Boston took some steam out of Baltimore's drive toward the playoffs, winning three of four from the Orioles, but still trailed them by five games. "At this point in the season, with our advantage in the loss column, I'm happy," said Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver.
Boston's taste of success was soured by a flap in the press over those old reliables of controversy, Reggie Smith and Rico Petrocelli. Their former teammate, Hawk Harrelson, unearthed at a golf tournament, was quoted as saying that Smith "undermines the whole club."
Smith was leading the team in batting average, bad knees and tantrums. Meanwhile, although Petrocelli was hors de combat after an operation for removal of calcium from his elbow, there were suggestions that both he and Smith be traded. Yaz? He was safe at third, playing regularly at that position for the first time in his career because of Rico's injury, and was on a 13-game hitting binge that raised his average to .298. But came Saturday, and Yaz made three errors, went hitless and was razzed by the fans.
The Tigers were all but out of the race, but Detroit still was making plenty of news. First, General Manager Jim Campbell fired Manager Billy Martin for his obstreperous defense of some Tiger spitball antics. For that Campbell was hanged in effigy at the ball park. Then bullets from a gunfight in a neighboring apartment ripped into Campbell's living room, narrowly missing him. "So endeth a dull week in Detroit," said Campbell grimly.
The Yankees, working their way down the standings, gave up on this season and traded the Alou brothers, Matty to the Cardinals and Felipe to the Expos, thus chopping an estimated $150,000 from the payroll.
Though the Yanks still held a 3½-game advantage over the fifth-place Brewers, Milwaukee was not unhappy. Attendance went over the million mark for the first time since the expansion Seattle Pilots came East, and the Brewers had more than money to cheer about. Pitcher Jim Colborn won No. 18. Another fine young pitcher, Jim Slaton, got No. 12. Yet it was left to Ed Rodriguez, an obscure hurler with a 7-6 record, to make history. Rodriguez became the first American League pitcher to get a hit in this inaugural year of the DH, and according to Manager Del Crandall, he tried to refuse the order to bat for himself. That was not the case, explained Rodriguez in his limited English. "I tell Crandall, 'I'm not allowed to hit.' I think he made a mistake." In any language, Rodriquez hit a triple off Cleveland reliever Jerry Johnson and so earned his niche in trivia land.
Cleveland's financial woe, a bath of red ink that could reach $1 million, obscured the team's second-half resurgence. After a dismal 36-67 pace during the first two-thirds of the season, the Indians have been 25-16 since July 29.
BALT 81-57 BOST 78-64 DET 75-68 NY 72-70 MIL 68-73 CLEV 61-83
It was a messy kind of week for the Oakland A's, but at the end of it—even as Reggie Jackson, their most valuable player (and perhaps the league's), pulled a hamstring muscle—there they were 5½ games ahead of second-place Kansas City. Jackson, baseball's RBI leader with 112, will be out 10 days or more, possibly until the season's end if the A's remain comfortably ahead. But the team's powerful pitching staff suddenly seemed shaky. "We've been getting lousy pitching," said Manager Dick Williams bluntly. In 12 games he had made 28 calls to the bullpen. Although Catfish Hunter was a winner, Catcher Ray Fosse said he was "not popping, just pushing the ball, maybe afraid to cut loose after his layoff." Rollie Fingers, usually a control artist, was giving up walks. Vida Blue's overpowering fastball had diminished. Still, Ken Holtzman won No. 20, and tempers were right-on. The A's lost to Nolan Ryan but won the next three curse-filled brawls from the Angels. In one, California's Mike Epstein high-tagged Bill North on a bunt down the first-base line to start one of many flare-ups.
Fortunately for Oakland, Kansas City's pitching was even worse. It was, in fact, in a state of collapse. The KC staff gave up 30 runs and 51 hits in four straight losses to the Twins and Angels. Only twice since July 29 had the starters completed games. And ace Paul Splittorff failed for the seventh straight time to get his 16th victory. "We are looking for help from above for our bullpen," said Manager Jack McKeon. Acts of God apart, KC's chances of heading off Oakland were dim. Even their six-game lead over Chicago was less than comforting.
The White Sox, with an eight-game winning streak and 12 wins in 13 games, were coming on. Knuckleballer Wilbur Wood (23-18) gave credit to young Sox players. "When the kids came up, they were so scared they were even quiet in the clubhouse," said Wood. "Then they got the feel of things." It helped that the Sox averaged eight runs a game in seven victories during the week.
The Twins, although leading the majors with a .270 team batting average, continued their so-so ways, winning four of seven. Bert Blyleven pitched his 17th victory (and eighth shutout, the most in baseball), and his ERA of 2.38 tops all league starters. Even so, Blyleven was dour. "Winning," he said, "is all that matters." A pennant, that is.
Reports of Bobby Winkles' departure proved to be premature, but the Angel manager remained uneasy. A rookie centerfielder with the poetic handle of John Milton Rivers provided some encouragement, something for an uneasy man hoping to hang on. Rivers went 5 for 9 and stole two bases to lead California to a doubleheader sweep of Kansas City. However, the Angels managed only one other victory and lost five games. The Texas Rangers, possessed of the worst record in baseball, fired Manager Whitey Herzog and grabbed Billy Martin, who offered a couple of Martinisms: "Winning is everything," and "I'd play Adolf Hitler to win." This the Rangers promptly did, 4-3 over the A's.
OAK 82-59 KC 76-64 CHI 71-71 MINN 68-72 CAL 64-73 TEX 49-91
When the season is finally over, the Cardinals are going to try to figure out how they managed to stay in contention, never mind get out ahead of the field. There is no easy explanation except perhaps that Manager Red Schoendienst has done a masterful job and received timely cooperation from embarrassed, reluctant contenders. Even so, it appears that mirrors or tricks with wires have come into play. St. Louis has less power than any team in either league, with only 67 homers for the season, and two key pitchers, Bob Gibson and Scipio Spinks, have missed a good part of the year. But Lou Brock was his old larcenous self (he leads the majors with 62 stolen bases), and Catcher Ted Simmons had hit safely in 19 games on his way to a third .300 season. And so, despite a weekend tailspin in Chicago, the Cardinals split eight games and retained a hairy one-game lead over Pittsburgh.
When the Pirates dropped three to St. Louis, General Manager Joe Brown fired Manager Bill Virdon and brought back Danny Murtaugh for his fourth go-round as the Pirate boss. It was Murtaugh who guided the world champion Pirates of 1960 and 1971. Before Murtaugh had eased himself well back into his old dugout, the Pirates had a win over the Phillies, and Murtaugh was a happy man. "I can't deny it," he said. "Anytime you've managed and then had to leave, you regret it. You miss it." But the smiling Irishman was in for more than fun and games. There were fences to mend, hurt feelings to soothe. If Pirate pitching was in and out, at least Murtaugh had a powerful, dependable bat in Willie Stargell, who hit his 37th and 38th home runs of the season.
But even the Expos were crowding Pittsburgh. They were a breathless 1½ games behind and playing the best baseball yet seen in Montreal's Jarry Park—impressive enough in the crazy mixed-up East, where .500 is currently a lofty niche. Though the mercury plummeted, and the winds blew, the fans were ecstatic when the Expos took three games from the Cubs. A Montreal Star headline boasted: RAIN, CUBS, CAN'T COOL OFF THE RED HOT EXPOS. Then the Mets, playing in what amounted to a wind tunnel aimed at right field, took both ends of a doubleheader. Neither the fans nor the Expos were dismayed; Montreal came back to win the next game behind the brilliant young righthander, Steve Rogers, who outdueled the Mets' Tom Seaver 3-1 for the win. "I can't remember seeing such great pitching over three games," said Expos Manager Gene Mauch. Mike Marshall had pitched 11‚Öì honorable innings of the lost doubleheader to set a National League record for games finished (63), and for Rogers the victory over Seaver was his sixth complete game in 12 starts. The winning hit was a homer by Ken Singleton, once a Met himself.
The Mets had their own not-so-secret hopes, winning four in a row to creep past the Cubs and making Manager Yogi Berra a far better bet to return in the same job next year. The rumor mill awarding the position suddenly closed down, and the papers ceased speculation as to his successor. The pitching was generally sharp: Tug McGraw saved the first game against Montreal and won the second. What the Mets needed most was a hitter—someone like, uh, Ken Singleton to bounce a few off the fences.
Perhaps the most baffling team was Chicago. Once strong leaders, then more or less given up for dead, they were humiliated last week by Pittsburgh, fell further off the pace in Montreal, came limping (physically and emotionally) back to Chicago and whipped the Cards twice to tighten the race. The Cubs were not particularly impressive—there were missed signals and missed opportunities—but Billy Williams' streaky bat was hot and it kept the Cubs alive. In a 14-game tear Williams had 25 hits to raise his average to .302.
Manager Danny Ozark couldn't believe it. "Everything we threw at the Expos they hit," moaned the Phillie manager. "Strikes, balls, good pitches and bad ones." In the end the Phillies were buried by Montreal 12-0. That kind of thing happened all week as Philadelphia lost seven of eight and dropped nine games behind St. Louis.
ST. L 72-70 PITT 69-69 MONT 69-72 NY 68-74 CHI 67-73 PHIL 63-79
On Aug. 30 the Dodgers were four games in front. On Labor Day they played the Giants, hoping to hold on to what was by then a one-game lead. Surely this was going to be a piece of cake. Pitcher Tommy John carried an 8-1 margin into the late innings. But it was not to be. Bonehead plays set the stage for a Bobby Bonds grand-slam home run that gave San Francisco an extraordinary 11-8 victory. That was but one grim interlude in a disastrous week, which left the Dodgers winless in September as Cincinnati shot ahead.
"It's not the pressure," Manager Walt Alston stoutly declared. Whatever it was, the Dodgers seemed to have forgotten how to hit, and relief pitching provided anything but relief. Meanwhile starters Andy Messersmith and Don Sutton have become walking wounded, Messersmith with a pulled hamstring, Sutton with a sore shoulder. Compounding the aggravation was Centerfielder Willie Davis' bum knee. All this added up to a nine-game losing streak—the last three defeats by unmenacing San Diego, which had turned the same trick the first week in July.
LA's slump, as fate would have it, coincided roughly with Cincinnati's seven-game winning streak. Pete Rose (page 40) was abloom, and the Reds' rookies, Ken Griffey, Dan Driessen and Ed Ambrister, were hitting the Haitian hide off the baseball. "Those kids are doing a hell of a job," said 25-year-old Shortstop Darrell Chaney. Indeed, it was the youngsters' assault that gave the Reds a sweep over Houston. Then came a trip to Atlanta, however, and two straight losses to the Braves. In the second of those games Henry Aaron hit homer No. 709, his third of the week. But despite the home-run bats of Aaron, Dave Johnson and several other Braves, Atlanta could do no better than split eight games.
San Francisco, still a factor in the divisional race, won seven of eight and 13 of its last 18, despite pitching that was seldom overpowering. Ron Bryant interrupted all the high-scoring contests with a one-hitter for his 21st victory of the year, and though the Giants were pulling out wins with dramatic late-inning rallies, the fans continued to stay in hiding.
Houston remained a puzzle. The Astros' impressive lineup could not develop any consistency, a problem that has been with the team all season. "I'll go with my best against the Giants, Dodgers and Reds," said Manager Leo Durocher, choosing to retain a pat lineup rather than experiment with rookies. Houston thereupon lost three to the Reds and split a pair with the Giants, after joining in the fun against the Dodgers. This left the Astros at an even .500.
The city of San Diego is suing to keep the Padres from moving, even though at one point last week they had lost eight straight and fallen 35 games behind. Ah, well, there were those three victories over the Dodgers, and nobody can litigate them away. For the season the Padres are 9-6 against LA.
CIN 85-57 LA 83-60 SF 80-60 HOUS 72-72 ATL 69-74 SD 52-89