I tried calling Liz first thing this morning from our Chicago hotel, but she didn’t answer. Left a message with her nun-like innkeeper that I’d try her again later, then hopped on the el train to the north side.
It was packed to the hand straps with Cub fans, everyone blabbing excitedly about the big weekend series, a few betting on how many homers Ernie Banks would sock. The teams had an ancient rivalry that predated the Giants’ move west by half a century, when Fred Merkle’s famous boner helped the Cubs steal the 1908 pennant at the Polo Grounds. Most of the faithfuls around me didn’t know Merkle from Spackle, but it didn’t dampen their spirits.
I wove my way through the street mob and into the park. Suited up, warmed Stu Miller in the pen—his stuff was crackling—and took a seat in the cramped Giants’ dugout for the game. I was right about Miller; the Cubbies couldn’t touch him. Taylor Phillips didn’t look bad either, but the game quickly got away from the Georgia lefty in a nightmarish 4th. Spencer led with a sharp single and Felipe Alou doubled. Mays did his Mays thing and tripled into the right field corner. Willie was then tagged out on a force at the plate, but Cepeda cranked one into the bleachers and the Giants led 4-0.
The crowd that had been so vocal before the game sat there mute. Soon after, our dugout phone rang. Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse wanted me as an in-game guest up in the booth. I’d get $30 dollars and a free dinner at the Blackhawk.
“Does he think I’m Nick Testa or Snappy Drake?” I asked Rigney.
“Didn’t say” he said, “Keep your uniform on just in case.”
I climbed up some rickety stairs to the television booth, and Brickhouse was there to greet me in a criminally ugly sport jacket.
“Hey-hey! Nick Testa!”
So that settled that. At least I wouldn’t have to answer any murder case questions. He set me up beside him before they came back from a commercial break. Slid a big WGN microphone in front of my face.
“Joining us in the booth for the last of the 6th is Nick Testa, bullpen backstop extraordinaire. According to the Giants players, you’ve become quite the good luck charm for them.”
“Um, that’s right, Jack.”
“There’s a called strike on Tony Taylor…Nick, maybe you can share some of your secrets with our viewers.”
“Er—secrets about what?”
“How you bring them good luck! Admit it, you hide pixie dust in that mitt of yours, right?”
“Well no, it’s probably all a coincidence. Started when I first warmed up Johnny Antonelli before a game in Philadelphia—
“Taylor bounces one to third and Davenport throws him out! One away…Would you say Antonelli is the toughest customer on the team you have to deal with?”
“Yeah, I’d say so. Johnny has a temper, likes to do things his own way. He’s a lefty, you know.”
“Oh, don’t I know that…Cal Neeman up there now, grounded out his first time…Say, you seem like a nice young fella. You think the pressure of the race and that murder business surrounding the team is getting to you, too?”
I was tongue-tied. “Well…it sure isn’t affecting the team’s—”
WHOCK. “High fly ball by Neeman! Sauer back to the track and this one is WAY OUT OF HERE!! HEY-HEY!!! WHOOOOOO!!!”
Brickhouse stood and cheered and made a fool of himself and the park went crazy. He wiped his face with a hankie, slapped me on the back when he sat back down.
“Looks like you brought us some luck too, Nickie! Maybe I oughta tie you to that chair!”
“Mr. Rigney probably won’t like that, Jack.”
The inning and game would end quickly, but not as fast me getting out of that booth with my cash and Blackhawk voucher.
Miller was brilliant, giving up just three hits but getting three double play balls. Chicago left just one runner on base the entire game. Our lead was up to two games, and with the Braves getting skunked by the Pirates again, the champs were three back.
Our usual post-win celebration carried over to an Italian joint downtown, but I ducked into a phone booth after one beer and one hunk of calamari to call Liz again. This time she answered, but sounded congested and confused. She had caught a bad cold and was trying to sleep it off.
“Is something wrong?” she slurred. Obviously, being in upstate New York she hadn’t heard the awful news from L.A. yet. I filled the phone line with a long moment of dark hesitation. “If not, try me tomorrow when I’m more conscious, okay?”
I hesitated agin, then promised I would and hung up. Hell. It would’ve been tough enough for her to hear about her brother without a stuffy head.
S.F. 004 000 000 – 4 7 0
CHI 000 001 000 – 1 3 1
W-Miller L-Phillips HRS: Cepeda, Neeman GWRBI-Mays
MIL 010 000 000 – 1 6 2
PIT 000 103 00x – 4 10 0
W-Friend L-Rush GWRBI-Thomas
If Milwaukee loses this thing, they can thank the Bucs, winners now of NINE in a row and four straight vs. them for no particular reason. Against Bob Friend, who’s given up more hits than any pitcher not on the Reds, the Braves only get six singles.
CIN 010 000 410 – 6 10 1
PHI 021 120 001 – 7 10 1
W-Farrell L-Kellner HRS: Kazanski, Herrera GWRBI-Herrera
So after being hotter than Hades for a month, it seems to be time for the Reds to re-enter their Ice Age. They nearly pull off another comeback here, but the Reds turn the walkoff tables on them, getting a winning blast with two gone in the 9th by the immortal Pancho Herrera.
L.A. 000 020 000 – 2 7 0
STL 001 201 01x – 5 13 1
W-Mizell L-Podres HR: Flood GWRBI-Blasingame
Dear Dodgers: The Cubs win officially eliminates you, but now that you’re finished playing the Giants, you can go back to winning now! I guess…you just…can’t. Certainly not when loss-happy Podres is starting. Vinegar Bend wins his 18th for the Cards who are back to a game below .500, meaning we know what happens tomorrow, right skipper?
WAS 100 020 000 – 3 6 0
NYY 000 010 000 – 1 5 1
W-Ramos L-Shantz HR: Skowron GWRBI-Lemon
Meanwhile the pennant race in the junior circuit has hit code orange. Anytime Pedro Ramos wins a game in Yankee Stadium, change could be in the air.
CHI 010 410 001 – 7 12 0
CLE 000 000 020 – 2 8 0
W-Pierce L-McLish SV-Staley GWRBI-Fox
And I’m apparently right, because the White Sox 13th straight win puts them only FOUR games out. Guess who, Nellie Fox goes 2-for-4 and chalks up another game-winner, and after a mediocre season the first three months, Billy Pierce has been the best pitcher for the last two. He scatters eight hits here to pick up win number 19.
K.C. 010 000 010 – 2 6 0
DET 012 000 01x – 4 11 1
W-Foytack L-Herbert HRS: Lopez, Zernial-2 GWRBI-Zernial
Half-time, terrible-fielding Gus Zernial has been a godsend, and here he collects two singles, two homers and drives in all four tiger runs to bump his average to .363 and his OPS to 1.028.
BOS 002 000 100 000 002 – 5 14 1
BAL 200 010 000 000 000 – 4 13 1
W-Kiely L-Wilhelm HRS: Buddin, Renna GWRBI-Renna
Today’s meaningless slog comes from Memorial Stadium, where it takes 15 innings for each team to strand enough people to give Bill Renna the chance to smash a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckler into the bleachers with a man aboard.
National League through Friday, September 5
American League through Friday, September 5