Yankee Reliever Rich Gossage "earned" the strangest save of his career last Sunday when, with New York leading 4-3, Kansas City's George Brett was called out after slugging a 1-0 Gossage pitch into Yankee Stadium's rightfield bleachers with two out in the ninth for an apparent two-run homer.
After the Yankees protested the amount of pine tar on Brett's bat, Plate Umpire Tim McClelland agreed and made the call that disallowed the homer. Brett raged, but to no avail. McClelland's decision was based on rules that say pine tar can't cover more than the lower 18 inches of a bat and that a player is out if the ump believes his bat has been altered to affect the flight of the ball. Brett said he uses tar to improve his grip, because he doesn't wear a batting glove.
New York Coach Don Zimmer and Third Baseman Graig Nettles had noticed Brett's inordinate application of pine tar in Kansas City two weeks ago and told other Yankees about it for use at an opportune moment. But when Catcher Rick Cerone first picked up the bat Sunday, he mistakenly checked it for being loaded with cork. "I tossed the bat down, and then I remembered what I was supposed to be checking for," said Cerone, who grabbed it from the bat boy, noted the tar above the label and pointed it out to McClelland.
You would think the last thing a first-place manager would have to worry about is being fired, even with a disappointing 43-42 record. Or so Philadelphia's Pat Corrales thought. Corrales, who was almost canned six weeks earlier when the Phillies were in third place, had Philadelphia atop the National League East on July 18 when—zap!—he was replaced by Paul Owens, the Phils' general manager since 1972. Owens had made a similar switch in July of that year and went 33-47 after coming down to the dugout to replace Frank Lucchesi.
The man most responsible for Owens' move this time was Hugh Alexander, Philly's chief scout. Alexander had urged Owens to take over as manager on June 6, when the Phillies' first considered a change. Owens declined, partly because he felt his wife, Marcelle, wouldn't be pleased. Alexander settled that by urging Marcelle to give her O.K.
"The biggest job a manager has is to motivate players up to their capacities," said Phillie President Bill Giles after axing Corrales. Giles made up his mind to do so after several Phillies convinced him that Corrales hadn't responded to requests to establish better communications with his players and thereby motivate them more.
"I think he [Giles] panicked," said Corrales. "He's still green at this [Giles is in his second year as president]. One thing he has to learn is he can't get too close to players."
Owens said he had "some ideas that I think will straighten out some things. It's evident that there has been a lack of communication. Handling players today is not easy, and it isn't any secret that this is one of the toughest clubs to manage. But perhaps I can reach them."
Through last Sunday, Owens had earned mixed reviews. The Phillies were 2-5 under him but, while beating the Astros 10-3 and the Braves 10-6, displayed an offensive punch they had lacked almost all season. Owens has done some of the same lineup juggling that had caused rumblings during Corrales' regime. One of Owens' most difficult tasks will be to get more productivity out of Second Baseman Joe Morgan, who was hitting .187 at week's end. Unless Morgan perks up, the Phillies will bring up Juan Samuel, who was batting .347 in the Pacific Coast League. Meanwhile, Corrales sat back and awaited paychecks from the Phils, to whom he's under contract until the end of next season.
Angel Leftfielder Brian Downing's string of errorless games ended last Friday night against Detroit at an American League-record 244. That bettered the 1970-72 mark of Detroit's Al Kaline by two games but was 22 short of the major league standard belonging to Don Demeter (1962-65) when he played for Philadelphia and Detroit. Though Downing isn't as swift as Kaline or Demeter, he handled 469 chances before erring—94 more than Kaline and 20 more than Demeter in their streaks.
Between Sept. 2 and last Sunday, Detroit Reliever Aurelio Lopez had been in 45 games, pitched 96 innings, given up only 59 hits, walked 35, struck out 78, gotten 17 saves and had an 8-4 record and a 1.78 ERA.... Since moving up to second in the batting order on June 15, Carlton Fisk of the White Sox has batted .340, lifting his average from .196 to .274.... One of the most remarkable performances this year has been made by Ken Schrom of Minnesota. Schrom, 28, who was 30-35 in the minors the past seven seasons and who was released last August after a brief fling with the Blue Jays, has the only winning record (8-4) among Twins starters, and two of his victories have been against Toronto ace Dave Stieb. One reason for Schrom's turnaround, says Minnesota Catcher Ray Smith, is that he's now "throwing the breaking ball when he's behind on the count." ...Since being called up from the minors on June 25, Mariner Shortstop Spike Owen has hit .276 and has fielded well. Now, about that nickname of his. It's not a nickname: it's his given name and was derived from his mother's maiden name of Spikes.... Since the start of the 1980 season, the Orioles' savvy lefthander, Scott McGregor, has won more games than any other American League pitcher—58. (Yankee lefty Ron Guidry has won 54.) "I've never had a good pitcher who wasn't intelligent," says Pitching Coach Ray Miller. "Scott makes pitching look easy."
Utility Infielder Jim Morrison and Outfielder Lee Lacy have been two of the key contributors during a 14-4 tear that lifted the Pirates from fifth place on July 8 to the top of the National League East last week. Morrison had hit in 18 of the 19 games he started (.394) through last Sunday and led the Bucs with an overall average of .360. And Lacy had batted .461 in his last 20 games.
"You can't be afraid to get jammed" is a common theory among batting coaches, and the Blue Jays' Buck Martinez, enjoying the best year of his career, is a convert to that point of view. Toronto Batting Coach Cito Gaston persuaded Martinez, who started 1983 with a .229 lifetime average, to move closer to the plate in the middle of last season. Martinez, the righthanded half of the Jays' catching platoon, finished with career highs in homers (10) and RBIs (37). Eight of the homers came in the second half of the season.
At the end of last week Martinez, who is 34, was hitting .293 with eight homers and 27 RBIs in only 133 at bats. His slugging average of .581 was 205 points above his previous career high. "Cito got me to be aggressive and not feel for the ball," Martinez says. "When you're up on top of the plate, you have to be aggressive. For the first time in my career I have total confidence in myself."
Reliever Bruce Sutter, who is going through his worst slump since joining the Cardinals in 1981, blew his third and fourth games of the month last week. But it hasn't fazed Manager Whitey Herzog, who said, "He's making a million dollars. If we give up on him, we might as well close the door. We're going to win it or lose it depending on how he pitches." ...To prepare for the likely need of an experienced backup infielder before the season ends, the Cardinals signed Ken Reitz and sent him to AAA ball to get in shape. Reitz, 32, who played eight years in two stints with St. Louis before being traded to the Cubs in 1981, was cut last season by the Pirates and was whiling away his time playing as many as 11 Softball games a week in the St. Louis area when the Cards called him.... Joaquin Andujar of St. Louis has won only two of his last 20 starts and leads both leagues in losses with 13. Now he'd like some divine intervention. "God is still my amigo." Andujar says, "but he must be someplace else. Maybe he's watching the American League. God knows my luck has to change." Then, with an upward glance, he adds, "I'm waiting."
The 11th, 12th and 13th Angels to go on the disabled list this season were Third Baseman Doug DeCinces, who has rib and back troubles, Outfielder Bobby Clark, who dived into the stands trying to glove a home run and came up with a gash in his forehead and a separated right shoulder, and Pitcher Byron McLaughlin, who strained a muscle in his right elbow.... California's Rod Carew, who last week changed his mind and said he won't retire after this season, was in a 7-for-36 slump that dropped his average to .378—only four points better than that of Boston's Wade Boggs.
"I'm not going to be a company man anymore," says A's Outfielder Dwayne Murphy, who was talked into cutting down his swing in spring training in what proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to raise his average. "I've taken instruction and advice that made me uncomfortable at the plate. The only way I can feel right is to be aggressive and swing hard. I'm not listening to any more people who say I should shorten my swing."
BALL PARK FIGURES
According to an SI survey of major-leaguers, these are the most hard-nosed players in baseball:
1. George Brett, Royals
2. Steve Kemp, Yankees
3. Bobby Grich, Angels
4. Robin Yount, Brewers
5. John Castino, Twins
1. Pete Rose, Phillies
2. Phil Garner, Astros
3. Gary Carter, Expos
4. Gary Matthews, Phillies
5. Dale Murphy, Braves
THE LONG GOOD-BYES
Cincinnati's Johnny Bench and Boston's Carl Yastrzemski have taken opposite postures about the fanfare surrounding their impending retirements. Bench has consented to brief ball park ceremonies in his honor as he makes his final visits as a player to National League cities. In Philadelphia, Bench was given diamond-studded cuff links, a commemorative scorecard and a seven-foot replica of the Veterans Stadium foul pole, off which he hit a homer against Steve Carlton in 1973. Yaz has declined all such festivities and presentations in the American League.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
PETE LADD: The Milwaukee righthander had a part in all six Brewer victories with two wins and four saves. In 6‚Öì innings he yielded four hits and two earned runs, walked none and struck out four.
"I'm not going to agree with them, and I'm not going to deny it," said Cub Pitcher Mike Proly about accusations that he throws spitters. "I do have a tendency to go to my hat a lot. I guess they figure that's where it [an illegal lubricant] is. That's not where it is, though."