As Houston (6-0) ran up an eight-game winning streak and moved out of the Western Division cellar, it was the pitchers who deserved most of the credit. Two youngsters, 21-year-old Tom Griffin and 22-year-old Larry Dierker, picked up a total of three complete game victories including a shutout apiece, but the happiest successes belonged to reliever Fred Gladding. Gladding, whose career almost ended after an elbow operation last year, is called the Enforcer these days, having held the opposition scoreless in his last 11 appearances. Coming in from the bullpen three times last week, he recorded his seventh and eighth saves of the season, nearly half the total for the whole Astros staff all last year. Cincinnati's (5-0) Clay Carroll was another effective reliever. He took advantage of two late rallies by the Reds to earn a pair of victories while starter Tony Cloninger, who began the week with a 1-5 record, picked up two wins, one of them a two-hitter. Mike McCormick of San Francisco (3-4), who was relegated to the bullpen early in the season, was also a two-time winner when injuries to others caused Manager Clyde King to return him to the starting rotation. The second of McCormick's victories came on a Willie McCovey home run, the 11th for the co-league leader. With Mod Squadders Bill Sudakis (.167) and Ted Sizemore (.091) in slumps, Los Angeles (2-4) was shut out in all its losses. Still, the youngsters did not fail entirely as 22-year-old Willie Crawford helped lefty Claude Osteen to his sixth win with a homer and run-scoring single in a 3-1 game. Atlanta (2-3) had strong hitting—.298 for the week—but still saw its divisional lead cut to 2½ games when starters Phil Niekro, Milt Pappas and Ron Reed were bombed for 16 runs in 19 innings. San Diego's (1-5) starters were also soundly thumped as the Padres ran their losing streak to seven games. Joe Niekro, Tommie Sisk, Clay Kirby, Gary Ross and Dick Kelley each started a game and lost, allowing 24 runs in 25 innings pitched. Chicago (5-2) had two impressive strings ended, but still managed to open up a six-game Eastern Division lead. In the same game lefthander Ken Holtzman, who had pitched 33 innings without allowing a run, was finally scored on and Shortstop Don Kessinger, who had reached base at least once in every game this season, was held in check. Holtzman's streak was decisively broken by a home run, but Kessinger's ended on a debatable call when Umpire Augie Donatelli ruled that his pop fly, which appeared to drop safely in short center, had been caught instead of trapped. St. Louis (4-2), which has won eight of its last 11 games and built the league's best road record (.680), looked ready to challenge the Cubs. The Cards jumped from fourth to third on shutouts by Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton and a six-run, 11th-inning rally keyed by Lou Brock's lead-off home run. Al Oliver, Pittsburgh's (5-2) rookie first baseman, was deadly at the plate and dead in the field. After clouting his first grand-slam home run and a double in an 11-1 victory, Oliver said, "Cream will come to the top. I'm confident I'll hit .300 because big league pitching isn't that much better than the minors." Two days later the question was whether Oliver would field .300 as he committed three errors in one inning to tie a league record. "I would rather fight 10 tough guys in a back alley than lose a game that way," said angry Philadelphia (2-3) Manager Bob Skinner after Jerry Johnson forced in the losing run in one game with a walk. But Skinner's disposition soon sweetened when Grant Jackson pitched and batted himself to a victory. Allowing just two runs while throwing a complete game, Jackson helped himself by clouting a three-run homer. Tom Seaver took New York's (1-4) only win with a five-hit shutout while Montreal (0-6) increased its losing streak to 10 consecutive games and dropped 15 games out of first.
Standings-East: Chi 29-15, Pitt 22-20, StL 20-21, NY 18 22, Phil 17-21, Mont 11-27. West: Atl 26-13, LA 23-17, SF 23-19, Cin 20-19, Hou 21-24, SD 17-29.
Just when it looked as though they were going to sink in the West, the expansion teams, Kansas City (4-2) and Seattle (4-2), moved right back into the thick of the division chase. The Royals continued to win close games with late rallies. In one they scored the winning run in the ninth inning on a wild pitch, and in another Eli Rodriguez' 12th-inning double gave his team its 12th one-run decision in 20 wins. Those victories, along with Roger Nelson's shutout—the first ever by a Royals pitcher—moved KC within four games of the league lead. The Pilots, now only 4½ games out of first, relied on relievers for their wins. Gene Brabender, who was strictly a bullpen man before coming over from the Orioles, won as a starter while Diego Segui and newly acquired Fred Talbot both scored victories with a total of eight innings of scoreless relief. With Walt Williams (.363), Gail Hopkins (.400), Carlos May (.352) and Bill Melton (two homers, including a grand slam providing the hits, Chicago (2-3) averaged .295 for the week. But now that the Sox have hitting, their pitching is going sour. Relievers Wilbur Wood and Bob Locker, who appeared in a total of 158 games a year ago, have been ineffective and Chicago is wondering why it ever let Hoyt Wilhelm go in the expansion draft. Wilhelm, pitching for California (0-6), already has more saves than the whole White Sox staff despite being with a last-place team that has fallen 12 games out of first. Minnesota's (4-3) Jim Kaat, who began the season by being knocked out the first four times he started and then was injured, said after defeating the Orioles in 13 innings, "This doesn't mean a thing unless I can come back four days later." He did just that, pitching a five-hitter over the Yankees and lifting the Twins back into the division lead. Oakland (0-5) dropped the lead by losing four one-run games. The Athletics' hitters had more than six hits in only one game and averaged just .206. Said White Sox Manager Don Gutteridge of Boston's (5-1) Ray Culp, "I don't know how that poor pitcher can do so well against us." Culp, who beat the Sox four times in two seasons, may look easy to hit but his record shows he is not. The victory over the White Sox was his seventh and tied him for the most wins in the league. In Baltimore (5-1) just about everything was going right as the Eastern Division leader held its 3½-game lead over the Red Sox. Starters Tom Phoebus, who is now 5-0, and Mike Cuellar won and so did relievers Dick Hall, Marcelino Lopez and Dave Leonhard. The hitting was strong too, with Frank Robinson averaging .348 for the week and Don Buford .444 while Boog Powell ran his consecutive game hitting streak to 16. Detroit's (4-1) wayward Outfielder Willie Horton, who jumped the team two weeks ago, returned, took a $1,300 loss in pay and promptly started the Tigers rolling to a five-run first inning with a bases-loaded double. But the team's top performance of the week came from Mickey Lolich, who is off to his best start ever. The Series hero stretched his record to 6-1 and struck out 16 batters to set a new Tigers record. New York (3-3) ran off an eight-game win streak and moved from fifth up to fourth. Rookie Bobby Murcer averaged .387 and added six RBIs to bring his league-leading total to 40. With Larry Brown, who began the year as Cleveland's (3-3) third-string shortstop, hitting .409 for the week, the Indians finally won their 10th game of the season on a four-hitter by Dick Ellsworth. Despite power hitting by Mike Epstein, Washington (1-5) continued to skid, dropping to fifth place as Manager Ted Williams used 20 pitchers in the losses.
Standings—East: Balt 32-13, Bos 26-14, Det 21-17, NY 20-24, Wash 20-25, Clev 10-26. West: Minn 23-16, Oak 21-17, KC 20-21, Chi 17-18, Sea 19-21, Cal 11-28.
EPSTEIN: TALKING BAT
When Mike Epstein came to the majors at Baltimore labeled as a sure superstar, it looked like the return of the Renaissance Man. Not only could the University of California student spout verses from Shakespeare and Frost and quote from Socrates and Emerson, he had also ripped through the minor leagues with long home runs and batting averages over .300. But, after three major league seasons in which the 230-pound, left-handed hitter had failed to average his weight, he cooled his loquaciousness, shortened his stance and started a Renaissance of his own. This time his bat is doing most of the talking. With four homers last week, Epstein increased his season's total to 12, including 10 in the month of May. Teaming with 260-pound Frank Howard, who leads the majors with 14 home runs. Epstein gives the Senators the biggest and busiest 1-2 slugging punch in the game. His success has also changed him from erudite to elusive. Slyly groping for words, Epstein explained, "I don't really know why I'm hitting better. I owe it all to Ted Williams, so why don't you ask him?" Williams thinks the main reasons for Epstein's improvement are a new pair of contact lenses and the higher trajectory his latest stance gives his hits. "But you should ask Mike," the manager says. "He couldn't be very smart if he doesn't know why he's hitting." That is just the kind of prod Epstein used to respond to, but nevermore, not at least while his hits keep dropping. In the slumping Senators' last three wins, he has driven in the winning run twice. Once he did it with a 10th-inning single, and then an eighth-inning homer with a man on. Epstein's bat clearly was talking for him.