In a single inning three Kansas City players reached first base and were thrown out trying to take another base, and in a single game the Royals made eight errors. These were perhaps pardonable sins, for Kansas City was the hottest team in the league with 10 wins in 14 games. Doug Bird emerged as the Royals' best pitcher, sealing off five victories and achieving an 0.40 ERA over 11 games. "He's right up there with Rollie Fingers, Cy Acosta, Sparky Lyle and John Hiller among baseball's best relievers," said Manager Jack McKeon. Bird had to wonder if he would have sufficient rest. "Late last season," he said, "I got wore out."
Oakland was the beneficiary of those eight KC errors in an 11-2 win, and Manager Alvin Dark was amazed at how well his club was doing (7-3) without injured Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. One bit of fortune was the emergence of 27-year-old Gaylen Pitts, the seventh man to play second base for Oakland this year. Pitts put the A's in first by doubling home the winning run in a 2-1 victory, also over the Royals. But Oakland's luck ran out against Chicago. After the A's tied the White Sox 4-4 on another Pitts RBI, rain washed out the inning and the run, the score reverting back to the seventh to endow Chicago with a 4-3 win. Ironically, White Sox Manager Chuck Tanner had campaigned last year for a rule change that would have had rained-out games continued to their conclusion another day. In better weather Saturday the White Sox took over first by beating the A's 3-2.
Hard times beset the Rangers, with Jim Fregosi suffering from muscle spasms, Jim Spencer unable to run well enough to play and Dave Nelson still recovering from a collision with Lenny Randle. Texas' woes were eased somewhat by young David Clyde, who beat California 6-1 for his third complete-game win. "I think I subconsciously realized that I shouldn't try to be a Nolan Ryan," he said. "I don't overpower people like he does." But "stoppers" Ferguson Jenkins and Jim Bibby lost their third and fourth straight, respectively.
Minnesota Manager Frank Quilici successfully discarded book strategy twice, to the chagrin of purists. First he had Outfielder Larry Hisle swing away in an apparent bunt situation, and Hisle homered to give the Twins a 2-1 lead over California. Then Quilici decided not to wait for starter Joe Decker to get into trouble, and replaced him with Bill Campbell at the start of the ninth inning. Campbell preserved the game for his eighth save. (He has now figured in 12 of the club's 15 victories.) Thus encouraged, the Twins blasted the Angels 10-4 the next day to move out of the cellar.
New tenant California began the week with Manager Bobby Winkles complaining after a doubleheader loss to Kansas City, "It's tough to get beaten by a team that just seems to drag around." Retorted a Royal, "He's the dumbest manager in baseball." The Angels did little for Winkles' case by losing three of their next four. In the defeats they averaged two runs and 10 men left on base. Adding to Angel woes, Ryan, holder of baseball's strikeout record, was giving up walks at another record pace.
CHI 18-15 OAK 19-18 KC 18-18 TEX 18-19 MINN 15-16 CAL 17-20
At one point the first four teams were separated not by games but percentage points—two of them. It was the closest mid-May race in the history of divisional play. Of course, tight standings often are a mark of spring, like slumping stars and surging hotshots. While Baltimore's Cy Young Award winner Jim Palmer was beaten for the fourth straight time, a 20-year-old Milwaukee rookie, Kevin Kobel, defeated New York twice. Another Brewer rookie, 18-year-old Shortstop Robin Yount, hit .381 to raise his average 40 points (to .235) as Milwaukee won five of seven to move into second. At the other end of the age span, Detroit took four of five and edged into first. Mickey Lolich, finally getting into stride, won a three-hitter and a five-hitter, John Hiller saved two games and Willie Horton clubbed his eighth homer.
Divisional favorite Baltimore recorded its first shutout of the year when rain gave Mike Cuellar a six-inning decision, but the Orioles were far from awesome. What did it mean? "What it means," said Manager Earl Weaver, "is that there's been no opportunity for the depth of the good teams, like us, to show up yet."
In Boston there was continuing concern over Second Baseman Doug Griffin, out since he was beaned by Nolan Ryan April 30. Tommy Harper, Rico Petrocelli and Bob Veale had other assorted ills. The healthiest of the Red Sox seemed to be Pitcher Bill Lee (one win) and Catcher Carlton Fisk (two homers), unmarked despite reports of a clubhouse scrap between them.
Cleveland slugger George Hendrick hit his sixth homer to help Gaylord Perry to his fifth victory in a 2-3 Indian week. New York's usually mild-mannered Manager Bill Virdon was kicked out of a game but failed to ignite the Yankees, who lost five of six.
DET 18-15 MIL 16-15 BALT 17-16 NY 19-20 CLEV 17-18 BOS 17-19
Cincinnati won six of seven, but still lost ground to Los Angeles (page 28). Houston dropped all eight of its games—four to the Dodgers—and lost ground to everyone. There was a Humble Community Night in honor of a small town north of Houston, and the Astros understandably played down to the occasion. Shortstop Roger Metzger, Most Valuable Astro in 1973, returned to the lineup after a tongue-swallowing accident—and booted his first chance, setting up a Cincinnati score. Errors by Lee May and Claude Osteen cost two more unearned runs in a 4-2 defeat. Meanwhile, attendance was down 127,000. If they do no better than their current 13,722-per-game average, the Astros will draw barely a million—their lowest total since moving into the Astrodome in 1965.
It is not often that Atlanta has a good week, so this was one to relish. The Braves took five straight, capped by an 11-inning 5-3 win over the Dodgers. Mike Lum won it with a double to end L.A.'s nine-game winning streak and give the Braves their first win in Dodger Stadium since 1972. Carl Morton set down the Giants 5-1 on three hits and the Padres 11-1 on six. Even when the team lost Ron Reed for six weeks with a broken hand off a first-inning Bobby Tolan liner, Buzz Capra, Gary Gentry and Danny Frisella shut out the Padres the rest of the way.
There was varied news from San Francisco. Mike Caldwell, whose 5-14 record with San Diego caused cries of "Who's Caldwell?" when he was acquired in a trade for Willie McCovey, became the first National League six-game winner with a 4-0 Cincinnati shutout. Good news. After being benched for the first time in his career Bobby Bonds went 9-for-22. More good news. But where was Ron Bryant, the league's biggest winner (24-12) last year? In and out of the bullpen with an 0-3 record and 10.13 ERA. And the Giants were a struggling third.
McCovey finally homered in San Diego's 36th game, and the Padres ran their latest losing streak to nine.
LA 28-10 CIN 19-15 SF 21-18 HOUS 20-21 ATL 19-20 SD 15-26
They were yelling rather than talking baseball in Philadelphia. For one thing, the Phillies had to scream to be heard above the hockey Flyers' din. For another, there was the phrase, "Yes, we can!" that Second Baseman Dave Cash coined when he came over to the club from Pittsburgh this year. Finally, the Phils had just cause to sound off—they were winning. After they swept a three-game series from Pittsburgh for the first time since 1969, Manager Danny Ozark cried, "We're a lot like that other team in town." The noise subsided temporarily during a game with Montreal when First Baseman Tommy Hutton allowed the Expos' Ron Hunt to go to second by letting a popped-up sacrifice fall. Ken Singleton then singled Hunt home for the winning run. "We gave it away," muttered Ozark. "Everybody was yelling, 'Let it drop, let it drop,' and Hunt took off." Insisted Hutton: "Nobody yelled anything. Ron knows I'm a smart ballplayer. If I had been a dummy, I'd have caught the ball, doubled him off first, and we'd still be playing."
Hutton made up for it with two homers in a subsequent 6-3 win over Montreal, and when Mike Schmidt's 390-foot shot powered the Phils to a seven-run sixth inning against the Pirates, they found themselves in a first-place tie with St. Louis. "The shouting is over," said Cash. "These guys believe in themselves now."
New York's slogan of last year, remember, was "You Gotta Believe," but for an instant the Mets relived Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? That was when Teddy Martinez and John Milner wound up on third simultaneously in a game at St. Louis. Both were tagged out. But they beat the Cards 6-4 in that one and survived a strained muscle of Reliever Tug McGraw as the starters won three more. Bob Apodaca beat St. Louis 5-3, Tom Seaver blanked the Expos 5-0 on five hits and 13 strikeouts and Jon Matlack shut them out 6-0 on four hits. The 4-2 week moved New York into fourth place, just 2½ games out.
The stars in St. Louis continued to be Lou Brock (25 stolen bases in a row) and Reggie Smith (.419 average, 24 RBIs in 25 games). Montreal had but one—Steve Rogers, who beat the Phillies 9-2 for his sixth win and fifth complete game.
Chicago's Cubs who, of course, play no night games at Wrigley Field, dropped four in a row on the road, including an 11-2 bombing by St. Louis, to go 2-10 under the lights. The Cubs were the only team Pittsburgh could beat. Jim Rooker pitched 11 excellent innings and the Pirates won 3-2 when Chicago's Bill Bonham threw a wild pitch with the bases loaded. Rooker has pitched well in six starts and has a 1.65 ERA, yet his record is just 2-2. Such were things in Pittsburgh that the Pirates were looking to the bottom of the batting order for succor: Richie Hebner, Mario Mendoza and Pitcher Ken Brett had seven hits and all the runs in a 5-2 victory over the Cubs. Brett, who is batting .539 and has two homers, is a pitcher to make sluggers weep.
PHIL 19-16 ST. L 19-16 MONT 14-14 NY 17-19 CHI 13-19 PITT 11-21