Through the first three weeks of June, the Astros' record (17 losses in 23 games) was enough to make the healthiest fan sick. But last week HOUSTON (5-2) came up with such a refreshing turnabout that two local convalescing heart-transplant patients were even allowed to see their team play. Jim Wynn (.476) and four pitchers who combined to throw five complete-game victories provided the main injection as the Astros almost climbed out of the cellar. Another team on the rise, PITTSBURGH (5-1) jumped from eighth to a tie for fifth on the hitting of Matty Alou (below) and Maury Wills, who ran up a 24-game hitting streak, plus Bob Moose's second two-hit shutout in his last three starts. ATLANTA (3-3) moved back up to second behind an encouraging performance by recently acquired Milt Pappas, who pitched his first complete game of 1968. Gary Nolan, who had struck out eight of his last 14 times at bat, did double duty for CINCINNATI (4-2), throwing a shutout against the Giants and winning the game with a three-run homer, his first ever. Another surprise home-run hitter was SAN FRANCISCO'S (2-4) Bobby Bonds, who tagged a grand slammer in his first game in the big leagues, a feat which had not been accomplished since 1898. Except when Don Drysdale pitched another masterful two-hitter, LOS ANGELES (4-2) won in a most uncharacteristic way, blasting Giants' and Braves' pitchers for 26 hits and 13 runs over 19 innings. ST. LOUIS (2-4) endured its first losing week in a month, but the big talk for the Cardinals, who were safely 6½ games ahead, was Bob Gibson's fifth consecutive shutout, running his scoreless-innings streak to 48. NEW YORK (3-4), behind Cleon Jones's hitting (.364) and Tom Seaver's shutout pitching, astonished the rest of the league by moving briefly into the first division. The Mets' dream faded quickly, though, when the pitchers allowed 17 runs in the next four games and dropped the team back to seventh. Returning from a disastrous 2-11 road trip in which its big three of Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks averaged just .141, CHICAGO (2-4) turned around to win two of three from the Cards while scoring 21 runs on 31 hits. PHILADELPHIA'S (1-5) hitters averaged just .190, and its pitchers allowed 28 runs as the Phillies dropped below .500 for the first time since Bob Skinner took over as manager.
Standings: StL 46-30, Atl 39-36, SF 40-37, LA 40-38, Cin 37-37, Pitt 36-36, NY 36-38, Phil 33-36, Chi 33-41, Hou 32-43
July 7, 1968
Lou Gehrig required 17 years and 493 home runs to set the record for grand slams (23). Now DETROIT'S (4-1) Jim Northrup, after only 3½ years and 39 homers, is almost one-third the way to tying the Iron Man's mark. Including three he hit last week, Northrup has seven. While his .313 BA and 14 RBIs led the Tigers back to a 7½-game lead, Northrup received more help from his teammates than just getting on base. The batters scored over six runs a game, and Denny McLain won twice to bring his season's record to 14-2. After the Angels' Bill Rigney called them "garbage collectors and carpetbaggers," the insulted A's promptly shut out his team on Chuck Dobson's three-hitter. To avoid further retribution, Rigney quickly said he was just kidding. The Angels' manager is not the only one who has come to realize that jokes about OAKLAND (4-3) are strictly passé. The A's, with the league's best hitting, are now in the first division and rate as baseball's surprise team of the year. MINNESOTA (3-2), with 10 wins in its last 14 games, continued its surge with help from the weatherman. Twice the Twins gained shutout victories when their games were rained out just after the fifth-inning deadline. Hard hitting by Frank Robinson (.350) and a five-hit shutout by recently recalled Wally Bunker led BALTIMORE (4-2) briefly to second, but then usually reliable Brooks Robinson lost one game for the Orioles with an error, and they dropped to third. CLEVELAND (4-3) had problems in the field, too, allowing eight unearned runs that helped drop the Indians 7½ games out of first. While the pitchers failed to come up with a complete game, CALIFORNIA (4-3) still managed to take three one-run wins on decisive clutch hits by Rick Reichardt, Bubba Morton and Jim Fregosi. Desperate WASHINGTON (2-4) sent 1967 All-Star Catcher Paul Casanova to the minors and recalled Jim French, who immediately helped the Senators to two victories while batting .333. With BOSTON (1-5) bogged down in seventh place, six games closer to the cellar than first, the Red Sox fans have even begun to boo slumping favorite Carl Yastrzemski, who averaged .100 for the week. Mickey Mantle (.444) and Roy White handed NEW YORK (2-3) its only wins with late-inning, two-run extra base hits. After the White Sox were rained out twice, a CHICAGO (1-3) fan grumbled, "The whole season should have been canceled on account of rain." As the Sox slipped 15 games out of first place last week, there were plenty of fans to agree with him. Attendance was down 173,867.
Standings: Det 48-27, Clev 42-36, Balt 38-34, Minn 38-35, Oak 38-36, Cal 37-37, Bos 34-38, NY 33-39, Chi 31-40, Wash 27-44
As the smallest of three baseball-playing brothers, the Pirates' Matty Alou is somewhat accustomed to being ignored. For years, playing in the shadow of Felipe, and with Jesus coming along behind him, he was known as "that other Alou." Now he is becoming baseball's equivalent to politics' favorite son—the most popular man at home, but bypassed by the out-of-towners. Despite leading the National League in batting, Alou again is being overlooked in the All-Star voting in favor of more established National League outfielders. "What else can I do?" he wonders aloud. "I've been hitting good. I've been playing good defenses, have no errors." The players, who vote on their All-Star representatives, did have an excuse until recently. Alou was not even a full-time starter before Pittsburgh Manager Larry Shepard decided he could not keep a hitter of his skills on the bench. His average Sunday was .355 and the Pirates had risen from last place in mid-June to a tie for fifth, and it was ex-Pirate Skipper Harry Walker who transformed Alou from a .231 hitter at San Francisco into one of baseball's most consistent hitters. Shortly after Alou joined the Pirates in 1966, Walker told him, "Don't pull everything. Start hitting down on the ball and go to left field." Alou followed his advice to win the league batting crown with .342 in 1966 and finished third with .338 last year. He is still not the defensive player he thinks he is, which is why the Giants traded him, but the 5'9", 155-pounder has already driven home 22 runs, six below his alltime seasonal best. In the era of the nonhitter, the only big-league player with a .343 average over the last three seasons will miss his third straight All-Star Game.