The knuckler—a good one, bouncing around almost weightlessly—came over the plate, and Horton swung. The ball took off like a Jack Nicklaus two-iron and landed in the lower deck in left field. "That was my best knuckler," said Fisher. "No other right-handed hitter ever has hit my knuckler like that before." The Tigers won the game 4-3.
"If Willie stays healthy all year we could win this pretty easily," said Pitcher Earl Wilson. Staying healthy, though, has not been easy for Horton. He has been troubled constantly by injuries to his huge legs, which may look indestructible but apparently are anything but. Last season, for instance, he missed 43 games because of an injury to his Achilles' tendon. That was corrected by surgery, and now Horton says he is ready for his best year.
But it was not Horton's injury last year or even the one to Kaline, who missed a month of the season with a broken finger, that ruined the Tigers. It was Detroit's bullpen, the least effective one of any contender. Manager Smith has released or traded most of the old relievers who failed so frequently, and now the bullpen is manned by five young kids—Warden, Fred Lasher, Daryl Patterson, Les Cain and Pat Dobson. "At least they can throw the ball past the hitter and strike him out," said Smith. "The others always needed pinpoint control, and when they did not have it they got hit hard. I don't want to go through that again this year."
Unlike their more persistent rivals, the Tigers are basically a group of conservatives. They are an altogether quiet gang. They never steal bases. They rarely play hit-and-run. They beat you with the home run from Horton and Kaline and Freehan and sometimes from Jim Northrup and Norm Cash. The Red Sox, by contrast, are loud, but that is not all their own doing. The team has been embroiled in several feuds over alleged beanballs and knockdown pitches—weapons designed to intimidate hitters. Last year, admittedly, Lonborg was a leading exponent of the brushback when he won 22 games for the Red Sox and led the major leagues in hit batsmen. But on August 18, Tony Conigliaro, the Red Sox rightfielder, was hit near the temple on the left side of his face with a fastball. Only 23, he probably will never play baseball again. This lives with the other Red Sox.
At least six players were hit by a pitched ball in five of the team's first eight games this year. Yastrzemski has been a particular target. He was knocked down three times in Cleveland one day. Gary Peters of the White Sox hit him on the shoulder in one game last week, and Sonny Siebert of the Indians knocked him down in another. Four different players were hit in the Red Sox-Indians game on Friday. Siebert caught Reggie Smith on the elbow, and a few moments later Boston Pitcher Gary Waslewski retaliated by hitting Siebert. The next incident seemed to be accidental, as Waslewski hit Duke Sims on the foot. However, in the following inning, one Red Sox batter was hit by a pitch after being brushed back and the next batter also was brushed from the plate.
Despite all this the Red Sox, who were supposed to be lame-duck candidates this season, were challenging the Tigers and the Twins. Their pitching particularly has been good—better, perhaps, than even Dick Williams had dreamed. Ellsworth, who was rejected by the National League, has been able to keep his pitches down below the waist and, as Tommy Davis said last week, "If Ellsworth is down, they won't hit him." And now Lonborg, who has started to pitch batting practice, is expected to return before the middle of May.
Yastrzemski, naturally, has been subjected to total war by opposing pitchers. "Let's look at it like this," said Catcher Freehan of the Tigers. "Without Conigliaro batting behind Yastrzemski, it is less mandatory for us to pitch to him whenever the situation is tight. The word around the league is to have some other Red Sox hitter beat you."
Last week Yastrzemski hit a home run in the first inning against Cisco Carlos of the White Sox, and then Stanky ordered Carlos to walk Yaz intentionally the rest of the game. One time Carlos even walked him with runners at first and third.
The next day, with Yastrzemski at bat in the eighth inning, Stanky came out to talk with Peters at the mound. He returned to the dugout, and then Peters—on his first pitch—hit Yastrzemski.
Tony Cuccinello, who coached under Stanky at Chicago in 1966 and now coaches for the Tigers, turned grim when he read an account of the Chicago-Boston imbroglio. "Stanky orders his pitchers to hit someone whenever he thinks the time is right," Cuccinello said. "The time in Boston was right, because, hell, the White Sox had not won or scored or done anything.