"I think in the last three weeks I've held more conferences than Kissinger," says Herzog. "Other than that, we didn't do much. People started telling me I was a genius, but I've been down that road before—a genius one day, a dummy the next. It's kind of hard to look bad when you've got a guy like John Mayberry hitting the way he is."
In June, Mayberry was struggling along with only nine home runs. It got so bad that McKeon was playing the 6'3", 220-pound lefthander against such lefthanders as Vida Blue and Frank Ta-nana and resting him against Dick Bosman and Ed Figueroa, righthanders.
"Since I'm a left-handed hitter, I thought it was a strange way of platooning a guy hitting around .210," Mayberry says dryly. "One day I decided I had better get my stuff together."
Since July 1 Mayberry has got enough of his stuff together to leap into first place in the league in home runs (29), and into second place in RBIs (84), walks (84) and in slugging percentage (.563). Over that span and going into the Baltimore series, he had hit .365 with 17 home runs and had driven in 45 runs.
"Right now," says Lau, "he's the best hitter in the American League, and maybe in all of baseball. A hitter like John only comes along once every 10 years."
Mayberry is not the only Royal to wield a hot bat of late. In recent streaks running from 10 to 15 games, Otis hit .385; Hal McRae, who leads the league in doubles, .361; Bob Stinson, .325; and George Brett, .316. Such bopping helped reduce Oakland's lead from 11 to 5� games early last week. After taking two of three weekend games from the Yankees—Mayberry homering in each—the Royals were six out.
"I told the team I thought we could catch Oakland," says Herzog, "but I didn't expect to be this close quite this quickly. But I told our guys it had to happen sometime. First, we are a darn good team and, more importantly, now we believe it. And I told them, just look at Oakland's lineup. It's a great team. But eight of their guys have played 105 games, and another has played 99. They've got to be tired. And their top three relievers are one, two, three in the league in appearances. Charley Finley keeps making out the lineups, and Alvin Dark keeps playing them. Dark knows they need a rest, but what can he do? And when something does happen, they haven't got any bench."
The Royals have no such problem. When one of his starting outfielders tires, Herzog can substitute either Jim Wohlford or Vada Pinson. In recent weeks Frank White has filled in at second and short and has been outstanding. And should Mayberry need a day off, Harmon Killebrew or Tony Solaita, the designated hitters, can pick up a glove.
"Right now," says Herzog, "the key to the Royals will be what happens after we lose two or three straight games. Last year in August they were four games back, and they lost a couple. Then a couple of more. When it was over, they had lost something like 16 out of 18 and had fallen from second place to fifth. I don't think that can happen again."