Now Wills sat in the Hollywood director's chair outside his locker. "I feel I'm doing a good job," he said. "I'm pleased with what has happened here. These guys here are psyching me. Joe Moeller says I'm bouncing around like a 25-year-old. But I feel like 2,000." Wills planned to sit out the final game against the Braves, but after a long pregame conference with Alston he decided to play. "I don't think I could bear to sit on the bench and watch them play," he said. "I'd be thinking to myself that I could make the difference. Every time I play I should be good for one run somehow."
Wills has played in 97 games for the Dodgers, and he has scored 55 runs and driven in 37—a total of 92. He has hit .337 during the September stretch run, too. More important, he has charged the Dodgers with his reckless spirit and motivated them with his leadership. Says Sizemore, who moved from shortstop to second base when Wills came home, "The man's amazing. He's helping me to smooth my rough edges. Like my footwork. And my pivots. He talks to me about the speed of runners. He told me I don't have to hurry things when a slow man hits the ball. One time before he came I went into the hole for a ball hit by Joe Torre, rushed my throw and threw it away. I did not have to rush it that time."
That night Sizemore beat the Braves when he hit a bases-loaded triple with two out in the bottom of the sixth inning. Wills made two spectacular fielding plays to help save the victory. The Giants also won on Thursday, and they replaced the Braves in first place. Now the Dodgers and Braves were tied for second place, half a game behind, while the Reds, who lost at San Diego and were decidedly not all right, were two games behind in fourth.
On Friday the Dodgers flew to San Francisco in their private propjet—Kay-O by name. The Dodgers and the Giants represent opposite extremes of baseball methods. The Dodgers hunt and peck for runs, then rely on their superior pitching and defense to steal games. The Giants prefer to maul their opponents with long balls from Willie McCovey, Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds, then hope their pitching and defense do not collapse totally. The Dodgers, who would travel to Cincinnati after the Giant series, had to win two games in San Francisco if they were to stay in the race. Among other things the Giants had going for them were six more games with the pallid Padres.
Los Angeles lost Friday night when Mike McCormick stymied the Dodgers on five hits while Bonds, Mays, McCovey and friends played smash ball against Claude Osteen. McCovey hit a 390-foot single into the wind and the fog one time at bat, while Bonds had a home run and a double.
The Braves won at San Diego to keep pace with the Giants, but down in Houston the Reds continued their disastrous slide when a rookie named Keith Lampard, batting for the fourth time this year, hit a two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth to give Houston a 3-2 victory. It was the third time in four days that Cincinnati lost in the last inning. Scratch, for all practical purposes, Cincinnati.
Confronted with a "must" game on Saturday, the Dodgers lost again, this time to Juan Marichal. There is bad blood between Marichal and the Dodgers that goes back years. This July, Marichal did not add to the amity between the clubs when he skulled the Dodgers' Willie Davis with a fastball. On Saturday, Dodger Relief Pitcher Jim Brewer came close to Marichal with one of his pitches, and the incident provoked Marichal to say, "The Dodgers are dummies if they thought I threw at Davis. And it's not smart of Davis to say I tried to hit him on purpose."
Walter Alston answered Marichal. "I can name you a dozen hitters who bear Marichal's scars. He stuck the ball in Willie Davis' ear, and he did it on purpose. He is pretty insensitive if he thinks he can throw at people and not be thrown at in return."
All of which did not matter. Davis did hit a home run against Marichal, but the Giants won 5-4. The following day Los Angeles came close again, but the result was the same—a sad loss. The Dodgers, who were in first place for about six hours on Wednesday, now were in third place—3� games behind the Giants. They were almost as far out of it all as the Reds.
Ted Sizemore learned the hard way. Pennant races begin on Sept. 15. The Giants and the Braves obviously knew that all along.