The airtight Pitching of Atlanta's Phil Niekro was punctured when San Diego's Willie McCovey bopped a homer in the ninth to deprive him of a third consecutive shutout. Niekro held on to win that game 5-2 and later beat Philadelphia 11-4 for his 13th victory. Also helping the Braves build the league's best record for the week (6-2) were Ron Reed, who downed the Astros 1-0; Henry Aaron, who slugged two homers in a game for the 62nd time; Ralph Garr, who averaged .429; and Darrell Evans, who finished off the Phils 3-2 with an 11th-inning sacrifice fly.
While the Reds and Dodgers struggled for first place (page 22), Houston lost its battle with Atlanta for third. The Astros defeated the Braves 6-4 on Cliff Johnson's fourth pinch homer of the season. But Houston lost four of its other six games, all by one run.
A bumbling defense and a mediocre offense have hampered San Francisco, but they may have made a better pitcher out of Jim Barr. "I go out every game throwing as hard as I can, thinking I need a shutout to win," Barr says. He has won six times in the past four weeks, and his most recent victory, a 3-0 whitewash of the Cubs, was his second shutout during that period.
San Diego was 2-4 for the week and has lost 13 of 17 since Bobby Tolan was sidelined for knee surgery.
LA 74-40 CIN 69-46 ATL 60-54 HOUS 58-55 SF 51-63 SD 46-69
Frustrated by his team's three losses at the beginning of the week, Montreal Owner Charles Bronfman compared watching the Expos to eating peanuts. "You get a bad one, but you keep digging into the bag. You know eventually you're going to pick out one that tastes good." Montreal promptly came out of its shell winning four straight with the help of Catcher Barry Foote, whose home run curved around the foul pole to defeat Houston 2-1.
With Joe Torre batting .441, Lou Brock hitting .381 and stealing nine bases to bring his total to 77, and Ted Simmons grand slamming Los Angeles 5-3, St. Louis stayed atop the East. The Phillies moved briefly into a tie for the lead by defeating the Cardinals 6-1 in the first game of a doubleheader, as Mike Schmidt hit his 24th and 25th home runs. St. Louis took the next two, 11-0 and 3-2, winning the latter on Simmons' game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth and Torre's RBI single in the 13th.
Pittsburgh took five of seven, including a three-game sweep of the Mets. The Pirates dumped New York 10-1 on a three-hitter by rookie Larry Demery, 4-3 on a ninth-inning home run by Richie Zisk and 9-8 as they scored three times in the ninth and won in the 11th on an error.
Chicago lost five of six. Two of the defeats were galling one-run games against the Phillies, who won one on a fluke hit and the other on a two-run bloop double.
ST. L 60-55 PHIL 58-56 PITT 56-58 MONT 54-58 NY 48-62 CHI 46-64
Kansas City had a royal time, batting .337 for the week and winning seven of eight games, including a 17-3 blitzing of Minnesota. Not even the loss of slugging John Mayberry with a broken hand deterred the onslaught. Amos Otis scored 14 runs, drove in 11 and hit .438; Hal McRae had 10 RBIs and baited .469; George Brett averaged .448; and Orlando Cepeda, in his first six games back in the majors, knocked home a dozen runs.
Oakland lost 2½ games of its lead to the slugging Royals, but things could have been worse for the A's. Vida Blue was hospitalized with severe chest pains, and it was feared he had suffered a heart attack. The anxiety ended when Blue's malady was diagnosed as nothing more than acute indigestion caused by eating greasy pork ribs. Thus, the A's survived another internal disorder and like most that have plagued them this season it had a happy resolution. Four days after being hospitalized, Blue stopped Boston 5-3 for his 14th win.
Chicago helped bring the league batting average up to .265—the highest in the majors since National Leaguers hit .265 in 1954. The White Sox averaged .306 and crashed 10 homers. That gave Chicago 111 for the season, equalling its total for all last year. Dick Allen socked three of them to increase his major league-leading total to 31.
Texas lost four of eight and dropped to fourth place, even though Ferguson Jenkins topped Oakland 1-0 for his 15th win. The Rangers stranded 22 men in another victory, a 4-3, 14-inning affair with the Tigers. In the twelfth inning, rookie Catcher Jim Sundberg picked a runner off second base, gunned down another trying to steal and later scored the winning run.
Minnesota's record was 5-5, and Second Baseman Rod Carew committed four errors. He now has 24 for the year, a personal high for one season.
Nolan Ryan of California came within two outs of his third no-hitter before Allen beat out an infield roller. Then an error and singles by Ken Henderson and Bill Sharp made Ryan a 2-1 loser to Chicago.
OAK 67-48 KC 59-53 CHI 58-55 TEX 59-57 MINN 56-60 CAL 45-70
"It's unbelievable. No tricks, just good old-fashioned smoke. Three men who can hum in the bullpen." That was Carl Yastrzemski's terse appraisal of the revitalized relief corps that helped Boston pad its lead to four games with a 5-3 week. Diego Segui sealed both ends of a doubleheader sweep against Milwaukee with 4‚Öî innings of scoreless relief. Then Dick Drago and Bob Veale preserved a 1-0, two-hit victory over the Brewers for Roger Moret, who went 7‚Öî innings before yielding a hit.
Bobby Grich of Baltimore often feels physically drained and needs sweets for quick energy. In an effort to stay away from candy bars, he makes a beeline for the honey and feels it has "been good for me in many ways." It certainly was the sweet pick-me-up he needed to combine with Paul Blair for seven hits, 10 runs scored and six RBIs as the Orioles stung the Tigers 7-4 and 6-3 in a doubleheader. Still, that was not enough to send the Birds off on one of their typical late-season flights to the top. Very untypical fielding troubles kept Baltimore grounded in third place. During one Keystone Kops misadventure, Centerfielder Blair threw the ball to the wrong base, Third Baseman Brooks Robinson relayed it back to the outfield and Rich Coggins fired it into the Oriole dugout.
More inept play by Baltimore enabled New York to gain a 4-3 win as the Yankees scored one run on a botched grounder, another when Robinson missed a tag during a rundown and the game-clincher when Thurman Munson dashed home from second on an infield hit.
Floundering Detroit came through with late-inning rallies to beat Cleveland 3-2 and 4-3, but dropped six of its last eight outings. That enabled Milwaukee to leave last place for a day before losing 1-0 and 13-3 and becoming the cellar-dweller again.
Misery, it is said, loves company, which is certainly true in Cleveland, where a whole tribe of Indians suddenly have become chummy with adversity. Jack Brohamer, John Ellis and George Hendrick all had hamstring problems, Buddy Bell reinjured his trick knee, and Gaylord Perry's pride—and ERA—were damaged in two more losses.
BOS 62-51 CLEV 57-54 BALT 57-56 NY 55-57 DET 54-60 MIL 53-61