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Darold Knowles of the Oakland Athletics stood stock still on the mound for a moment in Boston's Fenway Park last Thursday, his normally animated face as expressionless as a death mask. One of the better relief pitchers in the American League, he had just walked Carl Yastrzemski with the bases loaded to force in the winning run in the second game of a doubleheader. And since the A's had lost the first game on a paltry squeeze bunt, Knowles felt doubly crossed.
The jeers of the pitiless Red Sox fans resounded in his ears, and he knew that in the clubhouse a wrathful and uncompromising manager awaited him. Under the circumstances, Knowles took the only course available to a reasonable man: he removed his baseball glove and kicked it just as hard and as far as he could.
Such acts of peevishness are not common to the Oakland A's, normally a carefree and cheerful lot, but this was an uncommon week on an inhospitable road. They were bedeviled by rain, three doubleheaders, a midnight plane flight and the Red Sox, a team they had beaten just once in their last six tries.
Only the night before, in Milwaukee, Catcher Dave Duncan had succumbed to an even more violent outburst. It must be said that Duncan had already endured a bad night even before the game started. It had been his fondest hope to be named to the American League All-Star team, either by a vote of the fans or by the All-Star manager, Baltimore's Earl Weaver. Duncan was convinced he had the statistics—14 home runs, 48 runs batted in—to justify this aspiration. But only a few hours before the game with Milwaukee he learned he had been passed over by Weaver in favor of Boston's Carlton Fisk, a mere rookie, and the Brewers' Ellie Rodriguez, who had been ill.
That was bad enough. Then, in the first six innings of the game, Duncan failed to get the ball out of the infield in three at bats and was struck on the arm three times by the bats of wild-swinging Brewers. His patience was worn thin by the time he stepped to the plate in the seventh to face Milwaukee's Jim Colborn. Colborn threw a pitch that looked like it was going to break. It didn't. It hit Duncan on the shoulder. Why, he inquired of the pitcher, can't someone who throws such palpable rubbish contrive at least to get it over the plate? Stung by this implied slight, Colborn said something unpleasant in reply, whereupon Duncan lowered his head and charged for the mound, seeing in Colborn, perhaps, the embodiment of the All-Star voters, Weaver and all those careless batters.
Fortunately, he was intercepted by cooler parties and mayhem was averted. But an injury did occur. In leading a charge from the bullpen to assist Duncan, A's Coach Vern Hoscheit, age 50, toppled off a 10-foot-high fence and very nearly broke his right arm.
The coach's sore arm was the subject of much mock concern on the chartered aircraft that took the weary A's out of Milwaukee at midnight. Hoscheit, a short man with a Warner Baxter mustache that is at odds with the A's prevailing handlebar style, grimaced cooperatively from time to time as semisolicitous colleagues tendered advice to the handicapped.
"I will pitch batting practice," he promised reserve Catcher Gene Tenace, "if I have to pitch left-handed."
The air was damp, the runways wet and the plane late after a getaway game that had lasted nearly three hours. The A's had won 9-6, Duncan's despairs notwithstanding, but they were more drowsy than spirited. Ahead lay six games with the Red Sox. There was no particular pleasure in being carted off to face a team they just couldn't seem to beat. (Baseball fans think their heroes always relish combat, and baseball fans are wrong. On Monday night in Milwaukee when the sound system in their dressing room had played Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the A's had booed. The modern ballplayer is very much an auditory being, and the old song was just not their kind of music on this rainy Wisconsin night. They were delighted when the game was postponed.)
Once they were airborne, Blue Moon Odom sought out Traveling Secretary Tom Corwin. "What does this do to my ERA?" Odom asked. He had won the Milwaukee game, but only after tiring in the late innings and being charged with all six Brewer runs.