As if this weren't enough, the Brewers weren't even Harvey's Wallbangers anymore. Cecil Cooper started slowly. Paul Molitor, playing with a sore wrist, was hitting 35 percentage points below his .297 career average at the All-Star break. Oglivie, plagued with heel and shoulder aches, wasn't hitting homers. And then, on June 6, Milwaukee traded slugger Gorman Thomas, its most popular player, to Cleveland for the light-hitting Manning, who, entering 1983, hadn't had as many homers in his eight-year career (35) as Thomas had last season (39).
The turning point, Brewer-watchers agree, came on the night of June 21, when Milwaukee, then in sixth place, beat Detroit 10-3 behind the pitching of Moose Haas. Ladd also returned from Vancouver on that fateful date, confident that he had rekindled his lost smoke. "I got better with each game in Vancouver," he says. "I had to go there and get taught how to pitch again"—principally by Vancouver Pitching Coach Eli Grba. Ladd certainly learned his lessons well, because since his return he had saved seven games, including last Saturday's, and won three, including Sunday's thriller, which he entered in the eighth inning in place of Middle Reliever Jim Slaton.
Ladd got the third out himself in the Chisox' eighth by retiring Greg Walker at first on Gantner's brilliant catch and throw of a hard shot to the right side. Ladd reached the bag ahead of the runner and held onto Gantner's throw after Walker crashed into him and sent him sprawling. In the ninth Ladd set the Sox down in order, sending the fans home happy for the second game in a row. Ladd's return effectively put the bullpen back in order, defining the roles of Tellmann (long man), Slaton (long man), Jerry Augustine (swingman) and Bob Gibson (swingman). And there's no shame in long relief on the Brewers. Slaton leads the staff with eight wins.
Tellmann is happy to be playing as any kind of man. He spent seven years in the San Diego minor league system and, facing his 29th birthday, decided last fall to accept a non-baseball job as a products distributor in Guam. Despite the urgings of his 1982 manager in Hawaii, Doug Rader, who's now the Texas Rangers' skipper, Tellmann was convinced he was finished. "Doug kept me motivated. He told me not to let my dauber get down," says Tellmann, "but I was so frustrated when no one wanted me after last season that I didn't even want to see a baseball again." Then Brewer General Manager Harry Dalton traded two minor league pitchers to the Padres for him and told him he'd have a shot at a spot in the ravaged Milwaukee bullpen. Tellmann made it there, and big. By week's end, he had seven victories and six saves in 27 appearances.
Then Sutton started to win again. After his no-decision on Sunday, he was 7-6 for the year with a 3.58 ERA. Sutton was convinced that he and the other Brewer starters—Haas, Bob McClure, Chuck Porter, who had 11 strikeouts Friday in a 2-1 loss to Chicago, and Mike Caldwell—were all cruelly underrated, because they had been 7-3 with four complete games since the All-Star break, while the bullpen had been 7-1 with nine saves. "There are no movie stars or nuclear scientists on our staff," said the imaginative Sutton. "We are just a collection of mechanics. But good ones. I see my role as getting the defense off the field so we can play offense."
The Brewers may play offense and defense better than anyone. Slow starter Cooper has been on a tear that raised his average to .296, his homers to 21 and his RBIs to a league-leading 77 through last Sunday. He had hit .400 for his last 14 games. Shortstop Robin Yount, last year's Most Valuable Player—"Em-vee-pee!" the fans still chant at the sight of him—was, of course, among the leaders in most offensive and defensive departments, and Second Baseman Gantner had hit an astonishing nine homers and driven in an even more astonishing 53 runs. "Every time I hit a homer I surprise myself," Gantner says.
Molitor had his average up to .285 and, settled finally at third base, he had cut back his throwing errors and was fielding brilliantly. "You could fire a rifle through our infield," says Sutton, "and somebody would get a glove on the bullet." Not the least of these staunch defenders is Utilityman Ed Romero, who filled in at shortstop last week when Yount was forced into pinch- and designated-hitting duty because of a sore back. Romero singled in the final run in that busy fifth inning on Sunday and did well on defense. So far this season he'd played left- and rightfield and every infield position except first base, and at week's end he was hitting a lusty .340 in 53 at bats.
With Manning in center, flanked by Oglivie and Moore, the Brewers are equally adept in the outfield. Manning had hit only .235 through Sunday since becoming a Brewer, but he had stolen eight bases in eight attempts in those 43 games. And he robbed the Orioles' John Shelby of a home run on the very first ball hit to him in a Milwaukee uniform, on June 7 in Baltimore. Says Manning, "Well, they brought me up for defense and they got it. They tested me right away."
Manning, a handsome and even-tempered man, was nervously aware that he was replacing a folk hero in the Milwaukee outfield, and he simply started out trying too hard to make good at the plate. "What it boils down to is that I was trying to make people forget Gorman," he says. "Harvey finally just told me to go out and play defense and steal some bases. I felt a lot better after that. You can't make fans forget one player or accept another in a few weeks. That takes years." Maybe, but Manning has been playing some of the best centerfield in baseball, and at week's end he was hitting a cumulative (Indians and Brewers) .258 to Thomas' .197.
It was Manning's one-out homer on Sunday that ignited the furious fifth-inning rally, and his single in the eighth that set up the game-winning squeeze. There even seems to be a revisionist view in Milwaukee of the once revered Thomas. In last Sunday's Milwaukee Journal, Sports Editor Jim Cohen quotes coaches and teammates alike as deploring Thomas' inattention to conditioning and his sulking. Dalton, as might be expected, expresses no regrets over what once was considered an infamous trade. "We have gained four years [Manning is 28 to Thomas' 32] in age and improved defense," he says. "Gorman gave us five exciting years, but the ultimate requirement is putting a balanced team on the field and winning ball games. Manning has played extremely well."