Everybody in Milwaukee knew it was going to happen.
"I knew it was going to happen," said a leathery-faced man in a floppy Panama hat. "I knew it."
The Braves had lost a Sunday double-header to the St. Louis Cardinals, blown it sky-high after running up a 6-1 lead in the first game. The Cardinals, rising steadily out of a hitting slump that had been crippling them, peppered the Braves with runs, one in the seventh, two in the eighth, two in the ninth and two in the 10th on Stan Musial's home run to win 8-6.
Then the Cardinals' colorful Vinegar Bend Mizell hung a 6-0 shutout around Milwaukee's neck in the second game, and the last of the 130,000 Wisconsinites who had come to see the Braves put the coup de gr�ce on the National League pennant race trudged home, shaking their heads and muttering that they knew all along the Braves would lose two.
It was terribly disappointing for Milwaukee, because this was to have been the joyous climax of a week they had been waiting for for five years. The Braves had torn the five-team pennant fight wide apart with a 10-game winning streak, had opened up an 8�-game lead over second-place St. Louis with barely 40 games left, and had come home in triumph.
Except that nobody in Milwaukee quite believed it, aside from Lou Perini. When Perini, brash Bostonian that he is, spoke out confidently on the Friday before the series with the Cardinals and said flatly, "We're in. We just can't flub it again," Milwaukeeans ran around wildly, looking for wood to knock on. Red-faced Fred Haney, the manager of the Braves, turned pale, sprinkled ground tiger bone in a circle, chanted an incantation and muttered desperately, "We're playing them one game at a time. I don't know anything about any pennant."
Perini owns the Braves. If anyone should be biting his nails in suppressed anticipation, it should be he. But apparently Lou earned his millions in the contracting business by being a realist. Even after the double defeat on Sunday, Perini maintained his optimistic view. After all, Milwaukee was still 6� games in front, and now there were only 37 games to play.
Certainly, it is possible for them to lose. But it is highly unlikely that they will, and Perini knows it. To all intents and purposes, the Braves have won the pennant.
A reader in Milwaukee has just reached out and tapped the wooden arm of his chair. He is unused to such bold statements in print about his Braves' pennant chances. Milwaukee sportswriters are more considerate. Even Oliver Kuechle, the able sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal, in a column pointing out the Braves' commanding position, had the decency to refer to the pennant as the "you know what."
Milwaukee is running scared, in other words, and if you debate the logic of this with its citizens, they tell you about 1954, when a great late-season rush by the Braves roused expectations of a pennant, expectations that were rudely drowned in a hurricane at Ebbets Field. (The Braves lost a rain-soaked, abbreviated, 4�-inning game by one run and thereafter were never a factor.) They tell you about 1955, when the preseason polls picked the Braves for the pennant; but the Dodgers won 22 of their first 24 while the Braves floundered and Milwaukee cried. They tell you, bitterly, about last year, when Milwaukee opened a 5�-game lead in midseason and still held first place in the last week, only to lose the pennant on the very last day.