"We're not getting the pitching we should be getting," Mele said. "We've made mistakes, and the mistakes have cost us ball games. But these pitchers can pitch and these hitters can hit. I know that."
Know it or not, and postgame workout or not, the Twins continued on their haphazard way. The height of Mele's suffering came last Friday night in Detroit. On the hallowed ground Ty Cobb once trod, the two teams were responsible for four errors, two wild pitches, 13 walks and a passed ball, but if the Tigers were bad the Twins were worse.
Tovar and Oliva played a scene in the third inning that was reminiscent of Fred Merkle, Babe Herman and Wrong-Way Riegels. Tovar led off with a single and, after his recent base-running catastrophes, apparently decided to play things cautiously. Oliva, next up, smacked a home run to right field and, admiring its soaring grace as he rounded first base, passed Tovar, who inexplicably had come back to tag up. Oliva was called out for passing another runner and his homer shrank to a single in the official score book. In disgust he slammed his batting helmet down by the first-base coach's box as Tovar sheepishly trotted around the bases and scored.
Killebrew let a hard ground ball go through his legs, Oliva overran a fly ball and rookie Jim Ollom, the Twins' third pitcher of the night, forgot to cover home on a wild pitch as Detroit's Ray Oyler scored all the way from second base. Mele did some talking in the clubhouse after the game and extracted certain amounts from two players he declined to name, but whose names got out anyway (they were Tovar and Ollom). "I don't like to fine guys," Sam said, "but it is a case of having to do it."
Despite everything, there were some happy aspects for the Twins, not the least of which was the cheering fact that no other team was off to a particularly blazing start. Zoilo Versalles at shortstop was playing back to his 1965 Most Valuable Player form, fielding nicely and at one point leading the league in batting. Tovar was asleep on the base paths but wide awake at the plate and in center field. He came back the day after the Oliva home-run embarrassment and went four for four.
Rod Carew, a native of Panama who finished high school in New York City, played errorless ball at second base and was an aggressive left-handed batter, not even shying away from lefty fast bailers like Cleveland's Sam McDowell. It began to look as though Carew would indeed make the jump from Class A baseball (Wilson, of the Carolina League) straight to the majors. He was picked off first base twice—to prove he belonged on the Twins—but he looked accomplished on double plays, hit a two-run homer against the Tigers, singled twice against them another day and pretty much demonstrated to Mele that at least there was something to smile about. When Ollom forgot to cover home on that wild pitch, Carew ran all the way in from second to do it for him, though he was too late.
And Dean Chance caught on just like the bratwurst. He was shaky in his first game, against the Orioles in Baltimore, but he insisted that he had good stuff. Last Sunday in Detroit he struck out eight and gave up just one run in seven innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter. His brightest day came in between. The Twins had lost four of their first five, but Chance came back against the Orioles in Minnesota and beat them with a 10-strikeout, five-hit, 3-2 performance in what felt like a must game to the dragging Twins. Harmon Killebrew hit a two-run homer and Carew, naturally, won the game for Chance with a single to center in the bottom of the ninth.
In the clubhouse the Twins were shouting and congratulating each other, and the future seemed suddenly brighter. Chance hugged Carew and Killebrew and accepted a symbolic hot dog from his sidekick, Ollom, who put him down with, "Dean, you messed up. You told me you needed only one run to win."
They were still in the second division, but they were making jokes like winners again.