No team was more exciting than the Pirates (3-2). On Tuesday they blew a 10-2 lead over the Cubs only to win 12-11 in 11 innings on Dave Parker's second homer of the game. Parker and Bill Robinson had four hits apiece. Two days later, again facing the Cubs, again in extra innings, the Pirates won 3-2 as pinch runner Matt Alexander stole second, went to third when Catcher Dave Rader's throw sailed into center and scored when Center-fielder Bobby Murcer's peg clipped him on the shoulder and rolled to the Cub dugout. In another game Manager Chuck Tanner had lefthander Jim Rooker walk lefty Bill Buckner to bring up righthanded Dave Kingman with the bases loaded and the wind in Wrigley Field blowing out. The gamble paid off when Kingman hit into a fielder's choice. In another unconventional maneuver by Tanner, rookie Dorian (the Doe) Boyland, in his first major league at bat, was removed with two strikes on him and then charged with a strikeout when pinch hitter Rennie Stennett took a called strike three. In another at bat Boy-land singled, but when Frank Taveras hit him to third, Boyland neglected to touch second and was out. The wild Pirate week ended on a sour note when Expo baserunner Larry Parrish collided with Pittsburgh Catcher Duffy Dyer, cartwheeling over him and touching the plate with his hand. "He hasn't touched home yet," groused Tanner.
Playing more quietly but more effectively, Philadelphia (3-2) took a doubleheader from the Mets 1-0 and 6-3 while the Pirates were losing to Montreal. The 1½-game shift left the Phillies three games ahead going into the last week of the season. The heroes of the sweep were Shortstop Larry Bowa, who had seven hits, and Pitcher Larry Christiansen, who shut out New York on three hits. Mike Schmidt was almost the goat of the first game. After stealing second and getting the safe sign from Umpire Satch Davidson, Schmidt walked off the field and was tagged by Pitcher Mike Bruhert as he neared the dugout. Thus Bob Boone's subsequent single, which might have scored Schmidt, was wasted. "I thought I was out," Schmidt said.
In Montreal (2-2) Outfielder Ellis Valentine was playing the goat role to the hilt. He held up short of first base as a fly he had hit—and mistakenly thought would be caught—reached the wall. He barely made it to second. Before the next pitch he was picked off. Booed for both plays, Valentine looked at the stands and stretched out his hands at shoulder level. "I wanted them to boo me some more," he said. "I deserved what I got and more." Valentine was suspended for two days and fined—reportedly for the 11th time this season. He apologized, then said of his behavior, "I don't regret it."
Another also-ran gunning for the favorites was Chicago. The Cubs were just 3-3 but got in one gratifying blow—Mike Krukow's 5-1, four-hit win over Pittsburgh. "We're going to knock Pittsburgh's tail right out of the race," crowed Cub Manager Herman Franks. The Cubs also tied some obscure records. In the 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh, they equaled a National League mark by using 27 men. And Ivan DeJesus stole his 37th base, most by a Cub since Kiki Cuyler swiped that many in 1930.
New York (2-4) and St. Louis (3-3) were battling to stay out of the cellar. First Ted Simmons and Ken Reitz drove in two runs apiece to give the Cardinals a 5-3 win over the Mets. Then Lee Mazzilli and Willie Montanez matched them as New York won 7-6. St. Louis took the rubber game 6-2 as John Urea, back from the minors, outdueled Craig Swan. At week's end, the Cardinals put five games between themselves and the Mets by clipping Chicago 5-1 while New York dropped two to the Phillies. Reitz, one of the league's slowest runners, touched off a five-run rally by beating out an infield hit.
PHIL 85-68 PITT 82-71 CHI 76-78 MONT 72-82 ST.L 67-89 NY 63-92
The Dodgers (2-4) had a poor week, but it hardly mattered after Lee Lacy's pinch homer helped L.A. beat San Diego 5-3 and lower its magic number to one. That left Cincinnati (4-2) and San Francisco (3-3) resigned to battling for second, which would mean $500 more per man than finishing third. The Giants continued to play clutch ball; by beating the Astros 3-2, they won their 40th one-run game of the season, only one short of the 1969 Mets' major league record. The Giants also got some more clutch pitching from the most reliable member of their staff. No, not Vida Blue, but Bob Knepper (16-11), who beat the Astros 2-0. Knepper leads San Francisco in earned run average (2.73) and complete games (15), and his five shutouts top the league.
The Reds seemed as preoccupied with individual records as with their place in the standings. Tom Seaver raised his strikeout total to 200 for a major league-record 10th time. Johnny Bench caught his 100th game for the 11th straight season to set a National League record. And Pete Rose, whose 3,153rd career hit sent him past Paul Waner and into eighth place on the alltime list, needed 13 hits in his last seven games to break the 200-hit barrier for the 10th time. None of which satisfied Manager Sparky Anderson. Finally conceding the divisional race, he said, "Now that the Dodgers have won it two years in a row, we have to go back and look at ourselves. The Dodgers have shown they are the class team."
Atlanta had records in mind, too. As the Braves (4-2) moved to within a half game of fifth place, 39-year-old Phil Niekro got his 19th victory by beating the Dodgers 3-2. "I couldn't believe it," said Manager Bobby Cox. "After getting two hits, running the bases, covering first on a couple of plays and throwing a lot of pitches, Phil was tired for the first time this year." Niekro (19-16) should be feeling fatigued after all the work he has done this season. He is leading the league in innings pitched (317), complete games (20) and starts (40), is second in strikeouts (232) and is among the top 10 in ERA (2.90). No wonder he's eying his first Cy Young Award. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't checking the other pitchers' statistics," Niekro said. A stat worth checking out belonged to teammate Larry McWilliams, who ran his record to 9-2 by beating Cincy 8-1, thereby backing up Cox' contention that McWilliams, a rookie, has been the league's best pitcher since the All-Star break.
Houston (1-5) slipped toward last place, but rehired Manager Bill Virdon. J. R. Richard fanned 11 Braves to raise his total to 290, most by a National League righthander in this century. San Diego (4-2) reached a new plateau with a flourish. Pounding out a team-record 20 hits, including four by Dave Winfield, the Padres buried the Dodgers 12-3 and assured themselves of the first winning season in their 10-year history. Gaylord Perry, another Cy Young contender, sweetened the celebration by defeating the Giants 5-1 to become the league's first 20-game winner.
LA 93-62 CIN 85-69 SF 85-70 SD 81-75 HOUS 69-85 ATL 69-86
The Red Sox were sounding as defeatist as their fans, who had given up on them. "We can only afford to lose one more game," said Carl Yastrzemski as the week began. The Sox lost two but won five and narrowed the Yankee lead from 3½ games to one. Among the heroes was Yaz, who had five RBIs during an 8-6 victory over Detroit and then proclaimed that he would play three more years—instead of one, as he had earlier announced. Another hero was Dennis Eckersley, who beat the Tigers 5-1 for his 18th victory. It was the ninth time Eckersley had won following a Red Sox loss. Then there was the old magician, Luis Tiant, who threw 142 pitches and stranded 12 Blue Jays in a 3-1 win. What the Sox did worst was scoreboard-watching. Aware that the Yankees had lost the first game of a doubleheader to Toronto and were trailing in the second, Boston folded up and dropped a 12-2 embarrassment to the Tigers. At least one of the Sox wasn't even sure who he had been hitting against. "You've got to give credit to Rozema, or whatever his name is," said Jerry Remy.
New York's problem was pitching. While losing five of eight, the Yankee staff gave up 41 runs. The hitters, who accounted for just 26, weren't much better. Nor were their excuses. Lou Piniella claimed that rain had cost the team valuable batting practice. And several Yankees accused Milwaukee (4-3) 20-game winner Mike Caldwell, who defeated them 2-0, of using spitballs. "He threw about five spitters tonight—all out-pitches," said Gary Thomasson. But Reggie Jackson added, "If he throws a spitter, so what? If not for Ron Guidry, Caldwell's the Cy Young Award winner. I'm swinging pretty good now and he made me look funny." Other Yankees looked pretty funny a couple of nights later in Cleveland. Aware that the Red Sox had blown a game in the ninth to Toronto, New York collapsed in the 10th as Thurman Munson committed a passed ball that allowed Duane Kuiper of the Indians (3-1) to advance to second, and then Kuiper went to third as Goose Gossage served up a wild pitch. Kuiper scored the winning run on a single off the glove of Shortstop Fred Stanley.
More trouble was brewing in Baltimore (3-3) where teammates turned on Pitcher Jim Palmer with a vengeance. Having already stirred their ire by leaving several close games with alleged arm trouble, Palmer walked off the field in disgust one pitch after Outfielder Pat Kelly failed to make a difficult play on a ball that went for a double. The Orioles had been leading 1-0 at the time. Palmer's relief, Don Stanhouse, then allowed the Indians to score twice, sending the Orioles to a 2-1 defeat and depriving Palmer of his 20th win.
Said Player Rep Mark Belanger, "Palmer didn't want to pitch.... I don't want any pitcher on this club to get on a fielder." Palmer later apologized to Kelly and then further subdued his critics by whipping Detroit 6-1, the eighth time he has won 20 or more games. Nonetheless, Palmer's behavior prompted team officials to confirm that he is on the trading block.
Manager Ralph Houk of Detroit (3-5) announced his retirement. Houk managed the Yankees twice for a total of 11 years and the Tigers once for five. He finished in the second division 12 times, but, oddly, was never fired. His replacement will be Les Moss, who managed 19 of the present Tigers in the minors. And in Toronto (1-5) Manager Roy Hartsfield was rehired. Why? Because the Blue Jays are seven wins ahead of their 1977 pace and may not lose 100 games.
NY 93-62 BOS 92-63 MIL 89-67 BALT 86-68 DET 83-72 CLEV 68-84 TOR 59-95
Kansas City (6-2) all but wrapped up its third consecutive division title—although Manager Whitey Herzog was reluctant to declare the race over. Referring to the Royals' first title, in 1976, he said, "We lost nine of our last 10. I can't relax until we finally wrap it up." By week's end he was breathing easier as his main men on the mound, 19-game-winners Dennis Leonard and Paul Splittorff, each won twice. Leonard, 15-8 since June 7, defeated California 5-0 and Milwaukee 8-4. Splittorff needed relief but got victories over Seattle 9-8 and Minnesota 3-1. To further bolster Herzog's confidence, long-ineffective Doug Bird threw six strong innings against Seattle. "You try a little harder this time of the year," Bird said. By then Herzog was relaxed. Referring to a 4-2 win over Minnesota in which KC amassed all of four hits, he said, "I guess you could call it our 'scientific' attack."
Its chances for a divisional title slipping away, California (2-3) was shocked by the death of Outfielder Lyman Bostock, who was shot while sitting in a car in Gary, Ind.
Oakland (1-5) Pitcher Alan Wirth was leading the White Sox 3-2 when he looked in to Catcher Bruce Robinson for the sign. Robinson was signaling curveball; Wirth thought he saw the call for a fastball. It was a costly mistake: Ron Blomberg socked Wirth's heater for a grand slam to beat the A's. Meanwhile, owner Charlie Finley was again dickering with another would-be purchaser, Oakland furniture dealer Ed Bercovich. As usual, there was a Finleyesque fly in the ointment. Charlie O. hinted he would sell only if he could purchase the Chicago White Sox. The chances that fellow American League owners would approve a sale to Finley are as great as the possibility that the A's, who slipped to sixth, would finish in the first division.
Minnesota (4-4) hoped to close out one of its worst seasons with a successful Fan Appreciation Day. The fans were something less than appreciative—only 13,288 showed up. The Twins dutifully gave away both a car and the game, losing 3-1 to Kansas City. Butch Wynegar had his 38th straight at bat without a hit, and Willie Norwood made a two-out, two-run error.
Seattle (1-5) got its only win when Byron McLaughlin threw a 3-1 three-hitter at the White Sox. It was enough to give the Mariners an 8-7 edge in the season series. Chicago's (3-3) only significant win was a 5-4 victory over California.
Too little and too late, Texas (5-1) ran off four wins in a row. Jon Matlack beat Minnesota 6-3 for his second victory in 13 decisions on the road, which shows how much his 2.35 ERA has been wasted, and Ferguson Jenkins beat Seattle 1-0 on three hits. But no Ranger week would be complete without some turbulence. When news leaked that Cleveland might send Infielder Larvell Blanks and Pitcher Jim Kern to Texas for Outfielder Bobby Bonds and Pitchers Doyle Alexander, Reggie Cleveland and Dock Ellis, three of the Ranger players involved objected.
KC 88-67 CAL 82-73 TEX 79-74 MINN 70-85 CHI 68-86 OAK 68-88 SEA 55-96
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
GEORGE BRETT: Despite continued pain from a thumb fractured on July 26, the Royal third baseman batted .481, with two homers—one a game winner—three doubles, four stolen bases, eight runs and seven RBIs.