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The day of the big game dawned clear and warm, but the icy fingers of fear gripped the household of Minnesota's Jim Grant, who knew he had to pitch the opener against the Dodgers, his first World Series game. Mrs. Grant was pressing a bit as she prepared her husband's breakfast. "She butchered the eggs," Grant said, "spilled the orange juice, burned the toast. I said, 'Hey, baby, I'm the one who's supposed to have the butterflies.' "
Grant is the coolest of cats, one who had fluid mastery over the mashed potato and the slop at a time when most informed people believed a discoth�que was a record library. He also came into 1965 with a reputation as a .500 pitcher—one who cancels himself out by failing as often as he succeeds—but this year he was the man who won the "big" games for the Twins, preventing the prolonged slumps that can make a whole team feel the nonexistent icy fingers.
The technical aspect of Grant's new success is the advice of Pitching Coach Johnny Sain, whose text for all days is the importance of spin on the baseball, but Sain did not give Grant guts. Six years earlier, with insufficient experience and inferior spin, he pitched 14 innings to beat the Yankees on their home grounds in one of the most impressive "hang-in-there" exhibitions of modern times. In the first game of the 1965 World Series the Dodgers got 10 hits off him, but he was still in there at the end and he won 8-2.
He beat Don Drysdale, and even made him fall down. Frank Quilici, the Twins' second baseman, had led off the third inning with a double and Grant followed with a bunt. Drysdale rushed in, did a pratfall and from a sitting position threw the ball on one bounce to Jim Lefebvre, who ruined Drysdale's fine recovery by bobbling the throw. Before the inning was over, the Twins had scored six runs. Had Drysdale retired Grant, he could have escaped the inning with only two runs scored. He didn't, not because the field was spongy from October rains but because his Achilles' knee had betrayed him, collapsing as he chased the ball.
"It's cartilage," Trainer Bill Buhler explained. "It won't show on X rays and it's not serious enough for surgery, but it goes out once in a while." Drysdale confirmed that the knee "went," but assumed he'd have been beaten anyway because "I had bad command, bad control. You're out there tinkering around like Thomas Edison, trying to figure out what's wrong, and by the time you do you're in the clubhouse watching the game on television. Hell, a Little Leaguer could have hit that slider I threw Don Mincher."
A Little Leaguer would have been terrorized by the "little bit high" fast ball Drysdale threw after Grant's bunt, but Zoilo Versalles lined it into the left-field seats for three runs. So much for the Twins' power, which nobody doubted, but where was the speed? Drysdale saw it on television when Versalles singled off Jim Brewer in the sixth. While the Dodgers took batting practice the day before the Series opened, an unimposing man in a red sweater had stood near first base, almost unnoticed. It was Versalles, and he had plans. During spring training it had been suggested to him by Maury Wills that he ought to run more. "He told me I had good speed," Versalles said, "and I should steal bases." Versalles stole 25, among the many things he did to make himself the most valuable Twin by his teammates' acclaim. And now he was going to steal more. "The first time I get on," he said, "I must go. There are some things we must find out right away."
Brewer threw to first three times before delivering his first pitch, which was a pitchout. Versalles didn't get a good "jump," according to First-base Coach Jim Lemon, but the throw to second was high and Versalles was safe. The play didn't prove a thing, but the Twins had dropped the gauntlet: they had notified the Dodgers that they could run, too. "No, I don't try to tell them anything," Versalles said. "I see his move and I think I can make it. I wouldn't do it in the regular season, but there are not so many teams as good as the Dodgers."
And not so many good teams that looked as bad as the Dodgers did in the first game. "Shoot," said Lou Johnson, the Dodger left fielder whose success with limited abilities has somehow made him an epitome of the Dodgers' scrambling ways. "This club got to be two games behind before we can play."
Next day they were.