One night last week Baltimore Oriole Second Baseman Dave Johnson was standing around in the locker room, wreathed in mock disgust. "Nobody's talking to me," he said. "I was the only one in the lineup who didn't get two hits. Even the pitcher got two hits." But if Johnson had a for-cripe's-sake tone in his voice it was nothing to what the opposition was feeling as the Orioles used an old-fashioned display of batting power to open up the widest July lead seen in the American League since the Yankees yawned their way to the pennant eight years ago.
Not since the Red Sox of Williams, Stephens, Doerr long before that, and the Yankees of Gehrig, Dickey, DiMaggio, has such a destructive offense been loosed upon the league. The measure of it is in simple statistics, and in the confused remnants of the Detroit Tigers, who two weeks ago moved to within six games of the Orioles and were poised for a rush to the top. But by last Sunday the Tigers must have been glad to be 12 games behind, or just far enough back not to arouse aggressive tendencies in people named things like Robinson and Robinson. Reading American League batting statistics has become a bore if you don't happen to be an Oriole backer. Of the six men hitting over .300, four are Orioles. Never before in modern baseball have the top three runs-batted-in men been from the same team, but they are all Orioles now. The top three men in runs scored are Orioles. And three of the four players with the most hits in the league also are Orioles.
All this has been enough to cause a furor of excitement in Baltimore, a town that has never had a winner Johnny Unitas didn't pitch for. Already three hotels are sold out for those certain days in October, photographs of Oriole players are appearing in store windows where such things have not been seen in years and the National Brewing Company is wondering if its "Home Run Derby" was such a good idea after all. So far National, which broadcasts the Oriole game, has had to pay off $8,700 to listeners because of Oriole home runs, compared with $6,400 all last year. Everybody is talking pennant in Baltimore—almost everybody. "Listen," said Hank Bauer, the not-really-mean ex-marine who drills the happy Orioles, "I'm not superstitious. I don't believe in jinxes. And I won't talk about winning the pennant."
If you were a pessimistic Oriole fan—and 10 years of frustration has bred a city of them—the past week was one to view with foreboding. The Orioles came into a series with Chicago having just lost four of six games, including two out of three to the second-place Tigers, and then they lost one to the White Sox. It looked like time for the regular July cry—after all, the Orioles have been ahead on July 4 before. What was more, the team's hitting had eased off just a little, and small slumps into big slumps grow.
But the Orioles beat Chicago 3-2 in the second game on Sunday, and then Monday night they began their week of vengeance. With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the second inning, Boog Powell hit a Juan Pizarro slider on top of the roof that covers the double-decked stand in Comiskey Park's right center field, which is 500 feet as the Oriole flies. The next batter up was Frank Robinson, who hit one into the Baltimore bullpen, which is 425 feet as the pitcher walks, and the rout was on. As it progressed, Baltimore did things like getting at least one base hit in 23 straight innings and scoring at least one run and as many as four in the first inning of five straight games. The brunt of this was borne by Detroit, which arrived in Baltimore for a three-game series on Tuesday.
Consider the carnage.
Game One. Detroit scores a run in the top of the first. Despite a tender elbow, Earl Wilson, who has beaten the Orioles twice this year, is pitching for the Tigers. Luis Aparicio singles, Russ Snyder singles and Frank Robinson homers. Wilson and his elbow leave, and Dave Wickersham relieves. Brooks Robinson singles. So does Boog Powell. Curt Blefary gets hit by a pitch to load the bases. Johnson grounds into a double play, but Vic Roznovsky, a second-string catcher, singles home a run, and Baltimore leads 4-1. Final score: Orioles 13, Tigers 3.
Game Two. The Tigers score three runs in the first inning, and they are pitching Denny McLain, the American League's best. The Orioles, with Blefary singling home two runs and Johnson one, tie the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the first. The Orioles lead 4-3 after the second inning but trail 6-5 after the third. In the fifth Frank Robinson doubles and scores the tying run on Brooks Robinson's single. Powell then hits a home run into the bushes in front of the scoreboard in right center, and the Orioles lead 8-7. Exit McLain. Final score: Orioles 10, Tigers 7.
Game Three. Brooks Robinson doubles home two runs in the first inning, and Blefary homers in the fourth for a 3-0 lead. In the fifth Frank Robinson hits a home run, and Blefary singles in another run. In the seventh Frank Robinson homers again, his fourth hit of the game, and the Orioles lead 6-0. Robinson now has 12 hits in his last 17 at bats. Final score: Orioles 6, Tigers 4.
During the series the Orioles scored 29 runs and had 47 hits. "I wish," said a disgusted Detroit player, "that pitchers would bear down on me like that." When Detroit fled north, the White Sox came into Baltimore with their good pitching and lost two of three as the Orioles finished up their crucial week with six victories and a single loss.