During spring training St. Louis Reliever Al Hrabosky told a TV announcer the Chicago Cubs were "Teddy bears." Last week they cuffed Hrabosky around, handing him his first defeat since June 1974. "When we scored the winning run," said Chicago's Rick Monday, "25 Teddy bears got up and yelled."
Chicago was just as overbearing against Philadelphia. A normally slick-fielding shortstop, Larry Bowa, let a grounder roll through his legs, allowing the go-ahead run to score in a 4-1 defeat. Steve Stone scattered eight hits for his third win. The game left Phillie Sportscaster Richie Ashburn, well, ashen. "If Stone beats the Phillies today," Ashburn had said, "I'll feel like grabbing a bat myself." All in all, the Cubs won four in a row after losing three straight.
Pittsburgh's pitfall was left-handed pitching. Montreal Manager Gene Mauch bypassed a right-handed starter, Steve Rogers, to throw Woodie Fryman and Dave McNally at the Pirates. Fryman shut them out for the second time in a row 5-0—the first pitcher since Christy Mathewson to do so—and McNally beat them 4-3. Montreal's lefthanders are 5-0, but its righthanders are 0-8. The Pirates weren't worried—or were they? "If you're a good hitter," said Al Oliver, "it shouldn't make any difference how they throw." In Oliver's opinion, his teammates were overswinging.
Winning five straight and climbing from sixth to second, New York was the only unbeaten team last week. John Matlack won twice, Randy Tate once and Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman pitched complete games as hitting support (a six-run average) finally materialized. Ed Kranepool, Del Unser, Dave Kingman, Jerry Grote and Felix Mil-Ian all batted better than .300. Even when they gave Matlack just three hits, the Mets beat Montreal 5-3, thanks to the five walks Rogers gave up. "I can't remember so many runs with so few hits," said Matlack. "I can only remember the games we got 10 hits and two runs."
CHI 11-4 NY 7-6 PITT 7-6
PHIL 6-9 ST.L 6-9 MONT 5-8
Andy Messersmith, who really does do it all, tied a major league pitcher's record with three doubles to give Los Angeles a 6-5 win over San Francisco. That was fortunate, because the injury-ridden Dodgers needed hitting wherever they could get it. Ken McMullen provided another welcome surprise by stroking a pinch-hit grand slam to help beat San Diego 11-6.
The front-running Padres won for the second time on national TV, for whatever that's worth, and drew a club-record average of 22,685, which is worth plenty. When they weren't getting wins from youngsters, they got one from 38-year-old Sonny Siebert, who stopped the Braves 5-3. "We've played every team in the West," said Manager John McNamara, "and I think we've proved that we are competitive." Most competitive of all was Outfielder Dave Winfield, who had five homers and 14 RBIs in the first 16 games and was hitting .377.
Another record of sorts was set in Cincinnati, where an umpire, Ed Vargo, finally had enough courage to call an obvious base-running interference. When the Reds' Merv Rettenmund slid far out of his way to upend Houston Shortstop Roger Metzger, Vargo ruled an automatic completion of the double play. Cincinnati protested the game, won 6-4 by the Astros, who otherwise were the least successful team in baseball.
Day after day the Reds were awash in excitement. By the time Atlanta's Sugar Bear Blanks beat Don Gullett 5-4 on an 11th-inning double, the Reds had played 11 one-run games in 17 outings. "I feel as if the season is eight-tenths over," said Manager Sparky Anderson. Joe Morgan won a game with his base running, and Johnny Bench drove in nine runs in three games.
Atlanta had baseball's hottest pitcher in Carl Morton (5-0) and a sizzling slugger in Darrell Evans (two homers, eight RBIs, .467 average). Morton beat the Dodgers 3-2 and the Padres 6-4. Said Third Baseman Evans, "I'm seeing the ball so good it looks like a volleyball."
Hot-and-cold San Francisco fell 17,000 behind last year's poor attendance pace, perhaps because the Giants were 3-6 at home. Even the Giants' fastest pitcher, John D'Acquisto, got roughed up, 13-3 by the Dodgers. "We'll make some breaks," said Manager Wes Westrum. For the franchise's sake, the Giants had better hurry.
SD 10-6 LA 11-8 ATL 10-9
CIN 10-10 SF 9-9 HOUS 6-14
People who shoot for A's can wind up failures. That was the lesson of 1974, when Kansas City, picked to contend, pressed and finished fifth. "We set our sights on Oakland and it was a mistake," says Manager Jack McKeon, "but it's going to be different this year. We've matured." Mature wasn't quite the word for the Royals as they brought their latest act to Chicago. Nelson Briles had taken to barking like a dog on occasion, and George Brett wore eyeglasses with battery-powered windshield wipers. "We're the first-place Kansas City Royals," John Mayberry chanted out the bus window. "We got Steve Busby, we got A.O. [Amos Otis], we got Harmon Killebrew." And, inserted Buck Martinez, "We got the Oakland A's." The Royals were promptly punished with four straight defeats by Chicago and Oakland. "Things are going to change," said Vada Pinson. Then he tripled, homered and scored four runs as the Royals beat Chicago 8-6 and stayed in first.
Texas Manager Billy Martin, pressuring his Rangers to overtake Oakland, has lost 15 pounds, and his players have lost their poise. "Errors, pitchers getting the ball stuck in the webbing of their gloves, balks, everything is happening," said Martin. "A guy couldn't stay at home at night and try to dream up more ways to get beat." The solution was to leave home, where Texas is 1-7, and go on the road (6-2), where Ferguson Jenkins tossed a two-hitter and Jackie Brown pitched a five-hit shutout.
When Nolan (The Franchise) Ryan was lost for a turn with a strained right triceps tendon, critics wrote off California for the week. Instead, Billy Singer, Andy Hassler and Frank Tanana got wins, and the Angels remained in third. Meanwhile, the A's continued to find reasonable facsimiles of Catfish Hunter, who was still struggling in New York, as Glenn Abbott recorded two victories. An earlier pitching hero, rookie Mike Norris, suffered an elbow injury, and Manager Alvin Dark said, "If he can't pitch in two weeks, God will provide." So far, Providence had been more than kind.
Chicago's Jim Kaat won his ninth straight game over two seasons, beating Kansas City 7-3, but Minnesota could do nothing right. Bert Blyleven blew a 3-0 lead in the ninth, the Rangers hit two home runs over the Twins' left-field fence, which had been shortened 16 feet to reward Minnesota power, and weather and attendance were lousy.
KC 10-6 OAK 11-7 CAL 9-7
TEX 7-9 CHI 6-10 MINN 6-10
"Everybody keeps saying, 'We're going to do it,' " said New York Pitcher Rudy May. "How far can it go? George Medich can't pitch every day." At the time the Yankees were 2-7, with both wins from Medich. Finally they began doing it, getting four wins in five games. May and Medich had one victory apiece and Pat Dobson two, while Roy White, Bobby Bonds and Ron Blomberg each hit two homers. By week's end the Yankees were so confident they let TV's El Exigente (The Demanding One) throw out the first ball before a game against Milwaukee at Shea Stadium. Dobson threw coffee beans past the Brewers and beat them 10-1.
Earlier in the week, Milwaukee's Mr. Demanding, Henry Aaron, removed himself—and his .114 average—from the lineup for the first time in his 21-year career and became a designated sitter. Three days later a rejuvenated Henry broke up Dobson's shutout with his 735th home run.
Cleveland's Frank Robinson benched himself temporarily to deal with some pressing managerial concerns. One was Charlie Spikes, in the midst of his worst slump. "I have to laugh at myself," said Spikes. "I have no runs batted in, no homers and only a couple of hits in 35 at bats." Unsmiling, Robinson warned Spikes against trying to pull, and the outfielder went 2 for 4 against Baltimore. Concern No. 2 was Jim Perry, who criticized Robby for taking out his pitchers without betaking himself to the mound. Robinson began removing starters himself. His best friend was new buddy Gay-lord Perry, who five-hit the Orioles 3-0 for his third win.
It hardly seemed surprising that Baltimore's Jim Palmer should beat Milwaukee 1-0 or that Bobby Grich should win it for Palmer with a homer. But lo, Palmer revealed that his 131st win was his first by a 1-0 score. "I've been in 1-0 games as the loser," said Palmer. "Any time you win a 1-0 game, you've got to be lucky. There are just too many variables." Grich, by the way, had homered with a sore wrist.
Detroit's pitching was as baffling as its first-place record. Joe Coleman, of whom much was expected, was 0-3, but Mickey Lolich and Lerrin LaGrow, both terrible in spring training, were terrors (5-0 combined). Only Reliever John Hiller, who has allowed four hits and no runs in 9‚Öì innings, was true to form.
DET 7-5 MIL 7-6 BOS 7-7
BALT 6-6 CLEV 5-6 NY 6-8