"Many times I thought of quitting," he says, "but I kept having good years. I never doubted that I could hit major league pitching. I thought Triple A pitching was tougher because of poorer playing conditions."
There was one other surprise in the game. With newly acquired Don Kessinger at second in place of Jorge Orta, Chicago turns three double plays, a minor miracle.
The Twins' bus ride from the New York Sheraton to Yankee Stadium is devoted to sightseeing. The players check out Madison Avenue ladies and the 125th Street carnival. As they ride past a soft-ball game on a playground near 140th Street, someone yells over the loud blare of a Chuck Mangione tape, "Don't slow down, Bussie, or Calvin'll get out and sign one of those guys."
Minnesota's players are proud of being in contention and of being members of owner Calvin Griffith's recycling center. Except for Rod Carew, this is largely a team of the very young, of veterans who have spent too much time in Triple A and of releasees named Thormodsgard and Serum whose signings cost Griffith about $1.75. "I'm surprised how little tension this team feels right now," says Second Baseman Bobby Randall, himself retrieved last year, at age 29, from the Dodger system. "It just feels like the same game we've played all our lives."
But after the night's 6-4 loss to the Yankees, Manager Gene Mauch paces around his office, rubbing out one cigarette after another, shredding a pile of papers on his desk. "I'd give $10,000 for that run, and it was ours, dammit," he says, referring to a fifth-inning fan-interference call on which Mauch felt the umpires should have allowed Larry Hisle, who had been running on the pitch, to advance to home plate. It had been a game during which the Twins had thrice rallied to tie, had left 12 runners on base and had lost in the eighth.
As Mauch seethes, the clubhouse is silent. On the bus to Newark Airport not even Chuck Mangione is heard, and on the plane to Boston the beer is consumed in nervous sips. But Mauch, with his theatrics, has taken some of the heat off his players, who have just lost two games to the Yankees and now face the perils of playing in Boston. He knows these are just the sort of games his players have not been playing in all their lives.
Six flags have flown over Texas, but none of them has been the American League pennant. The Rangers think they can change that. Since June 27, when the team set a major league record by making Billy Hunter its fourth manager of the year, it has won 37 of 56 games. Two weeks ago the Rangers even took the division lead for a day. During his 13 seasons as a Baltimore coach. Hunter turned down five managerships while waiting for his two sons to grow up. As soon as he arrived in Texas he invigorated the talented but moldering Rangers by conducting a series of "mini-spring training" sessions to reemphasize fundamentals.
Like Hunter, most of the Ranger players were developed in more successful organizations—14 were on division winners elsewhere. But not everyone is a Texas Stranger. Among the home-grown are First Baseman Mike Hargrove, the Rangers' top hitter (.310), and Catcher Jim Sundberg, who has raised his average from .222 to .303 and tripled his RBI total since Hunter took over.