Donn Clendenon stood at the door of the Biltmore Hotel holding a heavy attach� case. It was loaded with books, and he was going out to the UCLA law library to beat them. That would make him one of the few Pittsburgh Pirates who would beat anything in this terrible terminal series in Los Angeles, and he knew it, knew it as well as Manager Harry Walker on a television interview two days earlier, telling of the fundamentals he would teach next spring, "if we don't make it this year." And as well as the rest of the Pirates the night before on the quiet bus ride to Dodger Stadium. They are a garrulous band normally, but the creeping realization that your campaign is hopeless is not a normal feeling. They knew the horrors that could befall them in Chavez Ravine, and the horrors befell them.
"I think we still have a pretty good chance," Clendenon said. He didn't need any more graduate work to figure out that the National League's annual chariot race—at least as far as it concerned the Pirates—had come to a whimpering end. A really analytical first baseman might have pinpointed the precise moment the Pirates' coach turned into a pumpkin: 9:25 p.m. P.D.T., on Thursday, Sept. 15, when Andre Rodgers lifted a routine fly ball to Willie Davis for the third out in the fifth inning. Never mind the inevitable, noisy, belated rush. The decision was made when the Pirates looked the Dodgers dead in the eye, and turned away.
The Dodgers" five-run first inning in the series opener had been cruel and unusual, as gory as a bullfight with dull tools. But if there was fire in the ashes of the Pirates' hopes, Rodgers had the last chance to make it flame. If Don Drysdale was going to come unglued and blow a 5-1 lead, this was the time to strike: two outs and a runner at second. Rodgers battled, hung in there, wouldn't give in and all the other clich�s, going to a 2-2 count and fouling off four. But then he flied out and the party was over. The Dodgers were only two and a half games ahead and the Pirates had 16 to play, but Friday night it would be Sandy Koufax, and Saturday wouldn't matter.
A man, or a political party or an army or a baseball team, has two basic ways to accept defeat: face the fact of inferiority or make excuses. And the galling, nibbled-to-death-by-pygmies kind of defeat the Dodgers inflict on people is hard to take.
"They have a few good players," Clendenon said, "and Alston is a real good manager. But I don't know. They have to be the ungodliest luckiest team alive." Alvin O'Neal McBean, the closest thing to an angry young man on the Pirates' roster, is less charitable. "I hate to lose to them," he growled. "It's like being beaten by a Triple-A team. It really tees me off, guys like Lefebvre and Parker and Kennedy getting all that publicity about how great they are.
"Oh, brother, the publicity," McBean snarled. "All I care about in this game is money. That's what gripes me: those Ping-Pong hitters getting all that money. They aren't even big-leaguers."
"It doesn't hurt us that they feel that way," Manager Walter Alston said. "We need their mistakes to win. If they get shook up about the way we play, it might help."
The agonizing, insulting five-run ordeal Thursday night began when Dick Schofield, among the most marginal of big-leaguers, caught Vernon Law's pitch on the end of his bat and sliced a soft line drive into left field. Willie Davis, the nonwalking man, swung freely, as usual, and flied to centerfield for the second out. It seemed that the Pirates' star would remain reachable for one more inning.
But Ron Fairly, one who resents the "lucky" label, lined an even softer single to left, and Schofield went to second. Jim Lefebvre, who was going to be the only Dodger to hit a baseball hard all night, but not until the eighth inning, dropped a broken-bat single into center field for a run, and Fairly, who can't run. made third. Harry Walker trotted out to the mound and Law, the Mormon deacon, reassured him that this, too, would pass.
Lou Johnson, who had had Triple-A stamped on him until Tommy Davis broke a leg and there wasn't anybody, hit one off the end of his bat, too, a fly ball Roberto Clemente couldn't reach in the right-field corner. Two bases, 2-0, runners at second and third. In came Billy O'Dell, the veteran left-hander, to pitch carefully to John Roseboro. Very carefully, because the next hitter would be Wes Parker, he of the .246 average and the many strikeouts. Roseboro walked, but O'Dell did his job, getting Parker to pound the ball onto the grass. It was a little tough—in the hole—but Gene Alley is the best shortstop in baseball, with sure hands and a .30-06 arm that has given the Pirates' pitching staff an aura of class that it does not really have. Alley caught the ball and dropped it. Everybody safe, and it's 3-0.