When the Brewers took over first place two weeks ago, Tiger Manager Billy Martin yapped, "If they can win with that club I'm a Chinese aviator." So when Detroit came to Milwaukee last week they were greeted accordingly. Said one banner: FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES OF CHINA WITH BILLY MARTIN. Martin had no answer for that, but he did see to it that the organist was stopped from playing (one of his favorite tunes was Chinatown) while Joe Coleman pitched. Coleman, who earlier had blanked the Yankees 8-0, beat the Brewers 4-2 when Ed Brinkman tripled in two runs in the ninth. After losing their opening game the Tigers won five straight and, with Pilot Martin at the controls, flew to the top of the East.
Milwaukee's Dave May had 16 hits, three of them game-winners. Against the Tigers he homered twice, once in the 10th inning for a 6-5 win. He also downed the Indians 2-1 with a 17th-inning homer and the Yankees 6-5 with a two-run single in the ninth. But when May wasn't hitting the Brewers dropped four games.
"You're the Sultan of Squat because you spend so much time on the bench," said Merv Rettenmund to Oriole teammate Larry Brown, who in a rare start had just homered in a 9-6 win over the Yankees. The Orioles were shut out for the fourth and fifth times in three weeks, but prevailed in their other four outings. Jim Palmer, who came within two outs of his third straight shutout as he beat the Indians 4-1, still took batting practice despite designated hitters. "I have to be ready to hit in the World Series," Palmer explained in a burst of optimism.
New York experienced lofty highs and sultry lows. With two out in the ninth and the Brewers ahead 2-0, Bobby Murcer homered, Ron Blomberg doubled and Graig Nettles tied the score with a single. Nettles then finished off the Brewers 4-2 with a homer in the 11th. But then the Yankees blew a two-run lead to the Brewers in the ninth to fall 6-5, and followed that by losing to the Indians 6-4. A 6 p.m. starting time for some Cleveland games displeased both the Indians and their rivals. Most provoked were the hitters, who had difficulty seeing the ball in the twilight. All except Dave Duncan, that is, who hit four home runs.
"I've been telling him for two years his hands were too high, his right foot pointed in too much," Boston Coach Eddie Popowski said of Carl Yastrzemski and his batting stance. "He was all tied up and it made him swing in too much of an arc. It took all of us to get him to listen, but he finally yelled for help. He listened and look what happened." What happened was that Yaz dropped his exaggerated style and promptly hit three homers. Carlton Fisk also lowered his bat after films showed he had picked up Yaz' habit. Fisk's average was .348 for the week and he hit two home runs. But opponents also hit with oomph; after 33 games Boston pitchers had been flogged for 40 round-trippers. Last week the Red Sox served up five to the Tigers in three games and lost them all by one run.
DET 19-17 BALT 17-17 MIL 16-18 NY 16-19 CLEV 16-21 BOST 14-19
While the price of gold fluctuated wildly last week, Angel pitching was steady and priceless: Rudy May's fourth shutout in three weeks and two wins each by Nolan Ryan and Bill Singer. Ryan hurled a no-hitter against the Royals and ran his hitless streak to 14 innings before Mike Epstein of the Rangers doubled. In their six games May, Ryan and Singer yielded eight runs and 31 hits (only seven extra bases) and struck out 59. Even Clyde Wright won—for the first time—stopping the A's 7-2 on six hits. The Angels' 6-1 week was marred only when .302-hitting Bobby Valentine broke his leg. The only other winning team in the West was Minnesota (6-2). Seven homers, two victories by Dick Woodson and Jim Kaat's shutout of the White Sox buoyed the Twins.
Terry Forster of Chicago gave up his first home run since August of 1971. Deron Johnson of the A's hit it, but Pat Kelly won the game for the Sox with a 12th-inning double. Chicago's only other victory in seven games came when Wilbur Wood notched his ninth victory by downing the Twins 5-4.
Two wins by Ken Holtzman (8-2) and home runs by eight players were all that kept the A's from disaster as they lost four of seven and slipped to fourth place. Vida Blue forgot that a night game was to start at 6 p.m., did not get to the park until 5:20 and was belted for three first-inning runs as the A's lost to the White Sox 6-5.
Before signing on as the Texas manager last fall, Whitey Herzog saw the team play three times. His appraisal: "They were worse than the old Mets." Last week Herzog had no reason to feel differently. He complained that Bill Singer of the Angels used "25 spitters or greaseballs" to beat his Rangers. But it was the beating, not the spit, that hurt. He benched Rico Carty because "his rear end is flopping, his hands are dropping and he is not pulling the ball." But he found that even in the cellar there could be rays of light. His Rangers beat the Twins 7-6 when, with two out in the ninth, Toby Harrah hit his fourth homer in four years. They also nipped the Royals 2-1 on a bloop single by Larry Biittner.
Royal Manager Jack McKeon had troubles, too, much of it in the dugout. It was there that he somehow injured his heel, so he was not exactly mobile when he had to watch .169 hitter Hal McRae, incensed because McKeon yanked him for a pinch hitter, tear off his pants in a furious striptease. On the field the Royals were stripped almost bare, too, losing five of seven—two on shutouts, three by one run.
CHI 20-12 CAL 20-14 KC 22-16 OAK 20-18 MINN 17-16 TEX 12-22
Danny Ozark, the Phillie manager, had a few words to say. After losing to the Cubs he scolded his players for their on-field resemblance to mannequins. Properly contrite, the Phillies drubbed the Cardinals 10-5. Then came an 8-4 loss to St. Louis and Ozark spoke up again—about his dislike for music on the team bus after losses and about his players' barroom habits. So the chastised Phillies rose up again and smote the Pirates 5-2. But Ozark ran out of words and his club lost three of the next four games, one being Steve Carlton's fourth setback in a row. The Expos took refuge in rainouts, which was just as well since they lost three of four games when the weather was fair.
Jim Gosger helped the Mets win twice. His two hits and a dazzling catch in center field were instrumental in downing the Expos 8-3. And Gosger contributed to a win over the Pirates with his frankness. Asked by Manager Yogi Berra how well he had hit Pirate Pitcher Luke Walker in the past, Gosger said lousy. So Berra benched Gosger and used Wayne Garrett, who had three RBIs in a 4-3 Met triumph.
The Pirates continued to struggle, losing four of seven and making it 16 defeats in 23 games. There were ample reasons; like bunting into a double play with men on second and third and none out; like having an outfielder's throw skitter past four players and into the dugout. But they did beat the Expos 9-8 in 11 innings on a hit by Dave Cash, a .444 batter last week. And Willie Stargell hurt the Mets 4-1 with a three-run homer in the 10th inning.
The only team to gain on first-place Chicago was last-place St. Louis, winner of four of five. On the same day that Bob Gibson got his Gold Glove award for his fine fielding last year he made an error on a bunt.
CHI 23-16 NY 19-16 PITT 15-17 MONT 14-17 PHIL 14-23 ST.L 11-23
Who are Joe Ferguson, Ron Cey and Dave Lopes, and why are they getting so many hits? They are all Dodgers, are all in their mid-20s and all bat right-handed. Ferguson raised his average to .316 last week, popped his seventh and eighth homers and moved into second place in RBIs with 30. Cincinnati skipper Sparky Anderson calls him "the best young power hitter to enter this league in some time" and feels he can hit with much the same crunch as Johnny Bench. Ferguson, a catcher, elaborated on his hitting by saying, "When you're behind the plate your thoughts are concentrated on not allowing hits. Then you go up to bat and try to hit the ball cleanly. Once you free yourself mentally you can hit. I have finally made that conversion." Cey (The Cey Hey Kid) looks like the third baseman the Dodgers have sought since moving West. He had 10 RBIs and batted .522 as the Dodgers won four of five. Second Baseman Lopes hit .452, stole his 11th and 12th bases in as many tries and took the league batting lead at .388.
The Astros scored just four runs in their first four games and lost them all. It was enough to drive the fans to drink, which is precisely what they did on Nickel Beer Night when 35,169 of them quaffed roughly 101,000 cups. Ken Forsch, Dave Roberts and Don Wilson made the crowds even happier by beating the Braves 2-1 and the Giants 3-1 and 2-1 as they climbed to first place. San Francisco prepared for its traditional June Swoon, losing five of six. Dusty Baker won consecutive games for Atlanta with a homeland a sacrifice fly. And Henry Aaron (page 28) hit three more home runs.
Tony Perez is called The Big Dog by the Reds because his bite is at its best in the clutch. Last week, with the team in a slump, Perez talked his way into the lineup despite an injured finger. He then bit the hand that pitched to him for two homers and a 4-1 win over the Dodgers. As for Clay Carroll, three days before he got his award as 1972 Fireman of the Year he took his 10.80 ERA and 0-3 record and started his first game. He pitched five scoreless innings, but the Reds lost 3-1.
San Diego Shortstop Enzo Hernandez had 10 hits, scored seven runs and stole five bases. But the former pride of the Padres—their pitching staff—has been embarrassed to the tune of a 4.57 ERA, the league's worst.
HOUS 25-15 SF 26-16 CIN 22-15 LA 22-16 ATL 15-21 SD 14-25