THE FABULOUS SEVEN DAYS
MONDAY, SEPT. 9
Ten days ago nothing seemed to matter. The St. Louis Cardinals were seven games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League standings. Today everything matters. The Dodger lead is only three and experts everywhere maintain that the Dodgers are getting vertigo again, just as they did last September. Yesterday's 3-2 win over the Pirates in Pittsburgh was a big one for the Cardinals, and on their chartered flight back to St. Louis they were a happy team. Johnny Keane, the manager, puffed on a big cigar and thought of the possible joys that an 11-game home stand might bring. Tim McCarver, the 21-year-old catcher, wondered how many people were awaiting the team's arrival at Municipal Airport. McCarver had never been on a team that was met at an airport. Curt Flood, the center fielder, sketched to pass the time. Dick Groat, the baldheaded shortstop, kept being dealt bad hands in a bridge game. Shortly before the plane got to St. Louis the pilot picked up the major league baseball scores on the radio and announced that the Dodgers had lost to San Francisco 5-4. There were no cheers, "just loud smiles," as Flood put it. Three thousand people came out to the airport to welcome the Cards. The team was stunned. The good people of St. Louis want a pennant. They have not had one since 1946. That is a long time ago, a lot of waiting.
When Curt Flood woke up this morning at 10:20 the sight and sound of the people at the airport were still on his mind. "In all the time that I have been in baseball," he says, "this is the first time that I have been in the thick of anything." Curt Flood has been in baseball for eight years and in center field for the Cardinals during the past four. At 3:30 p.m. he begins to think about tonight's ball game. Cal Koonce, a right-hander, will be pitching for the Chicago Cubs, and Flood usually hits Koonce well. Curt Simmons, a left-hander, will be pitching for the Cardinals, and Simmons has been pitching superbly of late. Flood is sure that the Cardinals are going to win this game.
"You get a feeling about certain guys," he says. "You know who is not going to let you down. Simmons will hold them close. We know that. If we can just get him a couple of runs we are going to be all right."
At 4:15 Curt Flood arrives at Busch Stadium in his baby-blue 1962 Thunder-bird. As he begins to sort his fan mail, Bob Bauman, the team trainer, is fooling around with a tape recorder, putting into place a ribbon with the song Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy on it. Twenty-one years ago, in the heat of a pennant fight with the Dodgers, the Cards played Mirandy after every win. Four years later, when the Cardinals slumped in a pennant drive, they asked that Mirandy be brought back again as a good-luck omen. Mirandy took the Cardinals to the World Series both times, but it has not been played in a Cardinal clubhouse in 17 years. A desperate search was conducted this month for a recording of Mirandy, but no one could find a copy of the record, which Spike Jones had made famous. Finally Jones himself was asked. He had one at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., and a copy of it was made and put onto Bauman's tape. "If we win tonight," says Bauman, "I'm going to play Mirandy for these guys." Some trainers do not live by liniment alone.
As the Cardinals dress and Bauman hides his tape recorder, Groat, the league's leading hitter, watches in his street clothes. On Sept. 4, in a rundown play against the New York Mets, Groat fractured a rib. Two days later Don Cardwell of the Pirates hit that injured rib with a fast ball. The Cards miss Groat, and Groat misses the Cardinals. He will probably rejoin them in five days. He hurts.
In the first inning Flood lashes a single to center to start a two-run rally. Simmons is magnificent, and in the seventh he works his way out of his only tight spot of the night. During the seventh, however, the Cardinals hear the sound of spikes coming down the steps from the clubhouse toward the dugout. They lean over and look at the door to see who is coming. Groat! Keane opens his mouth and stares. The players look at each other and say nothing, because nothing really needs to be said.
The Cards win the game easily, 6-0, and as they clatter up the steps to the clubhouse they hear Mirandy. Howie Pollet, the pitching coach, remembers Mirandy from both 1942 and 1946, when he was pitching for the Cards himself. "Sounds just like old times. Yes sir, like old times," he says. The standings say:
. I know he can't hear me from center field, but I yell to keep myself on my toes. I'm really yelling at myself."
Mirandy plays louder than ever and over and over in the dressing room. The Cardinals have won their 16th game in their last 17. Flood has now hit in 14 straight games. Musial is hitting .571 since Monday. Curt Simmons has pitched three consecutive shutouts for the first time in his long career. The Dodgers split a pair of tight, tough games in Philadelphia.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 14
Last night Tim McCarver, the catcher, went out with Ann McDaniel. She is from Memphis, and so is he. She is on her way to the University of Oklahoma, where McCarver is a sophomore, and he has invited her to spend the weekend in St. Louis. She is also going to drive McCarver's car back to school, and this makes her the best-looking chauffeur of all time. They will not allow their pictures to be taken, though. They are not quite that serious yet.
Early this afternoon McCarver watches the Milwaukee pitcher, Bob Sadowski, warm up. Sadowski is about the best friend that Tim McCarver has in the world. In 1960 they played together in Memphis; in 1961 in Charleston; in 1962 in Atlanta. Next December, when Bob Sadowski's wife has her first child, Tim McCarver is going to be the godfather. "Bob," says McCarver, "is a great pitcher." The Cardinals traded Sadowski to the Braves this spring along with Gene Oliver in exchange for Lou Burdette. "Bob," says McCarver, "is an unlucky pitcher." Sadowski has won his last four decisions and carries the best earned run average (2.34) on the Brave pitching staff, though his record is only 5-5. In five games this year in which he has lost or not figured in a decision, the Braves have provided him with a total of only three runs.
In the second inning McCarver gets the first hit off Sadowski, a fruitless single. Leading off in the fifth, however, he lines a sharp single off Sadowski's ankle. Sadowski is hurt, and the Braves rush to his side. He tries a few pitches and says he can continue. After George Altman flies out, Pitcher Bob Gibson comes to bat. Gibson belts one to left that is in the bleachers, but an anxious fan reaches out and touches the ball before it can reach the home run level. Umpire Stan Landes rules interference. The fans boo, but the call is correct. For the first time in a week a critical break has gone against the Cardinals.
McCarver is held at third and Gibson at second by the ruling. Bob Sadowski is in trouble. As he faces Julian Javier he has only one choice with his first pitch, and he uses it. Sadowski does not truly aim at Javier's head. He throws a fast ball at the bill of Javier's cap, and Javier spins into the dirt. Good pitch. With the infield in close, Javier hits the ball to Shortstop Roy McMillan, and McCarver breaks for the plate. McCarver should be out by 20 feet, but McMillan's throw is on a short hop and scoots past Catcher Del Crandall. The breaks are back with the Cardinals. Dick Groat hits an outside pitch to second base, and Frank Bolling's weak and wild throw is not in time to get Gibson sliding into home.
In the sixth, Bill White homers to put the Cardinals in front 3-0. The Braves rally in the ninth, but a fine play by Boyer at third and some excellent relief pitching by Ron Taylor pull the Cards out of trouble.
Manager Johnny Keane sits in his office and says, "It's a great thing to see kids like McCarver and Sadowski battle one another. They were always together, kidding one another and helping one another out when I had them in St. Petersburg this spring. I guess at night they would go out together and have a few beers. Both of them are high-class boys."
Twenty-six years ago Johnny Keane, a shortstop with Houston in the Texas League, used to go out and have a couple of beers with the first baseman on his team. Both of them were high-class boys. The first baseman was Walter Alston.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 15
Ken Boyer arrives early at Busch Stadium for the doubleheader with the Braves. Three days ago he was hit by a Larry Jackson pitch, and he has been wearing a red golf glove on his right hand. The hand still hurts. Standing in front of his locker he says, "I can't get the feel of the bat. I'm going to try and get by without the glove today."
During batting practice Boyer hits for five minutes, and his swing feels more natural but not really good. In the second inning he comes to bat and lines a sharp double just an inch fair down the left-field line. Bill White promptly follows with a home run. In the fourth Boyer drives one of Bob Hendley's pitches 365 feet into the left-field bleachers. When the scoreboard puts up two runs for the Phillies, to send them ahead of the Dodgers 4-1, Gary Kolb, who is the funny man of the Chinese Bandits, walks the length of the dugout on his heels and swings his fists exuberantly through the air.
Lou Burdette pitches excellent baseball until the top of the seventh, when he gives up a two-run homer to Henry Aaron. Burdette stands on the mound and swears at himself. But his real trouble lies ahead. In the top of the ninth, protecting his 3-2 lead, Burdette quickly gets two outs. Now he must face Eddie Mathews, one of the best home-run hitters in the history of the game. Burdette walks behind the mound, turns toward center field and bows his head over the ball. As he gets ready to pitch, Mathews asks Plate Umpire Tom Gorman to examine the ball. Mathews, a teammate of Burdette's for 11 years, suspects that Lou might be throwing a spit-ball. Gorman calls for the ball, and Burdette throws it to him on a nice, short, antiseptic bounce. To Gorman the ball seems dirty, not wet. He throws the ball out of the game. Twice, as Burdette gets ready to throw two-strike pitches, Mathews backs out of the batter's box and Burdette's shoulders sag. Finally Burdette throws a perfect pitch low and away, and Mathews merely doubles it to left. Burdette gets the last out on a long fly ball to Center Fielder Curt Flood. Pass the biscuits.
What does Julian Javier think when he hears Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy? He has trouble with English, and the song must sound kind of silly to him. In the Dominican Republic, where becomes from, they never heard anything quite like it. But he knows there is magic in the music.
The second inning of the second game, Javier bats in the Cardinals' second run, and then in the fourth he makes one of the big plays of this entire, desperate chase. With a runner on third, Javier on first and one out, Dick Groat slams a hard grounder and Shortstop Roy McMillan makes a brilliant stop to set up a sure double play. McMillan throws the ball to Second Baseman Frank Boiling, but Javier slides hard into Boiling, whose throw to first pulls Joe Torre one step off the bag and toward the hustling Groat. Groat now smashes into Torre, who drops the ball as that very comforting extra run scores. Boiling has to be taken from the game. Javier walks around dizzy. Boiling has kicked Javier in the head. It is bang-bang baseball, and it is winning baseball.
With Ray Sadecki pitching a five-hitter, the Cardinals ease in, 5-0. Mirandy plays on and on in the clubhouse after the game. The Cardinals have now won 10 in a row, and 19 of their last 20. With the Dodgers coming to town tomorrow for a three-game series, the impossible is now possible—very possible. No one can remember as far back as last Monday.
A couple of weeks away from the end of one of baseball's great careers, 42-year-old Stan Musial streaks toward the Cardinal bullpen with the abandon of a rookie as he pursues a seemingly uncatchable foul fly. While his teammates shout "Room!" he lunges, catches the ball, and then laughs.
The Cardinals are playing a brazen, banging kind of ball. On two successive plays, Tim McCarver (left), who should have been out by several yards, scores when a bad throw gets past Milwaukee Catcher Del Crandall, and Pitcher Bob Gibson slams home after a ground ball is hit to the infield.
Heat treatments help heal Groat's injured ribs but his pennant fever rages out of control.
Back at the rococo ranch...
and everywhere else in Los Angeles, a nervous citizenry is consumed with a black thought: Will the Dodgers blow the pennant again? Nurtured on Hollywood improbables, Dodger fans enjoy suspense, but they enjoy it most when the U.S. Cavalry arrives on time. Last year the detested Giants stormed the town, massacred the Dodgers, and the Cavalry never did show up. Outwardly, L.A. life goes on as usual this week. But not really. The recollection of the Dodgers' final resting place in 1962 is too fresh. Though the city's monument-minded morticians maintain their normally sober mien, crossed fingers reveal their primary concern. Movie stars lounge, body-beautiful boys strut and evangelists warn of another kind of doom—as always—but the message is not getting through. In Los Angeles there is one thought: survival.