Ray Crone walked over to me after the first inning today. The Pirates had just scored three times off Gomez on a leadoff Clemente triple, two singles, two walks and a passed ball.
“We took a vote, Dresta. You need to go sit in the dugout.”
Dresta was my new nickname, artfully combining Drake and Testa. At the moment, though, I didn’t care one dew drop about cleverness.
“And you guys need to relax. Don’t you see Bob Friend out there? The man’s given up like 450 hits this year.” (Actually it was 164, but in only 133 innings.)
Baseball players are way too superstitious. I was certainly one of them in my minor league days, but now that I was just moonlighting with the Giants for suspect pursuing reasons, that kind of mania was bugging me.
We got one run back in the 3rd, but they got it right back on a Bob Skinner triple and wild pitch. The game in Milwaukee against the Cubs didn’t start for another half hour, and I was already nervous. Who knows what would happen to Liz or some poor slob if we crept to within half a game of first?
And then Friend did what he’s famous for, dishing out hits like Christmas stocking stuffers. A ringing Cepeda double and four singles gave us two runs in the 4th, and after Cepeda wiped Mays off the bases with a DP in the 5th, King, Davenport and Kirkland all singled to tie the game and send Friend to his friendly shower.
“Never mind, Dresta!” yelled Crone from the other end of the bullpen bench. I shook my head and leaned back to chew a fresh stick of Doublemint. Would’ve checked in with Liz at the Dodgers-Phillies game again, but they were playing at night and to be honest, we didn’t have much to say to each other that didn’t frustrate the two of us.
On the scoreboard, the Braves had a 1-0 lead on the Cubs through three, which calmed me a bit. Gomez then lost it altogether, giving the Bucs four runs in the 5th on four singles, three walks, and a sac fly. I didn’t know where these Pirates had been the last two months, but they were sure back now.
“Dresta! Skedaddle! Skoot!!”
“Live with it, Ray!”
The six-foot-two Tennessean got to his feet and ambled over. Spit a jet of tobacco juice a few inches from my cleats.
“I don’t get to pitch a lot around here. But one thing I got plenty of time for is keeping my bullpen brothers happy. Now I won a World Series last season with Milwaukee, so I know a thing or two or three about team happiness.”
“I ain’t moving.”
“No need to. ‘Cause if you don’t get your fanny into the dugout after this inning, I’ll just pick you up by your ears and put you there myself.”
I peered around him. Grissom was being warmed up by Schmidt, but every other pitcher in the pen was giving me the aggravated eye. I grabbed my mitt and trudged down to the dugout. Told Rigney I had a bit of a cold and it was too drafty out there. The game was in serious jeopardy so he had other things to worry about. On the scoreboard, the Cubs tied it up and the Braves went back ahead 2-1 with Rush on the hill. All seemed safe for the time being.
Grissom threw two perfect relief innings and even Ray Crone had one. Ron Blackburn, who had bailed out Friend earlier, took the ball again to begin the 9th. Bressoud led with a sharp single. Mays walked. Cepeda singled and Gross came on to face the lefty King. Rigney put righty Hank Sauer in and he doubled down the line to make it 8-6. Davenport singled and it was 8-7.
The crowd was howling for blood. I was sweating more than them. Kirkland finally made the first out, but Thomas singled and so did pinch-hitter Alou and we had the lead!
“I knew it, Dresta! I knew we could do it!” It was Crone, pounding my back after he joined us in the dugout. When Bressoud singled again and Mays launched a grand slam into orbit, trash flew out of the upper decks. I did my best to look thrilled when Mays returned to the celebrating dugout, but I was ripped in all directions. We scored nine times in the 9th, racked up 23 hits, but at least the Braves would win. Right?
“Cubs got three in the 8th and won! Yahoo!” Crone yelled later, running through the shower with his uniform still on.
Good god. We were only a half game out of first. I tried dialing Liz in Philly but she wasn’t in the press box yet.
I’d be calling every hour until she was.
S.F. 001 210 009 – 13 23 0
PIT 301 040 000 – 8 9 0
W-Crone L-Gross HR: Mays GWRBI-Alou
CHI 000 100 030 – 4 11 2
MIL 010 100 010 – 3 7 1
W-Elston L-Rush GWRBI-T. Taylor
Four singles in the 8th off Rush and Humberto Robinson do in the Braves and they need a win tomorrow to avoid getting swept by their southern neighbors.
L.A. 000 200 000 – 2 5 2
PHI 400 000 00x – 4 9 0
W-Cardwell L-Drysdale GWRBI-Bowman
Yikes. Dodgers are now 3-15 since the All-Star break. I will be meeting with the manager soon. Drysdale actually pitches great here after stinking up Connie Mack Stadium in the 1st. The problem with this bunch has been a teamwide batting slump. Still, thanks to the National league, they’re still closer to first place than the second place Red Sox are.
CIN 010 032 010 – 7 11 0
STL 000 000 010 – 1 2 2
W-Haddix L-Mizell HRS: Haddix, Robinson, Flood GWRBI-McMillan
Two pitchers with very similar abilities pitch like they’re on different planets, and the Cards continue their run of either poor or erratic performances.
NYY 010 000 000 – 1 6 0
CLE 000 100 04x – 5 9 2
W-McLish L-Dickson HRS: Bauer, Nixon GWRBI-Nixon
Enos Slaughter’s absence continues to hurt the Yankee offense, and Russ Nixon’s 3-run shot in the 8th off long reliever Dicksons decides this one. Okay! Let’s get these contenders picking up ground!
BOS 100 001 101 – 4 6 1
CHX 024 102 03x – 12 15 1
W-Pierce L-Sullivan HRS: Jensen-2, Phillips, Landis GWRBI-Pierce
Hello? Boston? Billy Pierce gives up his usual long balls, but this time his team finally hits for him. Jim Landis, after a grand slam yesterday, goes 5-for-5 and hits for the cycle.
BAL 100 310 000 – 5 12 0
K.C. 100 000 000 – 1 7 0
W-Portocarrero L-Grim HR: Portocarrero GWRBI-Portocarrero
Can’t believe I just had to type “Portocarrero” three times, but he’s the star of the game, hitting a go-ahead 3-run homer in the 4th.
WAS 020 000 010 000 – 3 8 0
DET 000 111 000 001 – 4 16 1
W-Foytack L-Ramos HRS: Bridges, F. Throneberry, Zernial GWRBI-Kaline
Thank heaven Detroit was playing the Senators, because they hit into SIX double plays, get twice as many hits with only one more run and still barely win. Kaline’s RBI single in the 12th does the trick.
National League through Saturday, July 26
American League through Saturday, July 26