"Relax, men," Weaver told his press corps. "There's a lot of time left. Maybe next week would be a nice time to put an eight-or nine-game win streak together. There's nothing you can do but keep going to the plate and trying to score."
The race was still going to the wire in Virdon's book. "We've got our work cut out for us," he said. "We're just in a position now where we have to win one less than they do."
Lou Piniella, who has been one of the Yankees' most consistent hitters, slugged a three-run homer in the first inning Friday night at Detroit, but for the first time all week Yankee pitching faltered and the game was lost.
As for the race, ex-Yankee Ralph Houk, the Tiger manager, said, "I wouldn't bet and I wouldn't pick, but at this stage the club with the momentum is the club to beat, so I guess you'd say it's the Yankees." And what does a manager do about a team batting slump, like Boston's? "He takes an extra drink," said Houk.
On Friday, Virdon revealed that Pitcher Sam McDowell, once a feared fireballer, had left the team. "He told me he was hanging it up," Virdon said. "He was unhappy he wasn't contributing." McDowell had a 1-6 record and a 4.69 ERA.
The next day the Yankees resembled their violent predecessors as they ripped Mickey Lolich for three homers and scored four times in the first inning. Maddox made a sensational diving catch of a sinking liner by Ron LeFlore, but the Tigers refused to be intimidated. Al Kaline homered and got two other hits to bring his career total to 2,991, and when Bill Freehan homered in the fifth inning the score was tied at 6-all. In the seventh, however, the Yanks scored four more runs, including Murcer's first homer since July 31, covering 163 at bats, and New York won out. (Murcer still hasn't hit a home run in Shea Stadium.)
In the series finale Sunday the Yankees battered starter Luke Walker and a pair of relievers for 14 hits. Piniella, whom the Yanks had obtained from Kansas City despite reports that he was hard to handle and tough to live with, got four hits in four at bats to drive in three runs. It was still something of a shock to glance over the lineup and note that Piniella was one of seven starters who had not been on the team last year. Gura, while not as effective as he was in his remarkable Baltimore performance, nevertheless gained his fourth win. He held the Tigers scoreless for five innings before being relieved by Sparky Lyle in the seventh. It was Sparky's 55th appearance, and he gave up only one hit the rest of the game. Tiger fans took what solace they could from Kaline's 2,992nd hit, a single accounting for one of the Detroit runs.
And so the borough of Queens' lethal stepchildren headed back to New York for a 10-game home stand with any number of juicy statistics to relish—not least that they had won 24 of their last 32 games. That is .750 ball. And while Virdon departed only briefly (and rather murkily) from his super-cautious "down-to-the-wire" stance, he did at least say something else: "If we can't win it now, we just can't win it, that's all."
Altogether it was a week that did the old Yankees proud. And profoundly disturbed the legion of Yankee haters and fearers who had considered themselves safe for another eon or two.