"Have you guys met Fernando Knepper?" Joe Niekro asked his Houston teammates when the lefthanded Knepper, whose real name is Bob, came into the clubhouse after stopping the Cubs 6-0 for his third shutout in five starts. Knepper, whose 1.00 ERA is second only to Fernando Valenzuela's, has been the best pitcher on the best staff in the league. So how come the defending division champs are 12-16 and nestled in fifth place? Well, the Astros (4-3) also lead the NL in men left on base—217. In the first 13 games of a 14-game road trip, they stranded 117 runners. The team batting average is a wan .233. When two rather hefty computer technicians boarded the team bus in Chicago and plopped down in the seats reserved for Manager Bill Virdon, Pitcher Nolan Ryan observed, "Looks like we're beefing up our offense." The two technicians, who were supposed to get on a bus bound for the McCormick Place Convention Center, not Wrigley Field, refused to leave. They just couldn't believe that these were the Houston Astros. A lot of people can't believe that these are the Houston Astros.
While the other Fernando continued to defy belief [page 22), the Dodgers (4-3) sat comfortably atop the division. Burt Hooton pitched a five-hitter and Jerry Reuss a six-hitter to precede Valenzuela's seven-hitter. Pedro Guerrero hit three home runs, two of them in a 7-4 loss to the Mets, and Ron Cey homered twice.
A spot finally opened up in the Cincinnati lineup for part-time Catcher Johnny Bench when First Baseman Dan Driessen was sidelined with a sore hand. In his initial six games at first for the Reds (3-3), Bench fielded flawlessly, beat the Pirates 9-8 with a bases-loaded single in the ninth and hit his 358th career home run in a 9-5 win over Houston. That homer tied Bench with Yogi Berra for 29th on the alltime list. With Bench at first, the Reds' other two catchers, Joe Nolan and Mike O'Berry, batted .316 for the week. Tom Seaver hit a home run while pitching his 54th career shutout, a 4-0 defeat of Houston, and lowering his ERA to 2.08.
Bill North of the Giants (5-3) beat Montreal with speed on Friday, stealing three bases in a 4-3 win, and with unaccustomed power on Saturday, driving in six runs with a two-run double and his first major league grand slam in an 8-2 victory.
The Braves (4-2) won three straight and occupied second place. St. Louis Manager Whitey Herzog, formerly the K.C. skipper, perhaps recalling Chris Chambliss' pennant-winning homer in the 1976 playoffs, ordered Chambliss walked twice, only to have the man behind him in the lineup. Bob Horner, drive in three runs in Atlanta's 9-6 win. Two days later, Herzog changed his strategy, and Chambliss drove in five runs in a 10-2 victory which gave Gaylord Perry his 292nd career win.
The Padres (2-4) scored 38 runs, but many of them were wasted in a 13-5 defeat of the Expos. In that game, Broderick Perkins, who began playing regularly on April 28, drove in five runs with a double, a triple and a home run. At week's end, Perkins was leading the league in hitting at .400. The other good news for the Padres was that their 17-game road trip, the longest in the majors this season, was over. On it the Padres had lost 12 games.
LA 20-9 ATL 15-13 CIN 14-13 SF 15-17 HOUS 12-16 SD 10-20
He entered the game with an 0-1 record and a 7.36 ERA, and he left it with the singular distinction of being the only pitcher born in France to throw a major league no-hitter. Charlie Lea, born in Orleans to a U.S. Navy family stationed in France, now a spot starter for the Expos (4-4), faced only 29 Giants in the 4-0 victory. His was the first no-hitter in the majors since Jerry Reuss of the Dodgers pitched one against the very same Giants last June 27. "I don't think I ever got nervous," said Lea. "I wanted to do it from as early as the third inning on." Contrary to baseball etiquette, Lea and his teammates talked freely of the no-hitter throughout the game. "Everybody in the ball park knew, so there was no need to keep quiet," he said. The crowd of 25,343 in Montreal's Olympic Stadium was on its feet for the last three outs. After Enos Cabell hit a soft fly to Andre Dawson in center, the fans chanted, "Charlie, Charlie," and when Lea walked down the ramp to the clubhouse, he trod on a carpet of white towels that led to his locker.
The Expos needed that kind of performance last week as their Nos. 3 through 7 hitters stopped hitting. But at the top of the order, Tim Raines continued to run at will, and now has 28 stolen bases in 27 games. "He's the most awesome base stealer I've ever seen," says San Francisco's Joe Morgan. "I saw Lou Brock in his prime. I saw Maury Wills in his prime. I was Joe Morgan in his prime. I don't think they can stop him."
Having been shackled on successive nights by Atlanta's two 42-year-old pitchers, Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro, the St. Louis Cardinals (3-4) sent their own 42-year-old, Jim Kaat, out to protect a 5-4 lead in the sixth inning against the free-swinging Pirates. Kaat allowed only one hit in 3⅖ innings to save Bob Shirley's fourth victory without a loss. Rookie righthander Andy Rincon drove in three runs and pitched the Cards to a 13-0 victory over Pittsburgh. But the next day it was revealed that his right arm had been broken when he was hit by a batted ball in the seventh inning. He will miss at least five weeks.
The Phillies (4-3) kept pace with the first-place Cards, thanks in large part to Steve Carlton, who ran his record to 6-0 by pitching complete games in beating San Francisco and San Diego. Carlton also tripled in both games. Forty-year-old Pete Rose had 12 hits in 28 at bats to pass Henry Aaron and move to within 22 of Stan Musial's league record.
The Cubs (2-4) could boast of a number of firsts last week. In beating Atlanta 7-3 on Saturday, they won their first road game of the year. It was also the first 1981 victory for Rick Reuschel, the ace of the staff. When Heity Cruz of Chicago and Jose Cruz of Houston homered in the same game, it is believed to have marked the first time that brothers have accomplished this since Sept. 14, 1974, when Graig Nettles of the Yankees and Jim Nettles of the Tigers hit fraternal taters.
Injuries continued to plague the Pirates (3-3). Pitcher Rick Rhoden missed a start with a sore elbow, and Third Baseman Bill Madlock was sidelined with a pulled muscle in his rib cage. John Candelaria pitched six shutout innings in an 8-2 win over the Cards, but had to leave because of a pulled muscle in his shoulder. The hobbled Dave Parker can still hit: in that victory, he singled twice, doubled and homered.
The Curse of the Mets' Third Basemen was visited upon Hubie Brooks, who made three errors in the fourth inning to tie a league record and help the Dodgers beat New York (2-4) by a 5-4 score. Mike Scott's luck was even worse. He chose the wrong night to pitch the game of his life—Fernando Valenzuela was going for L.A.
ST.L 15-7 PHIL 18-10 MONT 17-10 PITT 11-11 NY 8-16 CHI 5-19
The Seattle Mariners tried a novel promotional gimmick Saturday night—winning. Of course, it was Bat Night, and the San Diego Chicken was there, and so were the New York Yankees. But what delighted the 51,903 fans in the Kingdome most was Tom Paciorek's second straight game-winning ninth-inning homer, a three-run, two-out shot off Ron Davis. It gave the Mariners (4-3) a 6-5 victory over the Yankees and their fourth win in a row under new Manager Rene Lachemann. The fans called Paciorek out of the dugout four times. The night before, he had hit his gamer off Rudy May for a 3-2 win. Lachemann was a Dodger bat boy in 1959-62 when his predecessor, Maury Wills, was a player. The first thing the new boss did was send Mike Parrott out to start, and Parrott beat Milwaukee 12-1 to end a personal 18-game losing streak, one defeat shy of the AL mark. Floyd Bannister and rookie Bryan Clark followed with complete-game victories as the Mariners moved out of last place. By the end of the week, Wills was home shooting hoops.
The team the Mariners passed on their way to sixth was none other than the Royals (1-4), whom you may recall as having represented the league in the '80 World Series. "We can't keep saying that we're going to be O.K. later on," said Designated Hitter Hal McRae. "We've got to start doing it now. Otherwise we're going to be getting ready for spring training." When Kansas City lost to Chicago Friday night, it marked the first time since June 4, 1972 that the team fell eight games below .500. The next night, the Royals made it nine below in losing 3-0 to the White Sox. The only bright spot in the week came when Larry Gura beat the Red Sox 2-1 for his third straight complete-game victory. Gura credits karate for his 1.88 ERA, though his teammates seem to be into passive resistance, not the martial arts. Opposing runners had stolen 15 bases before Catcher Jerry Grote finally threw one out. The ace reliever, Dan Quisenberry, has an ERA of 5.73, only one save, and he's given up 20 hits in 11‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings.
Jim Fregosi was given a vote of confidence—heh, heh—by the Angels' front office after the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) had already reported his firing. "I think I'll get to the park early Friday and see if my uniform is still there," Fregosi bravely joked. California (4-3) split a four-game series with the Yankees as Don Aase, the only pitcher on the staff with a lifetime record over .500 (35-33), got two saves. "What they need," said Fregosi's good friend, Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson, "is for those hitters to come alive." No sooner said than the Angels went out and pounded Anderson's Tigers 15-1 with Bobby Grich, Bobby Clark, Brian Downing and Don Baylor combining for 12 RBIs.
As if they needed more help, the Oakland A's (4-2) got offensive reinforcements. In a 5-3 win over Detroit, Mitchell Page, batting .100 at the time, and Jeff Newman, hitting .122, both homered. Earlier in the week, Wayne Gross raised his average 65 points to .208 with two doubles, a single and a homer in a 6-2 defeat of the Tigers. Tony Armas hit his ninth home run and Dwayne Murphy his fifth and sixth. Mike Norris finally lost after six wins.
The Rangers (4-2) and the White Sox (2-3) tried to stay within hailing distance of Oakland. Texas swept three from Chicago, but then dropped a doubleheader to the Orioles, Chet Lemon, Tony Bernazard and Jim Morrison all turned in spectacular fielding plays in a 9-5 win over the Royals, and then Richard Dotson beat KC 3-0 for his second straight shutout. The Twins (1-5) lost three straight one-run games to the Orioles, the last defeat coming when they botched a rundown play in the ninth inning.
OAK 24-7 TEX 15-11 CHI 14-11 CAL 15-16 MIN 10-17 SEA 10-19 KC 6-15
Bert Blyleven came very close to pitching the first no-hitter in the American League since, well, since Bert Blyleven did it for Texas against California on Sept. 22, 1977. Blyleven is with Cleveland now, but he spent the last three years in the National League with the Pirates. He's happy to be back, thank you. Last week he improved his record to 3-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.06 with a 3-1, two-hit victory at Toronto. Blyleven went into the ninth without having allowed a hit, and the Indians tried to do him a favor by replacing the sometimes clumsy Joe Charboneau with defensive specialist Larry Littleton. Sure enough, Lloyd Moseby hit the first pitch of the inning into left center. Littleton, however, lost the ball in the lights, and it ticked off his glove. The scorer's decision to rule it a double rather than an error ticked off the Cleveland fans watching at home. When Jorge Bell followed with a run-scoring single, the point was made moot. The Indians were only 3-2 on the week, but it was enough to keep them in first place.
Breathing down Cleveland's neck was Baltimore (5-1), which was 9-3 for its home stand. The Orioles won with hitting, fielding, pitching and chaos. Terry Crowley beat the Twins 4-3 with a 10th inning pinch hit, and Doug DeCinces beat them the next night with his glove, making four outstanding plays at third to preserve Mike Flanagan's 3-2 win. Baltimore completed the sweep of Minnesota when Lenn Sakata and Mark Belanger were caught in rundowns. Belanger elbowed the ball out of Second Baseman Rob Wilfong's glove, allowing Al Bumbry to score from third. If you're scoring, the play went 5-2-6-3-4-9-4.
The Red Sox (5-1) shook off their doldrums. Dwight Evans was very hot, homering three times and driving in nine runs, and Manager Ralph Houk was very cold after somebody swiped his warmup jacket. Dennis Eckersley beat the Royals 3-1 on a four-hitter, and Jim Rice hit his 200th career homer in a 10-3 win over the Blue Jays.
There was bad news and bad news in Milwaukee (3-4). The ankle injury to Center-fielder Paul Molitor, originally thought to be a sprain that would keep him out four weeks, turned out to be torn ligaments, which will sideline him for eight weeks or more. Then, after Robin Yount broke out of his slump with three homers in two victories over Seattle, he hurt his knee in Wednesday's game, a 12-1 defeat that snapped Mike Parrott's 18-game losing streak. Two years ago the Brewers were also the losing team when Oakland's Matt Keough broke his 18-game losing streak. The only consolations for Milwaukee were Pete Vuckovich's first two wins as a Brewer and Gorman Thomas' three home runs, giving him eight for the season.
The performance wouldn't have been so amazing had it come from the Yankees' (3-4) most famous righthanded reliever, Rich Gossage. But the fellow striking out eight Angels in a row to tie the American League record of Nolan Ryan was Ron Davis. Davis now throws a rising fastball instead of a sinker, but even he was taken aback by his achievement. "I just don't strike people out," he said. It was all for a good cause, though, as Davis saved Gene Nelson's first major league start, a 4-2 win. Five days later Davis blew a chance to save Nelson's second victory when Seattle's Tom Paciorek homered in the ninth. The next night, Aurelio Rodriguez homered in his first two at bats of the season to lead the Yankees to a 5-2 win over the Mariners.
The Blue Jays (1-4) weren't hitting, but that's to be expected. Their bats did come alive to give Dave Stieb a 6-2 win over Cleveland. Outfielder Rick Bosetti, relegated to the bench this season, made the most of a rare start by getting three hits and driving in two runs. In Detroit, they call what the Tigers (2-4) play "Sparkyball." Sparkyball is in sixth place, five games back.
CLEV 13-7 BALT 14-10 NY 16-12 MIL 14-12 BOS 12-13 DET 12-16 TOR 9-18
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
CHARLIE LEA: The 24-year-old righty got the first no-hitter of the season and the third in Expo history, beating the Giants 4-0. In only his third start of the year, he didn't allow even a line drive, while walking four.