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From the day the little fireball from Fox Lake, Ill. became a regular until they went into the series at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox won 43 of 60 games, playing at a .717 pace, the best in baseball. They stormed up from the second division, passed slumping Detroit and on the Fourth of July were only eight games out of first. It had been a good streak and the Sox were playing good baseball but no one else in the league was getting too excited. Those things had a way of dying out. They forgot to tell the Red Sox, however, who just kept right on winning and last week climbed to within 1� games of the lead. The fact they lost two of three to the Yankees apparently did not discourage them a bit—nor did it give any lasting encouragement to Cleveland, Chicago or New York, who finally realized they are going to have to fight off this Boston team right down to the finish—if they can.
Even in losing to the Yankees, the Red Sox showed why they are tough. Higgins, of course, for one thing. A man of almost inhuman calm, he refuses to get excited about a game—won or lost—once it's over. "You can't do much about them in here," he says in the dressing room. He displays great faith in his ballplayers and refuses to become angry about errors of commission. After Goodman and Klaus booted ground balls which directly led to the 13-inning Yankee win and ruined Frank Sullivan's beautiful pitching job, Higgins growled, "If you never made an error in this game, you'd be a damn wizard." It is an attitude which has left the Red Sox with a feeling of security—and an unprofessional desire to win games not only for themselves but for Higgins.
Williams, too, of course. Against the Yankees he had his troubles but he has been great since his return and his very presence at the plate injected an even greater feeling of excitement into the game—and kept the Yankees on edge. When you're facing a batter with a .348 lifetime average who is looking for his 2,000th major league hit and has hammered 19 home runs in only 54 games, you have to be worried.
MAGIC IN CENTER FIELD
And Piersall, who needed only the first game to show why he must be included among the fine outfielders of baseball history. He went back to the wall to pull down two drives by Eddie Robinson. He dashed in behind second base to scoop almost sure hits out of the grass tops, once making such an almost impossible catch of Bill Skowron's sinking liner in short right center that Irv Noren was easily doubled off second. Later Higgins grinned and absolved Noren of bonehead base running. "Everyone in the park knew that was a hit," he said, "except Piersall."
Zauchin, a right-handed first baseman, is like a big cat around the base and his hitting, although erratic, has been tremendous when he's hot. Goodman has hit well after a slow start; Hatton is steady at third; Jensen has led the league most of the season in runs batted in and ranks high in stolen bases; Sammy White is one of the game's best young catchers.
The pitching staff, without Cleveland's great names or Chicago's experience, has still been impressive. Higgins now considers Frank Sullivan and Willard Nixon (the Yankees' nemesis) his stoppers, and also praises the work of Tommy Brewer and Rookie George Susce, who have helped take up some of the slack caused by an injured Mel Parnell. When these have faltered, the bullpen of Tommy Hurd, Ike Delock, Leo Kiely and ageless Ellis Kinder has rushed to the rescue in true storybook fashion.
The Red Sox surge has been a team effort but there remains—even more important, perhaps, than Higgins, more than Williams, more even than the pitching staff—the contributions of Billy Klaus, a ballplayer who spent eight years in the minors and could not even make the Santurce club of the Puerto Rican League last winter. He was traded to the Red Sox by the Giants off their Minneapolis roster for a bullpen catcher who did not even report, which would make his market value about equal to a broken bat. But Higgins, who had been pestered nearly to death by the little guy last year while managing Louisville, felt he was worth a try, and when a string of injuries hit the Red Sox at shortstop, he shoved Billy into the breach. Mike Higgins has never been sorry.
Klaus is not a great fielder but he has never lost a fight with a ground ball yet, and he gets it over to first in time for the putout. Not fast, he's quick and covers a lot of ground. No great hitter, he's a pesky one, waiting for his pitch, fouling off the tough ones, punching the ball through a hole, drawing a walk. Occasionally he shows real power and against the Yankees hit for eight total bases, more than anyone else for the series. Playing with such sluggers as Williams and Zauchin and Mantle and Berra, he had one of the series' two home runs. Hatton had the other.
Klaus may be only a one-year wonder but most baseball men admit he's furnishing the spark which has ignited a blaze in Boston. Marty Marion calls him "the key to the Red Sox" and George Kell goes even further. "He's a gutty guy who's always giving you a battle," says the veteran White Sox infielder. "He pulls, he pushes, he bunts; he gets on base any way he can. The Red Sox fight for everything and they're never out of the game. Give Billy Klaus credit for that. He wants to play so badly that everyone catches the attitude.... He's more than just a good shortstop—he's a state of mind."