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The ball hung over Chicago's Comiskey Park like an apple on a string. Left Fielder Leon Wagner and Center Fielder Vic Davalillo of the Cleveland Indians gazed alternately at the ball and each other. With two out, the two White Sox base runners ran perfunctorily and Cleveland Pitcher Jack Kralick hitched his pants in the manner of a painter backing off to admire his mural.
A second later the 150-pound Davalillo was on the ground. So was the 5�-ounce baseball, with the 195-pound Wagner searching for it. A minute later the White Sox had three runs, enough for a 3-2 victory over the Indians to even up the first "crucial" series of the first complex pennant race the American League has seen in 17 years.
All such outfield collisions being theoretically avoidable, they usually divide the object of a manager's gall into three parts: the two outfielders and the first reporter who asks which one goofed. Cleveland Manager Birdie Tebbetts kept the latch on his clubhouse door for a few minutes after the game, but when it opened there was this new kind of Tebbetts in this new kind of race in this new kind of American League.
"I can't in good conscience blame anyone," Tebbetts said placidly. "What happened was not of major consequence, but when it happens twice [later in the game Wagner scared Davalillo off another fly ball] you should review your policy. There could be bad feeling between two men, but if you talk it over there's no problem. You have to have a basic this-is-it. That's what we were talking about when the door was closed."
Unless you had a bad high school coach you know the basic this-is-it is that the center fielder catches everything he can reach; he is the most reliable, or he wouldn't be the center fielder. "I know who is to blame," Tebbetts conceded, "but that may have been the best thing that could happen to us. It's good to have a refresher course."
Good and expensive. The Indians had the White Sox in deep trouble, on the brink of a three-out-of-four disaster, and let them off the hook. Birdie's peace would pass the understanding of all but those who had suffered heart attacks and beat the rap, as he did last year. In this relatively Yankeeless American League, however, all the contending managers are playing it cool, regarding each other's teams with an almost amiable interest.
White Sox Manager Al Lopez, appearing as late as possible for a day game after an excruciating twi-night defeat by the Indians, was set upon by an elderly acquaintance who infiltrated the clubhouse as Lopez was putting his pants on. "Good to see you," Lopez said, and then was interrupted. "Why don't you stop in more often?" he added pleasantly. The interruption had been Trainer Ed Froelich informing Lopez that Third Baseman Pete Ward, the light-hitting Sox' ultimate weapon, had swung his bat too hard again and was off to the hospital to have his neck placed in traction.
In his fine script Baltimore Manager Hank Bauer wrote the names of Boog Powell and Sam Bowens on his lineup card despite their composite average of .190. "We aren't going anywhere without them." he said, and added an ex-Yankee's view of the positive: "I have only five games left with New York."
In Detroit, Tiger Manager Charley Dressen employed three members of his suddenly impotent bullpen to get the last three outs against the Yankees, then joked with Pitching Coach Stubby Over-mire. "Nobody can pull away," Dressen said confidently as the Tigers slipped six games behind. "Oughta be five teams in it right to the end."
Near the shores of Gitche-Gumee, however, sat the coolest manager of them all. Sam Mele's league-leading Minnesota Twins weren't bashing in as many heads as they were supposed to, and their defense was as porous as ever. But they were winning close games with, of all things, speed. "They're not embarrassed any more," Mele explained. "They run without worrying about what happens."