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Rookie Oliva Hits Two Homers as Twins Hammer Angels, 9-1

May 7, 1964 - Tremendous Tony Oliva, the Twins’ tall Cuban Clouter, hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and batted in six runs en route to Minnesota’s 9-1 destruction of the Los Angeles Angels at Metropolitan Stadium today.

In the process, the 22-year-old rookie bagged four hits in five trips to skyrocket his batting average to .427.

Talk about baseball’s next .400 hitter brings a skeptical look to Tony’s face, but then he breaks that ready smile and says: “Maybe, if I stay lucky.”

There was no luck in Jim Kaat’s five-hit pitching. For one day at least, Kaat solved the Twins’ pitching problems, with his third triumph in four decisions.

The big southpaw held his stuff all the way until Oliva got to the Angels’ pitching with his grand slam in the Twins’ five-run sixth.

For good measure, Oliva took the club lead with his seventh home run — this one over the left-field fence in the eighth inning. Jimmie Hall added a monumental two-run blast over the right-field fence in the eighth. Hall’s shot took one bounce and hit the scoreboard for a 500-foot ride.

Paced by Oliva with seven, Hall and Bob Allison with six, the Twins have hit 35 home runs in 20 games. They had 15 at the same time a year ago, when they set a club record of 225.

After the game, the most exciting ballplayer of the year attacked a cheese-and-cracker sandwich in the clubhouse and eavesdropped with a bland smile as his lockermate — in all seriousness — compared him with Ted Williams and Ty Cobb.

“Why should Tony Oliva stop hitting?” asked Vic Power. “Cobb and Williams never did.”

The ritual in the winning clubhouse after a player hits two homers, one a grand slam, is for the inquisitive reporters to swarm the hero and assault him with questions.

The script changes with Oliva. He is friendly and cooperative, but his command of English is a work in progress.

Vic Power volunteered to interpret.

“He say,” Vic announced, “that he doesn’t know yet what is the hardest pitch to hit. I tell you, it’s good that he never finds out. Maybe he never will.”

Oliva was pried loose and asked to talk solo.

“I don’t care that they bring in a left-hander to pitch to me,” he said. “I mean, baseball, I love the game. I don’t know anything better to do. They send a man in to pitch, and I hit. Yes, I excited when I hit a home run with the bases loaded. But I excited every time I stand up there. A good way to live, hey?”

Lee Stange walked up with a baseball.

“Here, Tony,” said Lee. “This is the one you hit for a homer. You keep that.”

“Which homer?” somebody asked.

“It no matter,” Tony intervened.

Jack Spring, the victim of the grand slam, said: “We’re still pitching to the guy. Weakness? I don’t know if he’s got a weakness. How do you tell when he goes 4-for-5?”

Teammate Jimmy Piersall chimed in: “That fellow has to lead the Twins to the pennant.”

“Oliva’s the finest looking hitter I’ve seen since coming into the league,” said Los Angeles manager Bill Rigney. “He hit a fastball for his first homer [to right] and a curveball for his second homer [to left]. He’s always ready no matter what pitch you throw him. Fred Newman struck Oliva out pitching him away, but I wouldn’t say that’s a weakness. Even when you get him out, he gives a good rip. I think one reason for his success is he has a ‘quiet’ bat. No wasted motion, and he just hits the ball where it’s pitched. I never know of anybody who hit .500 for any long stretch of time, but this guy could do anything. He looked that good today.”

With that, Rigney strode over to the refreshment stand. “Gimme an Oliva,” he said. “On the rocks.”

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