Baseball's most exciting season ended in a dramatic final week during which all four divisional races were settled. In the American League East and National League West (page 24), the winners weren't determined until the final day of the 2,106-game schedule.
It wasn't until the next-to-last day that the Angels nailed down the American League West title. California started the week by taking the opener of a three-game series in Kansas City, behind the pitching of Tommy John and Luis Sanchez. The Angels could have clinched the title with one more win over Kansas City, but the Royals came back from 4-1 deficits the next two nights to prevail 5-4 and 6-5, with Dan Quisenberry coming out of the bullpen to save those two games. Jerry Martin's third homer in four days tied the middle game at 4-4 in the sixth inning, and George Brett won it with a single in the seventh. Kansas City applied added pressure by taking its next three games from Oakland: 11-4 as Willie Aikens tied a club record with seven RBIs; 12-7 as Hal McRae drove in five runs; and 5-4. But the Angels didn't fold, beating the Rangers 4-0 behind Geoff Zahn and then rallying for a division-clinching 6-4 win on Saturday. Reggie Jackson set an Angel record in that game by clouting his 38th homer. For Jackson, it was the 10th time in the past 12 years, as a member of three different teams, that he was playing for a divisional champion. The title was particularly sweet for Gene Mauch, who finished on top for the first time in 23 seasons, the longest any manager had ever gone before quaffing victory champagne.
Earlier in the week, St. Louis had become the first team to clinch, locking up the National League East on Sept. 27 with a 4-2 victory in Montreal.
Although the races were chock-full of drama, there was a dearth of impressive individual statistics in the major leagues this season. The fans didn't seem to mind; a record 44 million of them went out to the ball games. Nobody hit 40 homers. The American League was devoid of a 20-game winner for only the third time ever (discounting 1981) and the first since 1960. Steve Carlton of the Phillies was the sole pitcher to win 20 in the bigs, the first time there has been only one such winner in a season for the two leagues combined. Rickey Henderson of the A's had a record 130 stolen bases, more than the totals of 12 teams.
Despite Henderson's exploits, Oakland dropped to fifth in the American League West. There were ample reasons why the A's, who won the division in '81, collapsed: a 4.54 ERA, a league-leading 159 errors and .236 batting, the worst in the majors. The Twins gave up 167 more walks than they got, which helps explain why opponents outstole them 130-42. The Mariners would have been at sea had it not been for Bill Caudill's 26 saves, 12 wins and 2.35 ERA. Despite meager offensive support, Charlie Hough of Texas won 16 games. Another converted reliever, LaMarr Hoyt of Chicago, started off 9-0, but finished up 19-15.
In addition to 33 saves by its bullpen, Boston got 14 relief wins from Mark Clear, 12 from Bob Stanley and seven from Tom Burgmeier. Lance Parrish of Detroit set a league record for catchers by walloping 32 home runs. Cleveland's Andre Thornton had 32 homers and 116 ribbies. The Yanks became the first AL team to win 7,000 games. But for fans in the Big Apple it was all applesauce, a frenetic season in which the Yankees were also the first club to have five pitching coaches, three managers and three batting instructors in the same year. Toronto had its best season ever, tying Cleveland for sixth. The best of the Blue Jays were Dave Stieb (17-14), Jim Clancy (16-14) and Damaso Garcia (.310 and 54 steals).
One reason St. Louis won was its 11-7 record against runner-up Philadelphia. That, though, was merely part of the trouble the Phillies had with Eastern clubs, against whom they were 46-44; against the West they were 43-29. Having 200 hits and 100 RBIs in a season isn't rare. But when Montreal's Al Oliver did it he became only the second player ever, after Nap Lajoie, to accomplish the feat in both leagues. Rookie Johnny Ray of Pittsburgh, who batted .283, was .300 swinging lefthanded but just .223 from the right side. Chicago's Ferguson Jenkins, 38, won nine of his last 11 to wind up 14-15. The Cubs were the sole team in the division with two .300 hitters among those with enough at bats to qualify for the batting title: Leon Durham (.312) and Bill Buckner (.306 and 105 RBIs). The Mets played well enough during the day (25-27), but at night were a lights-out 40-70.
Errors—172 of them—were the principal reason the Giants didn't win the National League West. That was more than even Greg Minton (30 saves, 10 wins, 1.90 ERA) could make up for. Another reliever, rookie Luis DeLeon (15 saves, nine wins, 2.03 ERA) helped San Diego come in fourth. Nolan Ryan was 2-5 with a 6.92 ERA in early May. From then on, though, he improved his stats to 16-12 and 3.16. Cincinnati, which had the best composite record in the majors for last season's two halves, had the second-worst this year. The Reds hit only 82 homers, 75 or so below their annual output in the '70s.