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The Queen City of the mighty Ohio derives its name from Cincinnatus, the loyal Roman farmer who dropped his plow and rushed off to battle when war was imminent. Something has been lost over the generations and in translation into the plural, however; very few people in Cincinnati dropped anything last week to root for the Reds after they returned home in first place and with the longest winning streak—nine games—in the National League this season.
While Barry Goldwater was drawing 16,000 uptown on Tuesday, a mere 10,858 paid their way into Crosley Field. Wednesday and Thursday nights, when free baseball TV rather than free Goldwater was the competition, attendance fell off to 8,188 and then 7,081. On Thursday, after the Reds had lost their second in a row to the Pirates, Third Baseman Chico Ruiz reported that he had tried to give away a couple of tickets to Sunday's final game but had been turned down. "He tell me, you prolly be out of eet, by then. Thees baseball ees all front-runner. Everywhere, front-runner. They ought to move franchise to Habana." Ruiz turned and used his bat like a submachine gun. "Castro, he make everyone play hard," he said.
Not only were people not coming out to the games, they didn't appear to know that games were being played. Fountain Square provided no hint whatsoever that there was a pennant race in town, though a large, ugly billboard recently erected there urged citizens to vote yes on a traffic issue, and on Thursday morning a loud brass band showed up to 1) get money for the United Appeal, 2) shill for the Ice Capades, and 3) wake up people sleeping in the Sheraton-Gibson Hotel. The Ice Capades gave $1,000 to the United Appeal, but they may be pushing the wrong charity. The Reds have dropped in attendance since they won the pennant in 1961.
If the support was negligible, the Cincy hitting was worse. The Reds have not hit well all year, except for that nine-game streak, but after they scored three runs in the first inning of their second game against the Mets on Sunday of last week, all semblance of clutch hitting faded. They got 10 singles and a double against Pittsburgh's Bob Friend Tuesday night but could not score. The Pirates made only six hits against 20-year-old Bill McCool, but with two out in the ninth Bill Mazeroski singled in the only two runs of the game.
McCool sat at his locker long after the game, muttering: "That blanking Maz. That blanking Maz." What, someone asked Mazeroski, did he think of a 20-year-old kid calling him "a blanking Maz." "That," said Mazeroski, straight-faced, "is what makes baseball the great game that it is."
Beginning Wednesday's game, the Reds had gone 17 innings without a run. They almost duplicated that performance in one night. The Pirates' starting pitcher, Bob Veale, gave up seven singles and struck out 16 batters—the season's major league high—in 12? innings, but the Pirates were not exactly dismembering Jim Maloney. Maloney gave up only three hits and struck out 13 in 11 innings. The game total of 36 strikeouts was a record, but the frustration of the Reds must also have set a record of sorts. While the Pirates did not establish anything approximating a threat until they finally scored the game's only run in the 16th, Cincinnati left 18 men on base, 13 in the six-inning stretch from the ninth to the 14th. And the game ended just as implausibly.
With John Tsitouris pitching for Cincy in the 16th, Donn Clendenon led off with a double against the scoreboard. Blanking Mazeroski sacrificed Clendenon to third, and then came the play that may have cost Cincinnati the National League pennant.
The Pittsburgh batter was Jerry May, a young catcher called up from Asheville just 10 days before. The chain of circumstances that brought May to bat at this time are approximately as devious as those that led to the start of World War I. It began when the Pirates sold Catcher Smokey Burgess to the Chicago White Sox, who were lighting for a pennant in another league. So the Pirates needed a third catcher to back up Jim Pagliaroni and Orlando McFarlane, and they tried to get Ron Brand from Columbus. But Brand was on his way home to Los Angeles, so they sent for young May, who was hitting all of .260 at Asheville. May did little at first but pitch batting practice, which sounds innocuous enough except that while pitching batting practice he hit Pagliaroni and knocked him out for the season. So with Clendenon on third, Jerry May came forward to meet destiny.
He took a ball and then got the sign for the suicide squeeze from Third-base Coach Frank Oceak. Clendenon took off for home as Tsitouris cut loose with a slider. Tsitouris never saw the runner go. "If I just had...if...I would have switched pitches," he said after the game. But the pitch was as buntable as a pitch can be. It broke right in across the letters, and May punched it perfectly down the third-base line. Clendenon scored with ease when Ruiz unaccountably retreated to third instead of charging the ball. Ruiz finally came in to pick it up, but by then there was not even a play on May at first. "I can't understand why in the world Chico ran back to the bag when he saw the runner coming in," Sisler said in something approaching shock. It is extremely doubtful, however, that any third baseman could have fielded such a bunt in time to throw out Clendenon, and no one was more amazed at his own artistry than Jerry May. He was called on to sacrifice only a handful of times this season, the last "about a month ago," May said. And how about suicide squeezes? "No, I never did that all year. As a matter of fact, I've never squeezed in my whole life."
By Thursday night the Reds has snapped back. The team had had its official picture taken the night before, and all the players had nice glossy prints to show around. Fred Hutchinson showed up for the picture and put on his uniform for the first time in six weeks. The Reds talked mostly about the Cardinals—"much the best-hitting lineup in the league"—and the Mets. There was general agreement that the Mets would be all fired up to salvage something from the season and decide a pennant race. "I'd rather have the Mets not care," Pete Rose said. Then Cincinnati went out and finally scored against Pittsburgh.