Even in Baltimore the new act may draw. It features the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, and last week, when the two teams were playing to a standoff in Boston—2-0 for the Sox, 7-4 for the Orioles—Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver was looking forward to their next meeting this weekend at home. "There could be 35,000 people in the stands," Weaver said. Then he added, "And 25,000 of them will be there to boo me."
The excitement was genuine. Not since the summer of 1967, when the Red Sox, Tigers, Twins and White Sox battled to a blistering finish, and Boston, the long shot, nailed the pennant on the final day, has there been so much interest in the American League, East or West, and part of the reason was the unexpected performance of Weaver's unwarlike warriors. Before the Orioles had even gone to spring training this year, the championship was conceded to them. Then the season began, and after a while Baltimore proceeded to play like the second-best team in the American League East and forget all that silly business about being "The Best Damned Baseball Team in the World!" It would not be fair to say that panic has swept the Oriole clubhouse, but the Orioles are not exactly overjoyed with their record in one-run games this year. They have won only five of 11. They won 40 of 55 in 1970.
On Saturday afternoon in Boston, Weaver took a piece of string from his pocket and began doing magic tricks with it. Suddenly he wrapped the string around his throat and tilted his head back as if he were hanging himself. Kidding, of course. "We started off like a house afire," he said, "and then we started to lose. But before anyone makes any big decisions about who is going to win anything, let's wait until June 16. By then we'll have played everyone home and away. Then let's see."
For those who want to believe that a Baltimore demise is imminent, there are some telltale signs. The bullpen has a record of 3-6, and through their first 31 games the Orioles left the bases loaded 21 times. "So far," says Frank Robinson, the team leader, "we have not been getting hits when we need them. The way our lineup is made, we are supposed to be able to get the big hit from any one of eight positions in the batting order, and that's not happening yet."
Because of a very confusing schedule the Orioles had gone a month and a half into the season before meeting division-leading Boston. Their arrival last Friday at Fenway Park became a kind of New England festival. Signs hung from the bleacher walls and Red Sox caps and pennants blossomed everywhere. The disaster of the Bruins' Stanley Cup collapse was a thing of the past, and in the breast of every Red Sox fan new hope throbbed.
Perhaps more important than any single factor in the love affair between New England and the Red Sox is Fenway, a temple of thrills compared with the majority of modern stadiums. Teams do not bunt in Fenway and they do not steal bases. It is considered a crime to miss a chance to swing at the great green wall in left field.
A shutout, as a consequence, is all but unheard of. Three weeks ago the Red Sox played a doubleheader at home against the Twins. The score of the second game was a reasonable 9-8, about what everyone expected. But the score of the first game—Lordy, it was 1-0, and who ever expects a score like that in Boston? Games that finish 1-0 happen in the hinterlands, west of Framing-ham, north of Medford and south of Quincy. Sandy Koufax pitched in Los Angeles, never in Boston. Local historians immediately went to work and turned up a fact that would astonish anybody but a Bostonian. Since 1963 Boston has won only three games—out of the exactly 658 played at Fenway—by a 1-0 score.
Thus it was not surprising that the capacity crowd seemed bewildered by the 2-0 opening-game score. As Sonny Siebert and Jim Palmer matched pitches, the great wall remained inviolate, and the minds and hearts of Boston could make no sense of this. Wall-Ball or Wall-O is what they were used to—the old formula of a lot of right-handed slugging gorillas instructed to "hit the green thing and we'll give you lots of bananas."
"I suppose," says Weaver, who is as easily mesmerized as anybody else by The Wall, "that it is one of the reasons why such a dynasty has been built in Fenway Park and why all those championships have been won by Boston." (The Red Sox, alas, have won but two pennants since 1919.)
What Bostonians are only slowly coming to realize is that since the close of the 1970 season the Red Sox have moved away from Wall-Ball. They have begun to build a team with fewer gorillas and more gazelles. They began in the middle, acquiring Catcher Duane Josephson, Shortstop Luis Aparicio and Second Baseman Doug Griffin in off-season trades. Boston also decided to keep one Conigliaro on the team and to send another one away. Young Billy stayed, older Tony went.