Like worms in a bait can, four American League teams squirmed and twisted at the top of the standings as the best pennant race in years writhed into September. Home runs that would have been routine in July were saluted with extravagant cheers; errors that would have been anonymous in May glared as brazen as Biblical sin. The most startling turned worm in the race was Boston, up from last year's ninth place, drawing capacity crowds day after day to antiquated Fenway Park, refusing to quit, reacting to a disaster—the disabling injury to Tony Conigliaro (his cheekbone was fractured by an errant pitch)—by winning 17 of their next 22 games. The Red Sox lost a 20-inning game to the Yankees, the second half of a twinight doubleheader, but came back to win the next afternoon when team leader Carl Yastrzemski hit a home run in the 11th. The White Sox had their fans, the Twins had theirs and the Tigers had theirs, but the long-shot Red Sox were fast becoming the nation's favorites, like the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and the Milwaukee Braves of the 1950s.
Intense Manager Dick Williams whipped the Red Sox out of their permissive lethargy and moved them into contention.
Tense Umpire Ed Runge signals "Safe!" as Boston's Mike Andrews barrels home under the tag of White Sox catcher.
Red Sox fans, hungering for a pennant, recall their last championship, when Boston finished first by a dozen games.
The other contenders were busy grabbing expensive veterans for pennant insurance (Elston Howard and Ken Harrelson to Boston, Ken Boyer and Rocky Colavito to Chicago, Eddie Mathews to Detroit), but Minnesota's Twins elected to stand pat with what they had—and it just might be good enough. The Twins once again moved past the Red Sox into first place when Dave Boswell shut out the Tigers last Saturday and, after all, Harmon Killebrew—despite 34 home runs and 90 RBIs—really had not yet begun to hit. Manager Cal Ermer was still feeling his way and Coach Billy Martin, more demanding than Ermer, was teed off" by inept Minnesota play. Yet there were the Twins on top. Impetuous Cesar Tovar kept lifting the team with his timely hitting and inspired fielding, and the Twins seemed ready for the big move.
Harmon Killebrew, here sliding into home plate like Zoilo Versalles, could break the race apart if his home run bat got hot.
Exchanging unpleasantries with an umpire, rookie Manager Cal Ermer battles for the flag in his first big-league managing job.
Dejected even after a 10-9 win over the Orioles, Coach Billy Martin broods over his team's daily bobbles and bonehead plays.
Backpats and handshakes greet Minnesota rookie Rich Reese, who won a vital uphill game with two-run homer in ninth.
White Sox Manager Eddie Stanky seldom missed a chance to needle Boston, where he once played. He rapped Fenway Park police protection, called Carl Yastrzemski "an All-Star from the neck down" and threatened to sue Boston sportswriters. Boston fans lustily booed him Thursday night when he took out Cisco Carlos in the seventh inning (the rookie pitcher had allowed just one hit). "I'd yank my own son if it was the right move," said Eddie. Chicago won that game with homers, lost 10-2 Friday night, then knocked Boston out of the lead, 4-1, Saturday on national TV.
The Fenway Park crowd answers Stanky's needling with a caustic banner, lusty boos and a sustained chant: "Stanky is a bum!"
Looking to the World Series, the contentious Stanky said, "We're fighting for $10,000 each, and I'm managing for 25 men."
Cisco Carlos (center) pitched beautifully in game White Sox won on home runs by Pete Ward (left) and Tommie Agee.
Early in the week Detroit had won three straight from California but then was stunned by the Angels 3-2 after Earl Wilson, an 18-game winner, had taken a 2-1 lead into the ninth. Still, they had 11 victories in 16 games when they moved into Minnesota for three games with the Twins, and they were in splendid position to challenge for the lead. But the edgy Tigers made four errors in three innings, gave the Twins three unearned runs and lost 5-4. Next day they were shut out by the Minnesotans and, just like that, instead of leading the race, the Tigers were back in fourth place.
"You can't give away three runs." said Tiger Manager Mayo Smith, "and expect to win too many games in a race like this."
Picked off first, Twins' Valdespino reaches second safely after Detroit's Norm Cash chased him all the way, did not throw.