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Joe Torre, the St. Louis Cardinals' normally imperturbable first baseman, approached the conference on the pitcher's mound one night last week feeling every bit as welcome as the dinner guest who sat on the hostess' Siamese cat. Torre had just muffed a pop-up that would have been the third out in what would then have been a signal 2-1, 13-inning victory for the Cardinals over the Pittsburgh Pirates, their relentless opponents in the battle for the National League East.
But as Torre drew closer to those he had so grievously betrayed, he observed that their manner was hardly accusatory. Reitz seemed to be restraining a fit of the giggles. Hrabosky, whom Torre addresses as "The Mad Hungarian" or, simply, "Hungo," was uncharacteristically serene, and Simmons, nine years Torre's junior, called to mind images of old Judge Hardy beckoning a recalcitrant Andy into his chambers for a "man-to-man" colloquy. It was Simmons who finally spoke: "Aw, c'mon, Joe, lemme see you smile."
Joe did, ending the conference. And Hrabosky promptly struck out the dangerous Richie Hebner to finally win the game.
With such buoyancy do the Cardinals face crises, and though they dropped two of the three games in last week's series with the Pirates in Pittsburgh, they emerged with their confidence and good humor intact.
If the Cardinals are the happiness boys of their division, the Pirates perhaps more accurately reflect the bitterness of the conflict. Theirs is a burden of adversity, for in this single season they have gone from rags to riches to rags to riches to Lord knows where. A magnificent streak had carried them from 14 games under .500 in July to first place by the beginning of September. Then, inexplicably, they lost six games in succession, including the extra-inning squeaker to Hrabosky and the chirping Cardinals. But the Pirates charge when they are wounded, and they shot down the first-place Birds 4-1 and 8-6 in the remaining games of the series to pull within half a game of them. By taking two of three in the subsequent series with Chicago while the Pirates won but once from the Mets, St. Louis went up by 1� as the week ended.
The two teams are studies in contrast. The Cardinals are as healthy as they are happy; the Pirates are bloody if unbowed. Dock Ellis, whose own midseason comeback coincided with his team's, was lost for the Cardinal series—and probably the remainder of the season—with his pitching hand broken by a batted ball on Sept. 11. Dave Giusti, the star reliever who likewise came back from a dismal start, succumbed two days earlier to a muscle strain in his lower back and had not pitched in 12 days until the final inning and one-third of the Cardinal series. Willie Stargell, the team's premier home run man, was sniffling all week with a bad cold. And Richie Zisk, the runs-batted-in leader, was so weakened by a recurrence of strep throat that he missed the middle game.
Zisk was far from healthy for the final game. He sat huddled in his warmup jacket on the bench after batting practice, infirm but grimly determined. "I don't know why this couldn't have happened to me in April," he said, bemoaning his ill-timed illness. "It first hit me two weeks ago in Montreal, where the weather had already turned cold. Then it cropped up again this week. They've got me pumped up with all sorts of things, but I still have no strength and my throat is sore. I don't care how I feel. We've struggled as a unit this far, and I'm sure as hell not gonna let the others down now."
Zisk banged out a hit, was walked intentionally twice and scored two runs in the Pirates' 8-6 win—a productive evening for someone who less than an hour before game time looked about as robust as Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Giusti was another who rolled out of the sick bed to plague the Birds. Many of the 19,844 fans who attended the final game muttered apprehensively as Giusti strode in from the bullpen with two out in the eighth inning, a runner on second base and the score 8-6 in his favor. The first man he faced, Pinch Hitter Richie Scheinblum, got an infield hit, putting the tying run on base. But Giusti himself threw out Jack Heidemann to retire the side.