On July 20 the Oakland A's had an 8½-game lead and it appeared that their only worry would be deciding where to hold the victory party. Oh, the Chicago White Sox were back there in second place somewhere but the Sox had shown what they were made of by losing on the road (20-31). It was road games, too, that suddenly caught up with the A's and, when they did, so did the Sox. The A's stopped off in Minnesota and Kansas City and lost six of seven, the worst trip since Dick Williams took over as manager in 1971. In Kansas City, where the A's lost three in a row, they hit .175 and played ragged defense. Williams was proud of his pitchers but confused by his team's errors and failure to drive runs in from second and third.
Chicago's Wilbur Wood moved smoothly to his second consecutive 20-game season when he two-hit the A's in 11 innings on Saturday following a 1-0 six-hitter over the California Angels earlier in the week. Wood got the one run for himself with a seventh-inning single off Nolan Ryan. The White Sox have not been in contention this late in a season since 1967, and their three top pitchers, Wood, Stan Bahnsen and Tom Bradley, have now won 47 games.
The Minnesota Twins were again inconsistent and for one game bypassed Bert Blylevan (10-14) in the starting rotation, replacing him with rookie Dave Goltz, who ran his record to 3-0 and lowered his earned run average to 1.24. Contributing to the inconsistency as much as anyone has been Jim Perry (11-10). Perry has been brilliant in day games, winning 10 and losing one, but has had the daylights kicked out of him at night (1-9).
Not long ago Kansas City's Bob Lemon was so down in the dumps that he rendered a soliloquy that all who manage can sympathize with: "I'm only a couple of years from retirement," Lemon said, "and I'm going to get out as fast as I can run. I'm going to get away from everything. I'm going to take my wife and settle down on some remote island. I'll buy a little bar and just sit there and think. I'll hope we don't have any customers."
It all seemed to have a salubrious effect on the Royals, who started to get some pitching to go with an offense that has them at the top of the American League in team batting (.257) although ranking 11th in homers. Richie Scheinblum hit one home run for the Royals to beat Texas and said of it, "It felt like it was 872 feet but in that Texas wind it ended up clearing the fence by only half an inch." It was Scheinblum's ninth game-winning hit of the season.
Nolan Ryan finally gave up his first earned run in 45 innings at Anaheim Stadium and it cost him his 10th loss against a dozen wins. The Angels continued to pitch well but their batting remained anemic. Clyde Wright drove in the go-ahead run in a five-hit victory over the Twins to become the team's top winner with 13. Wright explained his pitching performance away lightly: "The hard ones were caught, the soft ones were hits."
Pete Broberg was stuck in the Texas bullpen after failing to win his sixth game for the 12th time. Broberg and Ted Williams don't seem to agree on the pitches Williams is calling from the bench, but that worry may not last too long. "This," said Williams, "is going to be a good young club for the next manager. I'm not saying I'm quitting, but I know what I'm going to do."
CHI 62-45 OAK 63-46 MINN 54-50 KC 51-55 CAL 49-59 TEX 43-65
Since the All-Star break the Detroit Tigers have played 20 games and scored two runs or fewer in half of them. Worse, for a team that has traditionally thrived on the home run, the Tigers have averaged only one in every 15 innings during August while batting a sickly .217. Last week Detroit fell out of first place for the first time since July 9 and, because the team was not scoring, Mickey Lolich lost three games in a row for the first time since 1971, when he dropped his last three starts.
Saturday, Manager Billy Martin turned desperate. Marching into the locker room, cap in hand, he offered the cap to Al Kaline. "O.K., Al," said Martin, "pick tomorrow's lineup." Kaline plucked out the first of eight slips of paper: Norm Cash, usually cleanup. I le would bat leadoff for the first time as a big-leaguer. Ed Brinkman, normally eighth and with a.205 average, would bat fourth, his first shot at cleanup. Result: a 3-2 victory Sunday over Cleveland's Gaylord Perry. In the bottom of the sixth, Brinkman doubled home Willie Horton with the tying run and then scored the winning run himself on Tony Taylor's single. Leadoff man Cash collected two singles.
Baltimore replaced the Tigers atop the standings, but the Orioles were running the bases like guys at an office outing after the fourth keg of beer. The worst offender, Don Buford, was fined for running into an out. In the eighth inning against Boston the score tied 1-1, bases loaded and the count 3-1, Buford at second took off for third thinking the count was 3 and 2 and the inning was dead. The game might have been lost were it not for a late homer by Bobby Grich. Exasperated, Manager Earl Weaver said, "We've had bad base-running mistakes all year. From now on it's going to cost our players money." Suddenly, however, Boog Powell has come to life (10 RBIs for the week) and he can carry a team better than anyone on the whole ball club.
Historians had to delve back to 1967 to find the New York Yankees playing so well and drawing so many customers (page 12). The big man, reliever Sparky Lyle, reminded observers how important the bullpen has been to the Yankees. Two years ago, when the team finished a surprising second in its division, the bullpen made it possible with 49 saves.
In Boston it is the silly season again. At good old "Unity University," Catcher Carlton (Pudge) Fisk popped off about Carl Yastrzemski and Reggie Smith not providing leadership. It happens every summer. Yaz's problem, according to Baltimore Pitcher Jim Palmer, is that he's lost his strike zone. "He's swinging at high balls that are out of the strike zone. Nobody can afford to make the zone bigger for the pitchers." As for Smith, scouts maintain that he is playing the outfield too shallow, thus allowing outs to go over his head for long hits.
Although Baltimore, Detroit, New York and Boston are generating excitement because of the way they are bunched, Cleveland is playing better than anyone in the division with a record of 14-6 since the All-Star break. While not many believe that the Indians can jump over four teams to win, there is new life on the lake.
The Milwaukee Brewers lost six of eight on a home stand and now know what their role will be for the remainder of the year. "Although we don't have a chance," said First Baseman George Scott, "it's fun spoiling it for someone else."
BALT 59-49 DET 58-50 NY 56-50 BOST 54-52 CLEV 50-57 MIL 43-65
The long rumored elevation of Eddie Mathews from coach to manager of Atlanta came to pass as Luman Harris was tired. Mathews takes over a club that cares only about hitting, yet may be miffed by Henry Aaron's current batting philosophy. Bad Henry, in pursuit of Babe Ruth's record, is going for "downtown" most of the time. Of course, since winning their division championship in 1969, the Braves have been more concerned with their individual statistics than with the won-lost column. Mathews is capable of being arrogant at times, sentimental at others, but he might be capable, too, of teaching some good players to care again. One of his first moves was to decorate the team's clubhouse with pictures of past Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta heroes. The team, he hoped, might begin to play for 1973 instead of immortality in 1984.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have Manager Walt Alston so perplexed by their road record (29-26) that he has considered bunking them in Los Angeles hotels when they play at home, where their record is 27-24. In a 19-inning game against the Reds, Dodger pitchers struck out 22 batters yet lost 2-1. "Getting a winner in that game," said Los Angeles' Don Sutton, "was about as tough as getting a running mate for McGovern."
Hurt constantly by weak defense, Los Angeles might be feeling for the first time the failure of its farm system to produce. Young Dodgers have not played up to their notices for the past two seasons and Frank Robinson, the veteran they traded for, has been slowed by a total of five different ailments. While he doesn't contemplate quitting right now, it is indeed on his mind. "At the end of every season," Frank says, "I talk over what may be ahead next year with my wife. At the end of this season we will have to talk longer than we ever had to before."
Cincinnati's Reds and Houston's Astros may still wind up in the only interesting race in the National League. The Reds held a 4½-game lead over Houston at the end of the week, but prime reliever Clay Carroll was being hit hard and the team could be in serious trouble if Gary Nolan and Wayne Simpson do not recover quickly from injuries. The Astros swung to a four-man pitching rotation by dropping Ken Forsch.
Outfielder Ken Henderson finally began to hit for the San Francisco Giants (.592 for the week), but the franchise will have to make a decision on what to do with Juan Marichal, who lost his 13th game of the season and grumbled about the outfield defense.
The Padres will indeed be playing in San Diego next season despite all the stories that have them moving to Washington or Toronto. The Padres show an attendance increase of 104,000 this year over 1971, but their 25-25 road play cannot cover a 17-40 record at home.
CIN 64-42 HOUS 61-48 LA 56-50 ATL 51-59 SF 48-62 SD 42-65
About the only people deeply interested in this division are the hotel reservation clerks in Pittsburgh. Seemingly on their way to another Series, the Pirates finished the week with a 9½-game lead even though Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente were on the bench with injuries, heels for Clemente, a tooth extraction for Stargell.
Somebody has to be in second place and the New York Mets were, despite having played at a percentage of .437 since Rusty Staub went out of the lineup. Just behind the Mets are the Cubs, hurting. While Pitcher Milt Pappas drove in five runs in one of his rare complete games, both Fergie Jenkins and Burt Hooton were having arm problems.
Match all the relief pitchers in the National League and Montreal's Mike Marshall has to come out on top. Marshall, a supreme chess fan and one of the brightest athletes extant, drew the following praise from Manager Gene Mauch after his 12th save to go with 11 victories: "He's the best I've ever seen and that includes Ed Roebuck, Elroy Face, Ron Perranoski, Jim Brewer, Jack Baldschun—you name 'em." Sparky Lyle, perhaps?
The St. Louis Cardinals have been playing at a Lost Weekend rate, which has to further embarrass Owner Gussie Busch. They lost four straight Saturday games and three on consecutive Sundays. But the Cardinals are shucking older players and, hopefully, getting ready for the future. "Pope Paul" Owens started pulling players off the field in Philadelphia. His first victim was Willie Montanez, the club's best performer a year ago, who Owens felt dogged it on a fly ball. Montanez denied that he did, but that's the sort of thing that happens to losers.
PITT 67-39 NY 57-48 CHI 57-52 ST.L 51-54 MONT 48-57 PHIL 40-66