THE MAGIC NUMBER IS "5"
The rain falls cold and steady this afternoon, and the home nine are in far-off California, facing the test of their young lives. Still, it is nice to sit for half an hour or so in section 125, behind the Rockies dugout. In the flat light of the heaving storm, the lush green outfield is luminous and the endless rows of dark-green seats gleam with wet. No one else is here today--not a soul. Not Don, not Dante, not even Danny the Scalper. And there's something to be said for that.
What better place, while the chill rain falls on your head, to invite old baseball astonishments to run around inside it? This is a ballpark, Coors Field, which has not yet filled up with memories, so the afternoon's silence and solitude feel just right. There's an air of expectation in this dark, empty place today, because the other thing that feels right is that this is 1995. According to reliable sources, they're actually going to play the World Series this year, and even casual fans can tell you that some extraordinary things have happened in Octobers whose last names ended in "5."
Are you willing to take the following occurrences as good omens? If you had been there to hear the baseball gods whispering through the rain at deserted Coors Field the other day, you would be willing.
Let's see, 1925: The Pirates of Pie Traynor and Kiki "Hit 'em where they ain't" Cuyler went down to Washington (yes, Washington) with uncertainty in their souls. The Bucs had dropped the first game of the World Series 4-1 at home, squeaked by in the second 3-2, and were now about to fall victim to one of the strangest plays in history. In the eighth inning, with the Senators leading 4-3, Pittsburgh's Earl Smith lashed a deep drive toward the centerfield bleachers. Washington's Sam Rice, so fast they called him Man O' War, raced back, glove aloft, and crashed over the fence just as the ball did. Sam Rice simply vanished. But when the umpire got to the outfield, Rice re-emerged with the ball tucked in his glove. Smith was called out and the Senators won. Later, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the sternest who ever held the office, telephoned Rice and demanded to know if he'd really made the out-of-sight catch.
"Judge," Man O' War replied, "the umpire said I did."
Baseball itself has a mysteriously long reach. When Sam Rice died, in 1974, the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was finally permitted to open a letter he'd sent there nine years earlier. "At no time did I lose possession of the ball," Rice had written. But in the end, Washington had lost possession of the '25 Series. After Rice's "catch," the Pirates won the next three games and became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit. Some still say it was justice.
1935: While ex-executives in tatters sold apples on street corners, Mickey Cochrane, the finest catcher of his time and the Detroit Tigers' player/manager, led his club into the World Series against the Chicago Cubs. Cochrane hit .300 or higher eight times in eleven seasons, ran exceptionally well ("A shortstop with shin guards and a chest protector," a teammate called him) and could throw out a lynx trying to steal second on him. Detroit won the Series, four games to two, and Cochrane hit .292. But for him there was probably an even greater satisfaction in beating the Cubs. In 1929, when Cochrane was still a Philadelphia Athletic, he had bench-jockeyed Chicago hitters so vociferously that Judge Landis called him, too, just to say that if he didn't cut it out he'd get suspended. As the story goes, Cochrane didn't relent in 1929 (the Athletics won that Series), and he didn't relent in '35. Came Game One, Inning One, and the Cubs heard a familiar voice bellowing from the Tigers dugout.
"Hello, sweethearts!" Cochrane yelled. "Nice to see ya again. Welcome to Detroit. We're gonna serve tea this afternoon."
1945: Need we remind the Bleacher Bums, Harry Caray or the sorrowful drunks in the saloons of Clark Street that the last time their beloved Cubs even set foot in the Series was exactly one half-century ago? The less said about this the better--especially on the North Side--but it was those same Detroit Tigers who put the lid on Chicago hope for good in '45. And what about those notorious home-run heavens, Wrigley Field and Briggs Stadium? The Cubs' park yielded just one round-tripper, to Detroit slugger Hank Greenberg, and Hank hit his club's only other Series HR at home. That was good enough. First baseman Phil Cavarretta got Chicago's only homer out of the way in the first inning of Game One at Detroit, and the Tigers went on to win the Series four games to three. Worried about high earned run averages? Hal Newhouser of Detroit was 2-1 in the Series, but his ERA was a whopping 6.10. Holy cow!
1955: No one in Brooklyn has ever forgotten. "This Is Next Year!" the New York Daily News was able to trumpet at long last. In the higher regions of literature, Marianne Moore wrote a poem about it: "Hometown Piece for Messrs. Alston and Reese." Whitey Ford won two games for the imperious Yankees, but Johnny Podres won Game Seven for the Bums. That was three innings after the Dodgers' Sandy Amoros saved the game with the second most famous running catch in Series history, robbing Yogi Berra of ribbies down the left-field line at Yankee Stadium. After years of desire and defeat, the Brooklyn Dodgers had won their first (and only) world championship. All of Brooklyn swelled in ecstasy (this boy was there, I'm proud to say), and, just this once, our Duke outranked their Mick.
1965: Minnesota Twins regulars Tony Oliva (who hit just .192 in the Fall Classic) Don Mincher (.130) and Earl Battey (.120) must have wished every day could be Yom Kippur--so they wouldn't have to play, either. An observant Jew, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax declined to pitch when that solemn holiday fell on October 6, 1965, the opening day of the World Series. So the assignment fell to manager Walter Alston's number-two man, Don Drysdale. He promptly got hammered in the first three innings and lost the game 8-2. The next day, Koufax faced the Twins and gave up two runs in a 5-1 loss. Four days after that, though, he shut Minnesota out 7-0, then won the Series finale 2-0. Koufax's 1965 Series stats: Two wins, one loss; 24 innings pitched; 13 hits, 5 bases on balls and--count 'em--29 strikeouts. Sandy's ERA? 0.36. And if that didn't send the shell-shocked Twins down to the deli to get a couple of bagels and a pound of pastrami, nothing ever would.
1975: What more can you say about Game Six, the greatest World Series game ever played? That Bernie Carbo's pinch three-run homer tied it for Boston in the eighth? That the Red Sox loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the tenth, then failed to score? That Carlton Fisk's frantic arm-waving actually willed his deep shot into the left-field foul screen--and into the memories of baseball fans for all time--in the decisive twelfth? Or do you say that, on the very next night in haunted Fenway Park, the Curse of the Bambino struck again--erased the Big Red Machine's three-run deficit in the seventh and bestowed the winning hit on Reds second baseman Joe Morgan in the ninth? Do you say that the Sox can't win it this year, either? Or ever again?
1985: I know a guy who--well, after George Brett and the Kansas City Royals lost the first two games of the "I-70 World Series" in their own ballpark, I know a guy who made a bet with a guy I don't know that the St. Louis Cardinals would become the world champs. The guy I know bet the price of two pretty clean family cars. And he gave 5-1 odds. You know and the guy I don't know both know what happened. K.C. won Game Three, the Cardinals Game Four. Aurora native Danny Jackson went the distance for K.C.'s 6-1 win in Game Five. Next, the Dispute at First Base (starring umpire Don Denkinger), which helped the Royals slide by 2-1 in Game Six. And then, St. Louis's nightmare in the finale, punctuated by starting pitcher Joaquin Andujar's tantrum, the Royals' six-run burst in the fifth and a final score of 11-zip. The guy I know paid up without a wince, and when some awful joker handed him a pale-blue Kansas City Royals T-shirt, he dutifully pulled it on.
For he is a stoic. A baseball fan. And, if I don't miss my guess, a fellow like the rest of us. After all, who can wait to see what happens once the rain stops falling on Coors Field and the children of destiny start tempting the gods who write the scripts for the World Series whose names end in
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