Something awfully funny was going on in baseball. At one moment, like tired old men sitting on the National League fence in the twilight of their schedules, the Phillies, Reds, Cardinals and Giants were peacefully whittling away and killing time until the end of the season. The next moment bits and pieces of various baseball teams were strewn all over the landscape, and before you could say Warren Crandall Giles the National League, an organization long dedicated to fratricide, was in the middle of the bloodiest pennant feud in 24 years.
Meanwhile, back in the American League, the Yankees were running away from Baltimore and Chicago—which was also according to tradition, except for one thing. Just one short week before, the league with the pennant race had been the American and the league with the runaway had been the National and baseball fans may need the whole winter to figure out the sudden switch.
What had happened was simple enough. The Yankees, after a long summer of abnormal behavior, suddenly reverted to form, took off on an 11-game winning streak and almost disappeared over the horizon. And in the National League the Phils, after leading the pack for 143 days and with a 6½-game bulge, quit winning at the same instant that the Reds, Cards and Giants—particularly the Reds—forgot how to lose
It began on a cool Monday night in Philadelphia's archaic Connie Mack Stadium when 20,000 people went out to welcome the Phillies home from a successful 10-game, 10,000-mile road trip during which their league lead had expanded to 6½ games with only 12 games remaining. The opposition was the second-place Reds. In the sixth inning Chico Ruiz, a 25-year-old Cincinnati rookie from Cuba, pulled a stupid play that worked, and won a game, thus cutting Philadelphia's lead to 5½ games. By the end of the week not even the half was left.
Ruiz was on third base with the score tied 0-0, and Frank Robinson, Cincinnati's power hitter, was at bat. There were two outs and, as Art Mahaffey, the Phils' pitcher, prepared to throw, Chico came sprinting for home, trailed by anguished cries of "No, No!" from Reggie Otero, the Reds' third-base coach. A base runner does not try to steal home without telling anyone, particularly with a hitter like Robinson at bat, but Mahaffey threw a wild pitch and Ruiz scored. Otero, a Cuban himself, said, "My mind went blank with anger. With Philadelphia 6½ games in front, we don't really think that we can catch them. But we are lighting with St. Louis to finish second and that means $2,000 a man. Stupido!"
Stupido or not, Ruiz scored the only run of the game; it started Cincinnati on a three-game sweep of the Phils and enabled the Reds to continue building a seven-game winning streak, the longest in the National League all season.
By the time the Reds had left Philadelphia on Thursday morning the entire city was in a state of shock, "it's like coming home and finding two strangers in your house," said one fan, shaking his head. "All you can do is look at them and wonder how they got in, because the place was all locked up tight." The Phils were just a little too reminiscent of the 1950 team that lost eight of its last 11 games and finally struggled home with the pennant on the very last day of the season, when Dick Sisler hit a three-run homer in the 10th to defeat the Dodgers. Now Sisler, as the Reds' fill-in manager, was the villain.
This year's Phillies had met and turned back every challenge by other contenders. From early April until the beginning of last week Philadelphia had played every game as if it were the seventh game of a World Series, but by the end of last week the team was staggering like a pickup squad at a longshoremen's picnic. "The pressure isn't bothering us," said Jim Bunning. "But the fans! They all want to know what's wrong with us. They're the ones that can't handle the pressure." And Philadelphia fans were saying the same thing about the players.
Nor was it only the Reds who were coming at the Phils. The Cardinals were just behind Cincinnati, and the dissension-ridden Giants followed them. Not for 24 years had as many as four clubs gone into the last week of the season with a mathematical chance of winning the pennant.
While Philadelphia was trying to halt the debacle, the New York Yankees finally were doing what they get paid so well to do. They were hitting the way Yankees arc supposed to hit, and fielding and pitching just as efficiently. At week's end New York was three games in front and almost certain of its 14th pennant in the last 16 years.
If the fall of the Phils was startling, the surge of the Reds was at least explicable. Cincinnati is deep in pitching and speed and has adequate power, but for months the Reds did not really get rolling. It probably was a fight that got them started. On Aug. 28 Otero and Coach Johnny Temple were involved in a brawl in the Red dressing room at Crosley Field just before a night game with Houston. Temple suffered a puffed eye and a cut cheek, and Otero was hit in the mouth. Reds moved in on both sides to break up the fight, and not long after—when the game with Houston had been postponed by rain—the team held a clubhouse meeting that was both stormy and productive.
Fred Hutchinson, the cancer-stricken manager, was at the park after having been hospitalized two weeks for radium treatments. He had come to the ball park to see the game but stayed for the meeting. The Reds apparently ironed out their problems and agreed to stick together and try to win a pennant as a matter of pride in their own abilities.
Hutchinson, of course, had been on the players' minds all year. They had seen him in spring training when he was perky but forced by doctor's orders to take it easy. Between spring training and the end of July he lost 25 pounds and had to take periodic treatments that were painful and time-consuming. When Hutchinson went away on August 16, Dick Sisler took charge. "I was told to take over the team," says Sisler. "But it's Hutch's club. I call him every day on the phone when we are at home and just about every day when we are on the road. I knew that I put both my job as a coach and my future as a manager on the line when I took over. If Hutch should not come back—well, they might get someone else to run the club, and the new man wouldn't want me around as a coach knowing that I had been the manager. Hutch comes to the home games when he is allowed to, and the players love to see him. When he can't, he listens to the games on the radio and watches the ones on television."
"Wherever we go as a team this year," says Sammy Ellis, the fine 23-year-old relief pitcher, "Hutch is somehow there. His name will come up over dinner. You're sitting there, and somebody says, 'Hear anything about Hutch?' There is a kind of quiet that comes over everybody. It makes you put your hands under the table and clench your fists and wish somehow there was something you could do. There are probably a lot of fake eggheads around who think that ballplayers play only for themselves or for George Washington. Sure, we want to win the pennant for ourselves and get the Series money. But a ballplayer wants a World Series ring more than anything else, and we want to put a ring on Hutch's finger."
Ellis, along with 20-year-old Bill McCool, has provided Cincinnati with unexpectedly good relief work. Just last week he came into the third game against the Phillies with the Reds leading 6-3. He got one out, then walked the bases full—and the screams of the Philadelphia fans nearly blew him from the mound. He promptly struck out Johnny Callison and Tony Taylor to end the threat, and the Reds went on to win.
McCool, who is called Mr. Magoo, walked in from the bullpen against the Mets last Saturday with the Reds leading 3-1. There were two runners on base and one out. He struck out the first hitter on three pitches, then got the next on a soft fly to right. In two and two-thirds innings he faced eight hitters and struck out five. Before the last out he heard a lot of yelling from his infielders and turned to look out at the scoreboard in right center field, where the score of the Phils' 6-4 loss to Milwaukee had just been posted. He rubbed up the baseball, smiled broadly at the scoreboard, turned around and fired a slider that got the hitter on a pop foul.
As the Reds gained strength from their bullpen, the Phils suffered from the collapse of theirs. Manager Gene Mauch called in 19 relief pitchers last week—all to no avail; moreover, the Phils were committing blunders on the bases and in the field. They like to gamble with their running, but in recent weeks they have lost more often than they have won. In 15 games, 10 Philadelphia runners were thrown out trying to make an extra base.
Obscured by the wild shifts of fortune in Philadelphia and Cincinnati was the steady play of St. Louis, which added up to an excellent week. The Cardinals won six of seven games, and the one they lost was by a 2-1 score. Manager Johnny Keane acted unsurprised: "In spring training I said this pennant race would not be decided until the last week of the season, and that's what's going to happen." Keane also noted that his team would finish the schedule with three games against the New York Mets. St. Louis has not won a pennant for 18 years, the longest such spell endured by any National League city except Chicago.
The Cardinals were getting strong pitching from Bob Gibson, who has completed eight consecutive games, and young Outfielder Mike Shannon has also helped. Although he still tends to chase bad pitches, Shannon has driven in 41 runs in only 228 times at bat, an extremely high ratio. Bill White, who had only 30 runs batted in at the All-Star break, has since driven in 63.
At week's end the San Francisco Giants had only a remote mathematical chance to tie and had no more games against the other contenders.
The Reds' acting manager, Dick Sisler, flashes a big smile as he enjoys his view from the top.
Hustling play of the Cincy infield, typified by Pete Rose's tag, makes up for lack of finesse.
Pushing a perfect bunt here, Chico Ruiz earlier beat the Phillies with surprise steal of home.