Come September the minor leaguers come up and the managers go down. The honor of being the first casualty went to last year's National League Manager of the Year, Joe Altobelli of the Giants (3-4). San Francisco was 61-79 when he received the bad news; it was 80-58 at the same point last year. The Giants didn't follow tradition by winning their first game under new Manager Dave Bristol, but they triumphed 9-2 the next night, when Vida Blue, whose off-field misbehavior, 5.04 ERA and 13 losses no doubt helped hasten Altobelli's exit, pitched seven scoreless innings against Houston. The following night the Giants knocked the Astros out of first place.
Roger Craig of San Diego (3-4) is no doubt checking his mail for the dread pink slip, the Padres having fallen 23 games under .500 and 21 games out. All of which was too much for Gaylord Perry, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, the winningest active pitcher in either league and noted critic of players who don't try. Perry up and resigned, announcing he wanted to be closer to his North Carolina farm. Slightly more than a thousand miles closer would do it, he said, referring to his hopes of being traded to the Texas Rangers, whose owner, Brad Corbett, seems to have gone the tampering Padre boss, Ray Kroc, one better. Corbett admits that even before Perry's walkout he was already "putting the wheels in motion" to get Gaylord.
Houston (3-4) and Cincinnati (4-3) were jockeying in and out of first place. Astro J. R. Richard struck out nine Padres, bringing his total to 258, and allowed only three hits in a 2-0 shutout. He hasn't given up an earned run in 37 innings and has won nine of his last 10 starts. Joe Niekro, who pitched twice without a win, continued to be troubled by wildness. One errant pitch led to the only run in a 1-0 loss to L.A. Luis Pujols, brought up to catch Niekro after a knuckler broke Catcher Alan Ashby's hand, got a double, a triple and two RBIs in one game and a game-winning RBI in another.
Cincy's pitching, which had been strong of late, faltered, but the Reds' bats more than compensated. Joe Morgan got his 2,000th career hit, Johnny Bench hit in his 18th straight game and the starting lineup batted .310 with nine homers.
Manny Mota of the Dodgers (4-3) set a major league record for career pinch hits with 145, and Gene Garber of the Braves (2-5) established a big league mark for most losses in a season by a relief pitcher—15.
CIN 81-62 HOU 80-62 LA 67-75 SF 63-80 SD 60-83 ATL 55-86
"This is what keeps us going," said Mets Reliever Neil Allen after New York (3-5) began the week by beating Houston. "We hope to decide who gets into the playoffs." Indeed the Mets, who have been out of contention virtually since Opening Day, had a big hand in their own division race; they dropped three straight to Montreal and then tired out the Pirates with two extra-inning games.
The Pirates (4-3) were bushed. That was the third extra-inning game of a tedious week in which they flew from San Francisco, where they had become the first team to sweep a season's series from the Giants since they moved West in 1958, to Pittsburgh for a doubleheader with the Phils, to St. Louis for a two-game series and finally to New York.
All of which benefited Montreal (7-1), which advanced to within a game of the Pirates after a club-record 10-game winning streak. During the streak, Coach Vern Rapp, who had performed a similar chore in a five-game string earlier in the season, took the lineup card to home plate. Unfortunately, last Friday night's game was played in St. Louis, and Rapp's appearance was probably all the incentive the Cardinals needed to snap the Expos' streak. Rapp had been fired by the Redbirds last year after establishing less than cordial relations with nearly every Cardinal player.
The Cards (5-2) continued on their tear, completing their most successful road trip—of at least 10 games—in 10 years. They added good pitching to their league-leading hitting and were playing sound fundamental baseball. Well, almost. For the second time this year, Relief Pitcher Darold Knowles tried his patented "trick play"—attempting to pick off a man at first with the bases loaded. The trick seems to be to hit the baserunner with the ball. This time it scored two runs and again cost the Cardinals a victory.
Chicago (1-6) ran its losing streak to seven before beating Philadelphia. The Phillies won four straight—all on the road—under new Manager Dallas Green. When they returned to the Vet, who should be in the stands but former skipper Danny Ozark. Ozark's luck ran true to form; he saw the Phils get three hits in the first inning. And then it rained. Storm David—nè Hurricane David—had hit the city, forcing cancellation of the game.
PITT 84-57 MONT 80-55 ST.L 76-63 CHI 72-67 PHIL 71-70 NY 55-84
Don Zimmer has not been making any long-range plans. With reports of his imminent firing, his coaches and his players all are expecting it. Boston is a tough town, and second place, let alone third, isn't good enough. The Red Sox (1-5) after losing 16 of 20 games were 13½ back and virtually eliminated. The Red Sox tailspin could be attributed to injuries and the hot play of the Orioles, but according to baseball tradition, when the bus breaks down, you shoot the driver.
George Bamberger of Milwaukee (2-3) not only did not fear for his job, but he was also talked out of retiring and into another year of work. His Brewers were 24 games over .500 but still trailed the Orioles by 11½. Nonetheless, there was good reason to cheer. Larry Hisle, whom the Brewers feared might never play again after suffering a torn tendon in his right shoulder, appeared in his first game since May 4, got a hit and felt no pain.
Baltimore (6-0) continued its runaway to the division title. Mike Flanagan became the majors' first 20-game winner and four days later picked up his 21st victory.
Although there is no longer a division race, there are position races, and the one for fourth place between the Yankees (5-2) and the Tigers (2-5) is a dandy. Or is it between Billy Martin and Sparky Anderson? The two managers played a game at Tiger Stadium under a double protest that was doubly ridiculous. The Yankees won the game—and semi-firm control of fourth place.
Toronto (1-5) led Cleveland (4-2) 8-0 after six innings. In the eighth the Blue Jays turned the second triple play in their three-year history. Then they returned to form, committing five errors and giving up six runs in the ninth to lose 9-8. By dropping a 5-4 game to the Indians the next day, the Blue Jays hit the half-century mark, falling a full 50 games behind the Orioles. Even if the other clubs in the division forfeited all their remaining games with Toronto, the Jays would still finish in the cellar, 26 games out.
BALT 93-46 MIL 83-59 BOS 79-59 NY 77-62 DET 75-68 CLEV 73-69 TOR 44-97
"Today is the first day I didn't have to worry about my arm," said Nolan Ryan after beating Chicago 6-5. It was only his second win since mid-August. Four days later the Angels (6-1) stopped worrying—both about Ryan's arm and their overworked bullpen. He pitched a four-hitter for his first complete game in seven starts and the Angels' first in 13 games. California had spent much of the season with its best starting pitchers sidelined, but now Ryan, Chris Knapp and Frank Tanana, who made his first appearance since June 10, are all back.
That's bad news for the Royals. While Angel arms were ailing, the Royals (2-4) had picked up 10½ games and had begun the week tied for first. But the Royals won just two and dropped into second, four games back.
As Jerry Koosman warmed up in the Twins' bullpen before a game with the Royals, he was extremely wild. "How am I going to get through this game?" he wondered. By allowing two hits, one run and no walks and getting seven strikeouts, that's how. It was Koos' 18th win for Minnesota (2-4).
The Rangers (5-1) are making their annual September surge. But once again, it was clearly a case of too little, too late. They still trailed the Angels by 8½ games. Chicago (1-6) and Seattle (2-4) fell 18 and 19 games back, respectively.
Despite giving up 23 hits and two home runs, Rick Langford won twice for the 4-1 A's. He also pitched his ninth consecutive complete game to break Vida Blue's 8-year-old club record. Stopping just one short of a 63-year-old league record was Matt Keough, who won his first game after 18 straight losses. As he sipped celebratory champagne Keough said, "They're all behind me now. As far as I'm concerned, I'm 1-0."
CAL 79-64 KC 74-67 MINN 72-68 TEX 70-72 CHI 60-81 SEA 60-83 OAK 49-93
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
GEORGE FOSTER: Battling for an unprecedented fourth straight RBI title, the Cincinnati leftfielder drove in 11 runs—two were game-winners—with 11 hits, three homers. Despite missing 26 games, he has 93 RBIs.