The night Kansas City resumed play after the All-Star break, Amos Otis said the Royals would win the division. "But that guy," he said, pointing to Hal McRae, "predicted on the first day of the season that we'd win it." McRae smiled thinly and said, "That's the only thing I've done for this club so far." Suddenly this week McRae, who struggled to hit .164 in the first half of the season, provided punch as KC continued its drive to fulfill his prediction. Home runs by McRae and Lou Piniella beat Baltimore 2-1 as the Royals won their 11th straight one-run victory. In his first two at bats against the Orioles the next day, McRae hit two doubles and drove in four runs as KC won 9-4 for its 11th victory in the last 13 games.
"My fastball is as fast as ever, but it's straighter," Oakland's Vida Blue reported after staggering through nine innings. "It doesn't move like it used to. I threw a couple of straight balls to Thurman Munson, and he hit 'em right back over my head." In any place other than Yankee Stadium, Munson's clouts would have been out of the park, and Blue would have been out of the box. Instead he beat the Yanks 7-3.
Minnesota lost its fifth straight after leading the Brewers 6-3 going into the ninth. Milwaukee loaded the bases, and reliever Eddie Bane, who had allowed neither a hit nor a run in his last seven appearances, yielded a three-run double to Dave May and a game-winning single to George Scott.
Chicago had a typical week. Buddy Bradford suffered contusions of his right shoulder, Bill Melton an injured right hand and Manager Chuck Tanner a permanently stiffened lip. But he went through with his annual August clubhouse meeting. "I reminded them of how beautiful it is to be in the major leagues," was how he described the conference. That is what the Sox rookies thought, too. Rightfielder Brian Downing started his first big-league game and he hit a home run. Another rookie, Bill Sharp, stepped in against Detroit's Joe Coleman in the seventh inning of one game, ran the count to 2-0, got a fastball down and in and hit a towering drive to the right-field seats—foul by a foot or two. Sharp faced Coleman again in the ninth, ran the count to 2-0, got a fastball down and in and hit a towering drive into the right-field seats. That one was a homer that won the game, one of four Sox victories in a .500 week.
California lost four of six, and Frank Robinson said it was "strictly the fault of the players." This wasn't exactly a mea culpa, since Robinson had just clouted his 20th homer, his ninth hit in his last 11 at bats.
Jeff Burroughs hit a 450-footer, which landed three-quarters of the way up the left-field stands for his 19th home run, but that was all a Texas crowd of 28,326 had to cheer about as Cleveland jumped on young pitching hero David Clyde. His 8-1 defeat was his fourth in seven decisions.
KC 68-50 OAK 65-51 MINN 56-58 CHI 57-60 CAL 53-60 TEX 42-72
There are constant reminders in the local press that they are over the hill, but maybe the Detroit Tigers haven't learned to read. Al Kaline, testy earlier in the year about talk of retirement, was mellow again. He joked about asking for a two-year contract so he can continue pursuit of his 3,000th hit. Now at 2,845, Kaline should soon pass Babe Ruth's 2,873. No American Leaguer in almost 50 years has joined the exclusive 3,000-hit club; the last was Eddie Collins in the '20s. And, with Kaline still lively, the supposedly decrepit Tigers won six of eight.
Baltimore seems to have given up on using Earl Williams as its catcher. The Orioles, who gave four players to Atlanta to obtain Williams, had been playing him part-time at first base. Now that Boog Powell re-injured a shoulder while doing some inept base running, Williams will take over first on a regular basis. Powell hurt himself when he failed to read Coach Billy Hunter's sign as he lumbered into third. Powell had stopped before he realized that Hunter was urging him home. He then was thrown out—and injured—as he belatedly tried to slide across the plate.
Mickey Mantle hit a home run into the left-field seats at Yankee Stadium, but unfortunately for New York, he did it in an old-timers game. The Yanks could have used the clout in the regular contest that followed, one of their four losses in seven games.
Things were still exploding in Boston. This time it was Reggie Smith who erupted. The Boston centerfielder was booed when he ran only a few steps after hitting a double-play grounder and was hooted when he failed to catch up with a pop fly. Smith doffed his cap as he ran toward the dugout, then threw it—-hard. He next ran straight into the clubhouse, dressed and went home. He was fined by Manager Eddie Kasko.
Billy Champion had been the goat for Milwaukee fans, who complained that the Brewers gave up too much in trading for him and Don Money last fall. The combination of Champion's name and his record—4-14 in 1972, 14-game losing streak, 5.08 ERA—made him an obvious target. But last week the sniping stopped after he relieved in the third inning of a game against Minnesota and shut out the Twins on four hits.
Cleveland found several reasons to be encouraged. The much-discussed Gaylord Perry won his fourth straight while the Indians raised their team batting average to .252 and scored seven runs per game.
DET 64-52 BALT 61-52 NY 64-55 BOS 61-54 MIL 56-58 CLEV 46-71
The fun was threatening to sink slowly in the West for Los Angeles (page 14), as the Dodgers lost three games to the Phillies and the Mets. That allowed Cincinnati to close within 1½ games of L.A. and set Manager Sparky Anderson to rhapsodizing that this is the best team he has ever had. He must have been thinking particularly of Don Gullett, who used his newly developed forkball to beat the Cubs 1-0 on a two-hitter for his 13th win, and Fred Norman, who won his ninth victory in his last 11 decisions. And Anderson could hardly be complaining about Pete Rose, leading the league in batting at .345, or rookie Dan Driessen, hitting .332, or Johnny Bench, who increased his RBI total to 86 as the Reds won five out of six games during the week.
Bobby Bonds saved San Francisco from a five-loss week with a home run, a triple and a game-clinching, bases-loaded single in an 8-7, 13-inning win over the Mets.
Don Wilson's third shutout provided encouragement during a 4-2 Houston week. Although his record is now only 8-12, Wilson has a 2.95 ERA and his four-hit, 2-0 win over the Pirates brought his streak of scoreless innings to 20‚Öì.
Phil Niekro knew what was going on the whole time. About the third inning he started getting the cold shoulder from Atlanta teammates. "I'd look at someone, and they'd look right through me," he said afterward. "Then I saw my wife in the stands. She looked the same way, just a blank stare." Blanks were also all the Padres got as Niekero pitched the first no-hitter by a Brave pitcher in Atlanta. And it was Niekro Week all the way. Immediately following Phil's no-hitter, the Braves' wives held a benefit auction, and Niekro's glove went for $1,500. Henry Aaron's bat brought only $1,000.
San Diego's Bill Greif felt strong before pitching a game against the Phillies and Steve Carlton. "If Carlton doesn't give up any runs, I'll be gone a long time," he told his wife as he left for the park, "because I don't intend to give up any." Greif did not give up any runs—and only two hits—while Carlton yielded three scores, and Bill was home early as a result of the Padres' fastest game ever, a 1½-hour, 3-0 win.
LA 72-45 CIN 71-47 SF 63-52 HOUS 61-58 ATL 56-64 SD 40-75
Saturday's children have finally lost one. St. Louis, which won on eight consecutive Saturdays, dropped a 7-5 decision to the Reds. But then the Reds have won 32 of 42 and, as Card Manager Red Schoendienst growled, "They're so hot they could put their bat boy out there, and he'd hit." Red may have been irked because two losses to Cincy came on key hits by Darrel Chaney (.185), Ed Crosby (.169), Denis Menke (.172) and Cesar Geronimo (.187). Overall, the Cardinals were no longer exactly full of grace or smiling of face, having lost six straight games.
The smiles were now in Montreal. Taking a lot of heat off Mayor Drapeau and the unpopular '76 Olympics, the Expos are 12-7 since the All-Star break and drew a record crowd of 31,109 as they beat Chicago 3-2 on Ron Fairly's clutch single. Fairly added his third winning RBI in three games the next day, the Cubs being his victims again.
Chicago ran its latest losing streak to seven games. As the Cubs fell 6-4 to Houston, five batters took called third strikes, and six more went down swinging. Ron Santo, Rick Monday, Glenn Beckert and Don Kessinger have had one homer and a combined batting average of just over .200 in the last 27 games.
Pittsburgh stayed in position to make a late-season move, but it will never happen if it continues playing as it did last week. Atlanta racked the Pirates twice, 9-3 and 5-4, and Houston split its two-game series with the Bucs by winning 2-0 over struggling Nelson Briles in the opener, then losing 4-3 to Jim Rooker.
In addition to dropping three of its five games, Philadelphia lost a pitcher—on a day when there was not even a game. Dick Ruthven, who earlier had struck out 10 Pirates in seven innings, came down with mononucleosis and went on the 21-day disabled list.
The New York Mets won four of seven, including a two-hit shutout by Jon Matlack, who defeated the Dodgers 1-0.
ST.L 61-56 MONT 56-58 PITT 55-58 CHI 66-60 PHIL 54-62 NY 52-62