Ernie Banks, was pressed into service. Williams, who had had only five RBIs all season, picked up three, and Banks, without a homer all year, hit two in one game. After Coaches Rube Walker and Whitey Lockman gave Randy Hundley a pep talk, the rookie batted .556, hit a 10th-inning homer to beat the Braves 7-6 and even stole home. It was sad, although fitting, that such nice guys should still be in last place.
Standings: SF 25-13, Hou 21-15, Pitt 18-15, LA 20-17, Phil 17-15, Cin 16-16, Atl 18-21, NY 13-16, StL 14-19, Chi 9-24
May 29, 1966
It was a week in which the four lowliest clubs won 14 of 19 games against the upper crust. WASHINGTON (5-3) won five in a row as Fred Valentine produced 10 runs with his .406 hitting, BOSTON (5-1) stopped the Orioles 2-1 on Earl Wilson's pitching and 10th-inning homer and 3-1 on Jim Lonborg's scoreless relief work. Then the Red Sox moved up to ninth by taking three from KANSAS CITY (2-3). The A's had two chances against a first-division team and fenced in the Angels both times. Four Angel drives that last year would have gone for homers in Kansas City were turned back by the 40-foot screen. Thus far visiting clubs have lost 11 home runs because of the screen, the Athletics one. At home the Athletics are 10-5. On the road they are 1-16. MINNESOTA (4-4) Manager Sam Mele was irritated when Ralph Houk, his counterpart on the Yankees, said the New Yorkers would defeat "those lucky Twins" four straight. Worse yet for Mele the Yankees, who have played like a team possessed since Houk took over two weeks ago, did just that. NEW YORK (5-1) performed spectacularly, coming up with hard-to-believe fielding plays and clutch hits to back up the stingy pitching of Starters Al Downing, Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson and Relievers Pedro Ramos (three saves) and Steve Hamilton. CALIFORNIA (1-5) could blame at least two losses on bad fielding. In all, the Angels made 15 errors, including five by Shortstop Jim Fregosi, who has 15 in 33 games. Sam McDowell of CLEVELAND (4-3) was kayoed twice, once before he got so much as one man out. "I had all my pitches, but my rhythm and control were ornery," McDowell said. Big-winner Denny McLain of DETROIT (4-2) had first-inning trouble, too, but survived and went on to win a two-hitter from the Yankees and a four-hitter from the Orioles. His ERA for first innings this year is 9.00; for the rest of the time it is 1.71. Three Tiger wins came against slumping BALTIMORE (2-5), which needed neat relief jobs by Eddie Watt to salvage two wins. None of the parts seemed to fit into CHICAGO (1-7) Manager Eddie Stanky's pattern, as his pitchers, hitters and fielders all failed. Speaking about the woes that are part of a manager's lot, Stanky said, "The fan—the butcher, the baker and the man who sells green stamps—doesn't know anything about this."
Standings: Clev 22-9, Det 20-12, Balt 19-14, Minn 16-15, Cal 18-17, Chi 15-17, Wash 15-19, NY 15 19, Bos 13-21, KC 11-21
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
As so often happens, Detroit Catcher Bill Freehan traces his recent hitting binge to a bat—which is nothing new, except that the bat was held by Tom McCraw of the White Sox. Swinging at a pitch, McCraw accidentally hit Freehan on the head on May 13 and, quicker than Clark Kent can change into Superman, the futile Tiger with the .232 average was transformed into the .300 hitter he had been in 1964. He began to hit for distance, too, and one of his homers last week seemed to have special significance. It came the day after Manager Charley Dressen had been hospitalized with his second heart attack in 13 months. The Tigers were glum and, playing under Coach Bob Swift, were trailing New York 2-0 in the fifth inning of a game that seemed to already be a lost cause. Then Freehan hit his homer, and the Tigers, who had had only three in their previous 11 games, suddenly came alive, hit two more home runs and stopped the again-dangerous Yankees 7-2. Freehan kept swinging away and hit homers in each of the next two games, and his aroused teammates added four more before the week came to a close. After McCraw tapped him on the head Freehan hit .379, and the Tigers moved past Baltimore into second place. Freehan is too modest to say that his splurge inspired the Tigers, but it is just possible that his teammates are afraid to stop hitting, lest Freehan will try to end their slumps with the sure-shot remedy that worked so well on him.