Roger Craig, the Mets' pitcher, has the losing habit like nobody else. At the beginning of the week, he was 2-20, and he had lost 18 consecutive games, only one short of the record. Touched by the hideousness of it all, fans bombarded Craig with good luck charms; fathers even named sons for him. As he went against Chicago to try to avoid his 19th straight, Craig was a genuine antihero. Roger pitched nine desperate innings, and when the Cubs went down in the top of the ninth, the score was 3-3. Then the Metsrallied. Craig went out for a pinch hitter, who walked to fill the bases. Two out, and Jim Hickman came up. On a 3-and-2 pitch Hickman lofted the ball off the scoreboard for a home run and snatched Craig from the brink of immortality with a 7-3 win. The Polo Grounds exploded in a riotous parody—fans on the field, a wild reception at the plate—of that splendid moment in 1951 when Bobby Thomson won a pennant for the Giants with a homer in the ninth.
Just as they did this time last year, the San Francisco Giants are creeping up on the league-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. On the crest of a winning streak—14 of the last 18 games—the Giants last week overtook slumping St. Louis and moved into undisputed possession of second place only 4½ games out of first. Naturally, the reason for the Giants' sudden rise is Willie Mays, who is hitting again. Only a fortnight ago Mays was wallowing in the .270s. Then he went on one of his outlandish streaks, hitting safely in 12 consecutive games. At the crest of the streak last week, Mays batted .444, including two home runs, to move his average past .290. Another reason for the Giants' surge is the slick pitching of righthander Juan Marichal (18-5). And there is Orlando Cepeda, who helped win two games in Philadelphia last week with six hits. With performances like these, and a schedule for the remaining weeks that favors the Giants, Manager Alvin Dark figures his team can be within striking distance of Los Angeles in September. "Remember," warned Outfielder Harvey Kuenn, "we have seven games left with the Dodgers, and we beat them in the stretch last year."
Elston Howard, the hard-hitting catcher of the New York Yankees, has a good chance of winning the American League's Most Valuable Player Award this year. After playing eight seasons in the squat shadow of now semi-retired Yogi Berra, Howard has finally emerged this season, handling himself superbly behind the plate, breaking up games by driving in winning runs in the late innings and ripping away at the old master's hitting records. Last week, while compiling a .321 batting average, Howard hit three home runs, bringing his season's total to 22, highest among the New York players. This total is one more than Howard has ever hit in a season before and is only eight shy of Berra's American League record for catchers of 30, a mark Howard will almost certainly surpass. As his team swept to six victories with two defeats last week, Howard also drove in seven runs, raising his team-leading total to 63 and putting himself within 28 of his own previous best year for RBIs.
The Minnesota Twins have at least one thing in common with the league-leading Yankees: plenty of home run power. Since the All-Star Game, the Twins, who got off to a miserable start this season, have averaged almost two home runs a game and are now ahead of New York in homer production, 153-145. In the last seven weeks they have hit 78 home runs, more than Kansas City has managed all year. Last week the Twins were as robust as ever. They pounded the opposition for nine home runs and won five of six games. The spurt put them solidly in third place only one game out of second. Most of the big hits came from expected sources, like Harmon Killebrew (26 HRs for the year), Jimmie Hall (18) and Don Mincher (11 in the last 26 games). They came from some unlikely sources as well, such as 150-pound Zoilo Versalles, who hit two. The strangest of all, however, was relief pitcher Bill Dailey. During the week, Dailey handled his usual chores handsomely, relieving and saving games for Lee Stange and Camilo Pascual. Then, swept up in the Twins' home run zeal, he put on Killebrew's batting helmet, picked up Bob (25 HRs) Allison's bat, and whacked a three-run homer.