It is one of the many theses of Los Angeles Dodger Shortstop Maury Wills that togetherness is a grossly underrated factor in the success of a baseball team, and when Maury Wills postulates a belief he doesn't clutter it up with qualifying words like sometimes. Thus last weekend, after five defeats in six games had raised the question of whether the world champions could do with a little less esprit and a few more line drives up the alley, Wills clung stolidly to his conviction that the team that stays together plays together.
In a guest essay in the Los Angeles Times on June 12 Wills had quoted Carlyle to this effect: "No lie can live forever." Ergo the Dodgers would rise again, and if the sequitur was a bit fuzzy, it's easier to feel renascent on a night when you have Sandy Koufax going for you.
In theory the Dodgers had more going for them than in their scramble to the 1965 pennant. Their team batting average was only 12 points higher than last year's .245, but they had hit 47 home runs. At the same time last year the Dodgers en masse were only 15 home runs ahead of Willie Mays. Rookie Don Sutton rounded out the best four-man starting staff in baseball, and Tommy Davis didn't have a broken leg. The elements were there, and Manager Walter Alston had no serious doubts about his troops being together spiritually; he was trying to keep them together physically. Ron Fairly, the Dodgers' substitute for a bread-and-butter hitter, was out for almost a month with bruised ribs, and in his absence the Dodgers' hits were becoming more like isolated incidents than steps in the patterns they ran through last year. Lou Johnson was outhitting his "Cinderella" year by 33 points, but somehow the winning run wasn't on base every time he came up.
Worse yet, all those little things that meant such a lot in 1965 were not happening for the Dodgers so often, and some of them were beginning to happen to them. San Francisco Giant Manager Herman Franks gave them a dash of their own audacity in the opening game of last weekend's series in Los Angeles.
With Tito Fuentes on first, two out and a one-ball two-strike count on Willie Mays, there were several reasons to assume Fuentes would not be running. One reason was that Tito was one for three in thefts for the season. Another was that, with Mays behind in the count, Sutton would be "wasting" a pitch, making the ball easier for Catcher John Roseboro to handle. Still another was that the Giants don't do that sort of thing very often. So Fuentes stole second. The worst that could happen, Franks had reasoned, was that Fuentes would be thrown out. If so, Mays could start off the next inning even with the pitcher, and that wouldn't be so bad.
The steal changed the situation and the attitudes, or some of them. "With first base open," Alston said, "you don't care too much if you walk Mays." Theoretically. But Sutton cared very much about walking Mays, so much so that he tried too hard with a slider on the 3-2 count and not only walked Willie but wild-pitched Fuentes to third. That brought Willie McCovey up. He had fanned twice and grounded out, and each time the first pitch had been a curve for a strike. "Stay ahead of the hitter," is one of Sutton's theories, "and make him hit your pitch." The majority of pitchers grow too soon old and too late smart, so the singular attraction about Sutton this spring was that he seemed to throw 20-year-old stuff with a 40-year-old head. Sutton tried to get ahead of the hitter, but McCovey hit his pitch, going after it as if he knew it would be a curve over the plate. "I had to go with my best," Sutton said, "and it wasn't that bad a curve. But his best was better than my best."
The next night Sandy Koufax made everything all right, but it wasn't easy. He tried to cram spring training into one week after his long holdout, and his record seems to indicate that he succeeded eminently. But only Koufax can tell how good Koufax ought to be, and he said he was "not really strong" after 11 victories. "I guess the difference is small," he said. "It's not so much that I get tired, but sometimes I go for a little extra and it isn't there."
The Giants could not see the difference and Koufax might have had a breeze, except for a few little things that, again, did not go the Dodgers' way. Ray Sadecki was the Giants' pitcher, in honor of San Francisco's idea that left-handers have a better chance of containing the Dodgers' running attack. Sadecki honored Wills with 19 pickoff throws during Maury's two visits to first base, and he picked him off the first time. The second time, with none out, Sadecki was so attentive to Wills that he walked Wes Parker and a rally was in the making.
All Dodgers are together, as Captain Wills insists, but some Dodgers are more together than others. Willie Davis, for example, probably could bunt .200 but he would rather swing. In this instance he bunted foul on the first pitch and then tried to hit the next two pitches to the mountains. He missed the first one and hit the second straight up in the air. Then Wills led a double steal and was thrown out, so the big inning produced one run. "Wills is on his own," Alston said. "But I have a sign I give him when I think a steal is a good idea, and I gave it to him. Tommy Davis was the hitter and he's susceptible to double plays, and the way Sadecki was kicking his leg I thought Wills could make it. I believe we have to run. The one bad week last fall, when we lost three out of four to the Mets, I told them I thought we were being too cautious. The way we got to first place was by being daring on the bases, and I told them that was what we would have to do to stay there. And—I don't care what the reports say—we're not that much stronger this year."
But the Dodgers roll on and the money rolls in. The three Dodger-Giant games in Dodger Stadium last weekend averaged 53,000 customers. In 175 games since the two teams moved west in 1958, they have played to just over 6.5 million patrons. Could it be that New York's interborough rivalry was truly transplanted after all?