AFTER THE ROUND ROBIN: ONE DOWN
It was a little before midnight in Chicago, on Tuesday of last week, when Yogi Berra, the rookie manager of the New York Yankees, entered a small, dark caf� and took a table alone in the far corner of the room. An hour earlier Berra had watched his team lose a tense 10-inning game to the Chicago White Sox after leading 3-0 until the bottom of the eighth. The Yankee loss was the 10th in 16 games and pushed them deeper into third place, four games away from the league lead. Berra ordered a bottle of ale, and as the waitress went to get it he put his elbows on the table, bowed his head and brought his clenched fists up to cover his eyes.
Suddenly the piano player began to sing a variation on a haunting lyric—"Sit there and count your little fingers. What can you do? You know it's through. A bad day, a tough day for little boy blue." Nearly everyone in the room was looking at Berra, but Berra did not look up.
On a warm, pleasant Friday evening less than two weeks earlier, Berra had strolled happily across the thick green clubhouse carpet in Yankee Stadium with his team leading the league by .004 percentage points. He had gone to his office, put on his fresh white uniform with the dark-blue pinstripes and looked down at a desk memento, a $3 bill with his picture on it and the slogan, "What, me worry?" He had pointed to the schedule above the desk and put his stubby index finger on the date, August 7. "Between tonight and August 30," he said then, "a lot will be decided about this year's pennant race. We play Baltimore seven times and Chicago eight times. Baltimore plays Chicago eight times. Then none of us plays each other again. But we're in first now, and Baltimore and Chicago have got to come and get us."
By the end of last week both Baltimore and Chicago had come and gotten the Yankees, beating them in 10 of 15 games and leaving them groggy in third place, five games behind. This done, the Orioles and White Sox turned on each other. The Sox had a half-game lead when the two teams met last weekend in Chicago in a four-game series.
It was a series Chicago could have done without. Baltimore won the first two games 4-2, Brooks Robinson hitting home runs in each, the second to win the game in the ninth inning. Shaken, the White Sox lost the first game on Sunday, but rallied to win the second and avert the disaster of a sweep. Even so, the Orioles had regained first place and led by a game and a half.
But game-and-a-half leads are hardly conclusive—the Orioles led the White Sox by three games just a week before—and the White Sox will get another crack at the Orioles this weekend. Some 135,000 people will show up at Memorial Stadium to watch the two teams play for the last time, thus boosting the total audience that will have seen this round robin to 800,000 in 19 dates. These large crowds, drawn by the first authentic three-team pennant chase in the American League since 1960, will have spent nearly $3� million for tickets, parking and concession items.
The stresses of the past three weeks have laid bare the enduring strengths and irreparable weaknesses of the three teams, for it is virtually too late for major changes in personnel or playing style. The New York Yankees are a troubled team. They are waiting for something big and good to happen to them as it has over so many winning years in the past. But something big is not apt to come along, just as it did not on the very first night of the round robin, August 7. Norm Siebern of the Orioles hit a pop fly down the right-field line with a runner on base, and three Yankees watched it drop. It was the type of play that the Yankees are supposed to make blindfolded, but they did not and it led to a run. That run held up for seven innings while the big electric scoreboard in right center field kept trying to lure people to the Stadium and to make those that were there happy. "Welcome Fire Co. No. 1 of Union Beach, N.J.," said the board; "Welcome Star of the Sea Council 371 Bayonne, N.J." The Yankees will put anything on that board this year; a man with a two-chair barbershop can get a lot of free advertising by buying a ticket to Yankee Stadium.
The eighth inning told a little bit more about the Yankees, more than the fact that they are not fielding the way they are supposed to. Bill Stafford came in to relieve after Yogi Berra had sent Phil Linz up to pinch-hit in the bottom of the seventh with a runner on first and two outs. Once upon a time when the Yankees were behind by a run with a man on base they sent up a pinch hitter like Mize, Blanchard or Berra himself, and he would hit one into the right-field seats for a Yankee win. Linz struck out. However, the Yankees were still in the game until Stafford got to the mound. He threw one pitch to Jerry Adair and the ball went into the left-field seats. Baltimore led 2-0. Harvey Haddix held the Yankees in the eighth and ninth and Baltimore won. New York had lost a big ball game because its power hitters could not produce, its two pinch hitters struck out, and the relief pitching could not hold. The team fell from first place in the first skirmish of the war.
The Orioles beat the Yankees three out of four, but New York went on to a four-game split against Chicago and then beat Baltimore two out of three. In Chicago last week, however, the Yanks lost four in a row while playing extremely poor ball. In the first game they made two errors, and the deciding run was set up when Whitey Ford picked Floyd Robinson off first base—or tried to. As Robinson danced in the rundown, Phil Linz hit Robinson with a throw, but when Robinson raced to second he found Bobby Richardson waiting there for him with the ball. Robinson kicked the ball out of Richardson's glove, and later he scored on a line single by Pete Ward.