The evening following the Braves' welcome at the airport, the Milwaukee Sentinel appeared on the streets of the city with an eight-column scare head across the top of the front page. Was it news of the H-bomb, or the cold war, or the latest ladler of the teamsters' gravy? No. The black letters shouted: THE SCHOENDIENST STORY. The article described the second baseman as "the player who is credited unanimously by his Braves teammates with bringing them within sight of the promised land" and "a Moses come to lead them out of the wilderness of bitter disappointment and frustration."
The story stopped short of canonizing Schoendienst, but the huge crowd (45,437) at the game that night almost took care of that detail. The roar of acclaim each time Red batted was overwhelming. Schoendienst acknowledged his reception with two beautiful fielding plays and four hits in five at bats. But the Braves lost to the second-place Cardinals, the winning streak was broken and the superstitious quaked.
THE GAME THEY HAD TO WIN
They really shouldn't have, for the next day the Braves won what may prove to be their most important victory of the season, in a game they simply had to win. And Schoendienst showed quite clearly why Milwaukee has gone dotty over him. The Cardinals got off to a quick 3-0 lead. The St. Louis pitcher, Larry Jackson, retired the first 16 Milwaukee batters in order. Spectators discussed the possibility of St. Louis sweeping the four-game series and reducing the Braves' lead to a morale-breaking 4� games.
In the sixth inning Del Crandall got Milwaukee's first hit, a single. Two outs later, Schoendienst came to bat and with a neat flick of his wrists fly-swatted the ball over the right field fence for a home run. In the eighth inning, with a man on first, he whipped a three-two pitch to right, sending the runner to third, from whence he scored the tying run a moment later on Frank Torre's hit.
In the ninth inning, after the Cardinals had loaded the bases with one out and had Stan Musial up batting against Warren Spahn, Schoendienst took Musial's hopper and started a trap-fast double play to end the inning and prevent a run. In the 10th inning he was the middle man in another double play. He had been an offensive force, with his home run and base hits; and he had been a defensive force, with his sure, deft, impeccable fielding.
When, in the 11th inning, Henry Aaron rammed a double deep to right center to drive in the tying and winning runs, what Schoendienst had done became apparent: he had kept the Braves from losing, had held off defeat until Henry Aaron could go fetch victory. You thought of all the games the Braves used to let slip away through awkward fielding or the lack of a base hit at the right time. Then you appreciated Milwaukee's love of Red, and you knew that winning this game from the Cardinals could mean more to the pennant race than losing the double-header the next day.
Lou Perini still insists his Braves are in. He's probably right. The Braves won't flub this one.