Everything went so right in Oakland that it seemed something was wrong. Owner Charlie Finley called a meeting at which he promised the A's diamond rings with a four-leaf clover design if they won a fourth straight World Series. "Fantastic," said Reggie Jackson. "If we had that harmony all the time, I'd play for only a hundred grand." Even Finley laughed at that one. Vida Blue did not voice his usual complaint when Manager Alvin Dark yanked him twice, being satisfied with two wins and exulting, "I'm shooting for 30." With Catfish Hunter gone, Dark needed another starter. So he tried Mike Norris, 20, who was 7-8 in AA ball last year. Like Dark, Norris totes a Bible, and after beating Chicago 9-0 with a three-hitter the A's skipper referred to him as his "Jeremiah." Dark quoted Jeremiah 33:3: "Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not." Added Dark, "Norris just might be the prophet sent down to save us." Applying saving touches of his own was Centerfielder Bill North, who preserved two wins by throwing out a runner at the plate and making a spectacular catch. Despite playing amid unaccustomed congeniality, the A's jumped into first place.
There was no joy in Texas, though. Ferguson Jenkins was pummeled twice as the Rangers lost four of five and Manager Billy Martin uncharacteristically spoke of the need for "patience." But Martin himself lacked patience, feuding with Umpire Ron Luciano. During two games worked by Luciano, Martin wore a microphone, presumably to record his run-ins with the ump. "I'm out to get him fired," Martin said.
Chicago was shut out twice in a row, did not hit a homer in five games and its only win came when Pat Kelly's pinch triple drove in two runs to beat the A's 7-5.
Tony Oliva slugged three homers as Minnesota won twice. Lacking the long ball in their other outings, the Twins lost all three.
Amos Otis had five stolen bases, Hal Mc-Rae had two game-deciding hits and Relievers Lindy McDaniel and Doug Bird notched wins as Kansas City took three of four.
Angel Manager Dick Williams had to fork over $200 and Nolan Ryan had his "worst stuff since opening day last year." Yet neither complained. Williams has offered his personal check for $200 to any of his pitchers who can make batters ground out 18 times in a game, a feat achieved by Andy Hassler in a 10-inning, 4-3 win over the White Sox. As for Ryan, his "worst stuff" stymied Chicago 5-0 as he yielded six singles. Four days earlier Ryan allowed three hits and fanned 12 in a 3-2 defeat of K.C.
OAK 4-1 CAL 3-1 KC 3-1 MINN 2-3 CHI 1-4 TEX 1-4
"I never saw a bench more alive," said Bob Heise, a reserve infielder for Boston. "Every time somebody scratched himself he got a pat on the back." Heise was alluding to the Sox' gung-ho response to a pep talk by Captain Carl Yastrzemski, who implored the Red Sox to whoop it up in the dugout. Yaz had scolded them for "the worst attitude I ever saw in spring training. If it keeps up, we'll finish last." It did not keep up, and the Sox advanced to first place, splitting a pair with the Brewers and taking two games from the Orioles. Giving the Bostonians something to holler about in their first game in Baltimore were Tony Conigliaro, who hit his first homer since 1971, and Yaz, whose 12th-inning blast made the Sox 6-5 winners. Doug Griffin poked a game-winning single in the 13th for a 3-2 win. The Orioles' only cheer came in their season opener, which they took 10-0 at Detroit on Jim Palmer's three-hitter and a three-run homer by Lee May in his first time up in a Baltimore uniform.
In his first at bat as the majors' first black manager, Cleveland's Frank Robinson dramatically homered. It was a drive that instantly won over the Indian fans, 56,000 of whom showed up for the opener against the Yankees. Also enthusiastic about the blow was Robinson's No. 1 problem player, Gay-lord Perry, who led a surge of Indians to escort Frank back to the dugout. Then, after finishing off the Yankees 5-3, Perry presented the game ball to Robinson, who said, "Getting it from Gaylord makes it special for me." Robin Yount, who had just three homers all last season, hit two as the Brewers gained a share of the Eastern lead.
Two strong relief efforts by John Hiller plus a three-run homer one day and a grand slam the next by Nate Colbert helped Detroit drub New York twice (page 24).
BOS 3-1 MIL 3-1 DET 2-1 BALT 1-2 CLEV 1-2 NY 0-3
The Dodgers were seeing red after three losses in Cincinnati, having squandered leads in each game. When pinch hitter George Foster was ruled safe at first base on an infield hit that scored the winning run in a 14-inning, 2-1 opening day struggle, the Dodgers complained he should have been called out. Then, after Dave Concepcion's pinch single gave the Reds a 4-3 triumph in the ninth inning of the second game, the Dodgers argued that time should have been called because a ball had rolled out of the Cincy bullpen and onto the field. In the finale the Dodgers could only blame themselves, for they blew a 5-0 advantage and lost 7-6. The Cincinnati bullpen was exceptional, allowing one run and eight hits in 13 innings.
Still on the road, Los Angeles stopped Houston 7-0 behind Don Sutton. The Dodgers then lost 7-5 to the Astros—and Shortstop Bill Russell broke his right hand.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, was jolted by San Diego 5-2 and 3-2. Dan Spillner held the Reds in check in the first game and rookie Joe McIntosh became the apple of Padre fans' eyes as he held off Cincy in the second. The division-leading Padres lost only once, 2-0 to the Giants' Jim Barr in 10 innings. Bobby Murcer led off the 10th with a double and scored on a double by Gary Matthews.
Atlanta got strong pitching from Carl Morton (a 2-0 five-hitter against the Astros and a 7-4 win over the Giants) and Buzz Capra (a 4-2 three-hit defeat of the Giants).
"Speed and aggressiveness force other teams into mistakes," said Houston Manager Preston Gomez as he contemplated his team's new offense. Speed came in the form of 10 steals, six by Cesar Cedeno, and First Baseman Cliff Johnson provided muscle, driving in seven runs.
SD 2-1 HOUS 3-2 ATL 3-2 CIN 3-2 SF 1-2 LA 1-4
"No one thinks much about fielding on this club," said Pirate Third Baseman Richie Hebner. And why should they? The offensive-minded Bucs walloped four homers in their opener, an 8-4 trouncing of the Cubs. The next day, trailing the Mets 3-0 in the last of the ninth, the Pirates did more of what they do best. They finally got to Met starter Jerry Koosman, roughed up two of his relievers and scored four quick runs.
Referring to that 4-3 loss to the Pirates, Met Manager Yogi Berra moaned, "When you ain't got a bullpen, you ain't got nothing." Well, not quite. At least the Mets had Dave Kingman, Joe Torre and Tom Seaver. New York took its opener 2-1 from Philadelphia as Kingman homered, Torre drove in the winning run and Seaver pitched.
Lou Brock of the Cardinals was presented with a gift by Missouri Governor Kit Bond: license plates bearing No. 118 in honor of the record number of steals he had last season. "You might call this a license to steal," said Bond gamely. Although Brock stole just one base, the Cards won four of five.
Philadelphia beat New York 3-2 on an 11th inning pinch double by Tony Taylor for its solitary win. Montreal also won just once, taking its opener in St. Louis 8-4. But the young Expos, who hit .205 and made 10 errors, dropped their next four games. In a 2-1 loss to the Cubs the Expos gave up one run on a bases-full walk to Chicago Pitcher Ray Burris and the other on a two-base sacrifice fly on which Rightfielder Gary Carter made a fine catch and then fell down.
PITT 2-0 ST.L 4-1 CHI 2-1 NY 1-2 PHIL 1-3 MONT 1-4