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Last Saturday afternoon, two hours before the Minnesota Twins were to play the Baltimore Orioles at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., Bob Allison, the Twins' right fielder, watched Zoilo Versalles, the quiet Cuban shortstop, limp down the dugout steps.
"Z," said Allison, "you don't feel very good, do you?"
"No," said Versalles. "The leg, she bothers me."
"Go in and lie down for a while before the game starts," said Allison.
"No," said Zoilo. "Is bad to lie down. Once you lie down someone can come along and bury you."
Six weeks ago the Minnesota Twins themselves were a buried ball club. Nine teams in the American League had flipped dirt on their cold, lifeless bodies. During their first 31 games of the season they lost' 11 one-run games and were shut out six times. Their pitchers were pitching well but lived in constant fear of throwing a shutout only to have a playmate circle the bases in reverse, thereby losing 0 to —1. Since May 15, however, these same Twins have been the hottest team in the American League (25-12 through Sunday) and, of all the mirages that keep springing up before the New York Yankees, the only one that may be for real.
The Yankees this year have been unable to glide serenely away from the rest of the American League despite a seven-game winning streak at one point and a schedule that has matched them with ninth-place Detroit and 10th-place Washington 24 times in their first 64 games. Any Yankee fan, of course, will tell you that the only reason the Yankees have not been able to run away from the opposition is injuries. In truth, the Yankees have had only one serious injury, and that was the annual one to Mickey Mantle. Yankee fans will also gladly tell you that Tony Kubek missed 15 games because of an injured leg, neglecting to mention that at the time of the injury Kubek was hitting .205. Roger Maris hurt his back and then got a pain in his big toe, and everyone is supposed to cry. Luis Arroyo's arm went dead, and Yankee lovers mourned for days. So important has it become for every true Yankee to own an injury that Mel Allen, the announcer, suffering from a virus, fell, was pushed or dived into a bathtub in Detroit and was out of action a week.
The first portion of the American League season has been an interesting thing to behold, because at one time or another since the first week in May four different teams not named the New York Yankees have been in first place. Kansas City got there for a while, but the A's were not dressed for the part. The Boston Red Sox fired and fell back. The Chicago White Sox have played good baseball, refusing to believe that they are supposed to be long on managing but short on talent. The Baltimore Orioles got themselves 3� games in front and then folded like a dollar suitcase. The Twins are now on their way to the top, however, and they may be around to haunt and harass the Yankees not only for this season but for many seasons to come.
They do not like to talk about it, but the Twins have been hurt twice as badly as the Yankees this year. Harmon Killebrew, the league's top home-run hitter of 1962, missed a month of the season; Allison has been playing with an assortment of viruses and a stiff neck; Richie Rollins, the third baseman, played three weeks with a broken jaw; Jim Roland, the Twins' top rookie pitcher (4-1), got a pinched nerve in his elbow and is out for three more weeks; Camilo Pascual, the best right-hander in the American League, is complaining of muscle troubles in his back; starter Dick Stigman missed 12 days. Despite all this the Twins are now rattling the fences with their hitting, and in the interplay among Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston and Minnesota the Twins are 17-10, far ahead of the others.
The Twins have so fascinated the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the entire state of Minnesota in fact, that Calvin Griffith, the club president, is convinced that 1,700,000 people will pay to see his team play in 1963. If Griffith is correct then only the Los Angeles Dodgers will outdraw the Twins. And Griffith's Twins—all 24 on the roster—were pulled together at a cost of about $120,000, plucked from high schools and colleges or acquired through trades.