SI Vault
William Leggett
August 23, 1965
Sixth last year, the Minnesota Twins have become the first-place darlings of the upper Midwest, arousing cheerful hopes and sudden fear as both good breaks and bad come their way by the hatful
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August 23, 1965

Everybody Pick Up A Drum

Sixth last year, the Minnesota Twins have become the first-place darlings of the upper Midwest, arousing cheerful hopes and sudden fear as both good breaks and bad come their way by the hatful

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It has always been assumed that if Minnesota were to win a pennant certain basic things would have to occur. Camilo Pascual, the Twins' most consistent pitcher over the last several seasons, would have to win at least 20 games. Harmon Killebrew would have to hit a lot of home runs, particularly in August, when he always hits a lot of home runs. Either or both of the Twins' young pitchers of outstanding promise—Jim Roland and Dave Boswell—would have to come through in fairly spectacular fashion. Earl Battey would have to avoid injury, and Bob Allison would have to stay strong, day in and day out. Finally, Rich Rollins would have to hit the way he did in 1962, when he drove in 96 runs.

All these prerequisites of Minnesota victory have gone up in a roll of adhesive tape. Pascual tore a muscle in his pitching arm in July, is on the disabled list and is probably out for the season. Killebrew, of all people, was knocked around in a collision at first base three weeks ago and dislocated his elbow, just when he was playing the best ball of his life. Roland's arm became sore early in May, and he was shipped back to the minors. Boswell pitched very well for part of the season but in midsummer developed mononucleosis and had to be put on the disabled list for 30 days. Battey has stayed in the lineup but he has had 10 different injuries to his hands and knees. Allison broke his wrist. And Rollins, through August 15, was hitting .255. Add to all this the fact that Starting Pitchers Jim Kaat and Jim Grant have been fighting tendonitis and it appears that Minnesota should be running away with nothing but higher insurance premiums. But each time an injury shook up the state of Minnesota and had everyone wondering if this would be the one to stop the Twins' charge toward the pennant, someone else in the lineup picked up a shiny new bugle, someone else began banging a different drum.

The ration of injuries seems to have increased over the last few weeks, but the bugles and drums have sounded louder. Second Baseman Jerry Kindall came to bat in the last of the ninth with the bases empty and the Twins losing 3-2. Kindall had not batted in a run in seven weeks, but he hit the first pitch for a game-tying home run. Earlier that same evening Manager Mele had told Jimmie Hall to stay out of the lineup because his knees had been bothering him. Instead, Hall talked Mele into letting him play, and his single won the game.

"We were in desperate shape the day Killebrew was hurt," says Jim Grant. "He was reaching for a ball thrown up the first base line, and Russ Snyder of the Orioles ran into him. You could hear everyone's heart go bump, bump, bump! on the bench. It was a big, big game for us emotionally and psychologically, particularly with the Orioles in second place right behind us. We had a lead early but they scored three runs in the top of the ninth to tie us. Then Jimmie Hall went up to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth and won it with a homer."

The day after Killebrew's injury Mele told his players that they had played great ball under tremendous hardships but that now they had to play even harder. With Killebrew out of the lineup, the other teams would throw an endless line of left-handed pitchers at the Twins. The first left-hander they met after Killebrew's injury did beat them, but then the bugles and the drums began again.

Left-hander Pete Richert of the Washington Senators went against the Twins and, all in one inning, Minnesota got a wild pitch, a passed ball, a fallen-down first baseman, an infield hit, a single and a double and some sound base running to beat Richert. The next team they played, the Boston Red Sox, came into Minnesota without a starting left-hander, and the Twins won three straight at the very time when Baltimore was losing three out of four to last-place Kansas City. The lead had increased, and the breaks were going Minnesota's way again. In New York last week the Yankees pitched left-handers against the Twins twice, and Minnesota won both games.

"The feeling of being in first place," says Jimmie Hall, "is something I've never experienced before and, to tell you the truth, my wife is probably more excited about it than I am. I mean, she's real excited. She gets up in the morning and says, ' Baltimore lost and we got another game.' We're getting a lot of breaks. And look at Tony Oliva," Hall said, pointing to the 24-year-old Cuban outfielder who led the league in hitting last season in his rookie year. "He's fantastic. Let them get two quick strikes on him and he just keeps battling away. They talk about hitters who hit the ball to all fields. Oliva does it better than anyone." Hall smiled. "He was hitting against the Yankees this year, and they pitched him inside and tight. He whipped the bat around and drove the ball into the left-field seats, and Elston Howard stood at the plate and said, 'There is no way. There is no way!' "

Tony Oliva (see cover), with his pixie smile and his quick bat, his sound baseball instinct and his superb eyes, does remarkable things. He has gotten five hits in a game twice this year. The first time four of the hits were infield rollers that he beat out. The next time they were all line drives that whistled to every part of the field. He has bunted for singles and hit tape-measure home runs. Four times this year he has scored from second base on an infield out (two weeks ago he beat Baltimore by scoring from second in the 11th on an infield grounder). Jim Lemon, the Twins' batting coach, says, "You don't have to do much work with him. Everything is so natural. He's hitting this year with a bone chip in a knuckle of his right hand and he has trouble holding the bat, but he still hits. They used to say that he couldn't field. Well, he worked in spring training like few men have ever worked. He would take 500 balls a day in the outfield, just sharpening himself, and now he can do anything." Of the Twins, Oliva says, "We win because we were not that bad last year. Too many the mistakes last year." He was asked if he thought he could repeat as the league's leading hitter, and his eyes drifted to the batting cage, where Boston's Carl Yastrzemski, currently leading the league, was taking batting practice. "Win pennant first. Then we see if Tony can beat ABCXYZ."

Third Base Coach Billy Martin, who has helped to fashion the new running game for the Twins, stood near a plaque in Metropolitan Stadium recently reading the names of players who had been named "the most valuable" Twin in the past five years. "Who would you name this year?" Billy was asked. "Nobody!" Billy answered, meaning "Everybody!" The New York Yankees would be inclined to disagree with their old teammate and pick Shortstop Zoilo Versalles, who has played spectacular ball against them in the field, at bat and especially on the base paths. "Zee" is hitting under .250 for the season and is the Twins' leadoff man, but he has batted in only one run less than the top man on the Yankees and his base running has stunned them. He has stretched Texas-league singles into doubles and scored from first on one-base hits. Versalles is the prime reason why the Twins lead the Yankees in season's play 10 games to 4. The last time any team owned by the Griffith family beat the Yankees over a full season of head-to-head play was in 1933, when the Washington Senators won the pennant.

Hanging from the ceiling of the slanted runway that leads from the Twins' clubhouse to their dugout in Metropolitan Stadium are three signs. The first says THINK, the second HUSTLE, the third WIN. There is a hole in HUSTLE—put there by a bat swung in frustration last year—but no sign has been hit in 1965. The signs are having the best year of their lives.

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