SI Vault
William Leggett
October 05, 1964
Cincinnati made a dramatic move, and the National League went into its most nerve-twanging final week in 24 years. There had been a race in the other league, but the Yankees fixed that
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October 05, 1964

The Big Red Surge

Cincinnati made a dramatic move, and the National League went into its most nerve-twanging final week in 24 years. There had been a race in the other league, but the Yankees fixed that

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Cincinnati has much stronger pitching than New York, and pitching usually wins the World Series. The Yankees will not have Pedro Ramos, because he joined them too late to be eligible. Both clubs run well, but the Reds run better and more often. The Yankees are better defensively and have a decided advantage in left-handed slugging, but Johnson, Robinson and Pinson can make up for that.


Philadelphia 's pitching staff may be tired after the pennant drive, but the clubs are about equal in starters, the Phils having the better bullpen. Bunning is the big question mark. In his last four years in the American League he had a 5.29 ERA vs. New York. The Phils may suffer against lefties Downing and Ford, but the strategic use of bunts and hit-and-run can rattle the Yankees--as the Dodgers discovered last year.


St. Louis is about on a par with the Yankees in pitching. Their outfield defense could hurt the Cards, but the infield defense is close to Yankee caliber and the Cardinals will supply more hits. They have superspeed in the one-two spots in the batting order with Flood and Brock. Some of Ken Boyer's power will be nullified in Yankee Stadium, but lefties White and McCarver will be helped there.


San Francisco is not equal to the Yankees in starters or in the bullpen, and the New York defense is much sharper, particularly at the corners. The power of pull hitter Jim Ray Hart might not be affected by the open spaces of Yankee Stadium, but Orlando Cepeda's would suffer. The Giants began to hit well late in the season, but McCovey is having a bad year. As always, the Giants depend on one man—Willie Mays.


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 6�-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 6� 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 5� 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 6� 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.

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