A few years ago the Braves had a staff of young pitchers who were supposed to dazzle the league, but the youngsters were desultory about their dazzling and all were traded. After last week, though, four of them, the Astros' Denny Lemaster and Wade Blasingame and the Reds' Clay Carroll and Tony Cloninger, were very much in favor in Atlanta (5-2). They combined to lose five games to the Braves and help their old teammates hold first place in the Western Division. Henry Aaron felt particularly warm towards his former buddies. After hitting against them, he led the league at .486. Los Angeles (5-2) was equally grateful to one of its old members. The Dodgers rapped Brooklyn hero Johnny Podres, who is now with the Padres, for a 14-0 win to begin an impressive five-game winning streak. In another rout, L.A. crashed four home runs, the most the team has ever hit in one Dodger Stadium game and demonstrated that the off-season shift of home plate to a new spot 10 feet closer to the outfield fence will indeed help the hitters. And, when the power hitting slacked off in later games, the Dodgers twice won with rallies of two and three runs in the ninth inning. San Francisco (4-2) had two double winners. Gaylord Perry pitched a pair of five-hit, complete-game victories, and Willie McCovey hit .313 with four homers before going on TV's The Dating Game and winning the girl. With strong mound performances from Don Wilson, Larry Dierker and rookie Tom Griffin, Houston (3-5) began the week with its first three wins of the year. Then the pitchers went sour, and 19 of them failed to hold the opposition to less than five runs in any of four straight losses. With his team slumped to fourth place, Cincinnati (2-3) Manager Dave Bristol had little to be optimistic about but he found a bright note of sorts in the rainy weather that forced the Reds to cancel two games. "It isn't going to rain forever," he said. "Once it rained for 40 days, but it stopped." Outscored 42-14, San Diego (1-6) became the first of the expansion teams to slump badly. Chicago (7-1) ripped through its first two big series of the year, sweeping both the Pirates and Cardinals to pull 2½ games ahead in the Eastern Division. Three of the big wins came on what was predicted to be the Cubs' weakness, pitching. Ken Holtzman started the trend with a shutout over the Bucs, and Fergie Jenkins and Bill Hands followed him up with scoreless performances of their own against St. Louis (2-5). The Cardinals had just nine hits in those games, and that left Manager Red Schoendienst worrying. "When we got seven or eight hits last year, we'd have three or four runs. This year we aren't putting our hits together," he explained. The Cards' regulars were averaging .216 with Lou Brock low man at .089. The pitching staff not only batted better (.250) but it allowed the opposition more than three runs in only two games. Except for its games with the Cubs, Pittsburgh (4-3) was unbeatable. The best news of all for Pirate fans, however, was Jim Bunning's three-hit, six-inning start against the Mets that earned him his first win since last June. Montreal (3-4) played host for the first major league game held outside the United States before a capacity house of 29,184, the largest crowd ever to watch a sports event in the city. The Expos gave their supporters something to cheer about when, after blowing a 6-0 lead because of five errors, they came from behind in the seventh inning to win. Philadelphia (2-4) opened its home season, too. The crowd at Connie Mack Stadium numbered just 13,070 and then things turned really bad. For the next four dates the Phillies, who are already 7 games out of first, averaged just 4,564 fans. After 10 appearances New York's (3-4) young pitching sensations of a year ago—Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan and Jim McAndrew—finally came up with a win. Seaver got it in a gritty match against the Cards' Bob Gibson to become the only Mets starter besides rookie Gary Gentry to win this season.
Standings—East: Chi 11-2, Pitt 8-4, Mont 5-7, NY 5-7, StL 4-8, Phil 3-8. West: Atl 9-3, LA 8-3, SF 6-5, Cin 4-5, SD 4-8, Hou 3-10.
April 27, 1969
Early in spring training Baltimore (7-3) Manager Earl Weaver watched Frank Robinson crash liners out of the batting cage and said, "Sure, everybody's important to our team, but if Frank's healthy that will be the biggest thing we've got going for us." Robinson this year is indeed healthy, and after two injury-filled seasons his bat is leading the Orioles to a fast start. The slugging outfielder hit four of his team's 14 homers last week and picked up nine RBIs to go with his .375 average. But, as Weaver said, the whole team is important, and the Orioles proved it by riding a .300 batting average (with 59 runs scored) into the Eastern Division's first place. Champion Detroit (4-2) briefly advanced to second with a ninth-inning three-run rally reminiscent of last season's hair-raisers. And leading off the inning, as so often in the past, was Gates Brown, the pinch hitter supreme. His single put him at .500 for the year as a pinch batsman. With opposing hitters clubbing Boston (4-3) pitchers for a .319 average last week and Cleveland (1-5) a loser in nine of its 10 games this year, both teams clearly needed help. But, when the Red Sox sent RBI champ Hawk Harrelson to the Indians as part of a six-player deal, there were loud cries of dismay from the Hawk's fans and Harrelson himself. The 27-year-old slugger said he would retire instead of reporting to the Indians because leaving Boston would cost him at least $500,000 in non-baseball income. Even as New York (3-3) fans tried to fit Mickey Mantle's empty, old shoes on rookie Bobby Murcer (see page 26), there was another Yankee hero. Joe Pepitone, who is back playing first base after two dismal years in the outfield, crashed a decisive 10th-inning grand-slam homer. Another home run broke Frank Howard's and Washington's (3-6) hitting slump against the Orioles. Howard's two-run clout ended a four-game losing streak against Baltimore, during which the Senators played 39 innings without scoring and their big slugger went 1 for 16. The Western Division race, easily the tightest in either league, had all six teams packed within three games. But Minnesota (6-0), which shot from last to first, looked clearly the strongest club as the Twins' power hitters showed they have learned some new tricks from rookie Manager Billy Martin. In the game that moved them into the top spot, the Twins stole home for the tying run, and then muscular Harmon Killebrew punched a single to the opposite field in the ninth inning to drive home the winning score. In Chicago (5-1), where Manager Al Lopez happily claims that this is the best batting team he has had since his pennant-winning Indians of 1954, there is a new hitting style, too. The White Sox, who hit only 71 homers last year, smashed 13 last week, and rookie Outfielder Buddy Bradford battled for the league batting lead with a .387 season average. Oakland (4-3) made its first visit to Kansas City (3-4) since the Athletics abandoned the town to the infant Royals a year ago. The A's players were gently booed by their old fans, but the real object of KC's antipathy, Charlie Finley, helped keep tempers cool by simply staying at home. The Oakland owner told a friend that if he attended the game all his enemies would show up. Replied the listener, "Charlie, the Kansas City park isn't that big." Seattle (1-5) fans were not booing anyone. They cheered routine grounders, walks and, particularly—and for good reason—Shortstop Ray Oyler. Oyler, who averaged just .135 last season, has raised his average 200 points. California (0-6) Manager Bill Rigney was suffering from more than the blahs when he reached for the Alka-Seltzer. The Angels dropped to last, and ulcer-sufferer Rig blamed it all on his team. "We gave up, we went home, we were awful, flat, dead, terrible," he said.
Standings—East: Balt 9-5, Bos 7-4, Det 6-4, NY 6-5, Wash 6-8, Clev 1-9. West: Minn 6-4, Chi 6-4, KC 6-5, Oak 6-5, Sea 4-6, Cal 3-7.
Cubs' Vice-President John Holland and Manager Leo Durocher breathed a collective sigh of relief during the expansion draft last fall when Montreal plucked Bill Stoneman from the Chicago roster. The Expos' unexpected choice allowed the Cubs to protect three other young pitchers the front office considered more promising than Stoneman, a right-handed reliever with a 2-5 major league record. Last week, even with the Cubs off to their best start in 35 years, those sighs must have been replaced by raised eyebrows in the Chicago offices as Stoneman, now a starter, pitched the only no-hitter ever for a first-year expansion team. The little 5'10", 25-year-old reject's 7-0 win over Philadelphia was his first big league complete game and only the second of his pro career. And it came not as augury for another Year of the Pitcher but rather in spite of some startlingly improved hitting in both leagues. The majors' averages are up 18 points over the same time last season and teams are scoring 2.5 more runs a game. Stoneman, who threw only his fastball and curve, a pitch the Cubs would not let him use, was doubly overjoyed by his performance. It proved he could be an effective starter, and it had been done under the red, white and blue colors of Montreal. "I'm especially happy for the town," he said. "It was great to be drafted by this team, and I love playing for Montreal. Now the fans know we're not up here just to appear on the field. We're going to win some games." That is the kind of loyalty even hockey-loving Habitants can appreciate. At 2 a.m. a quorum welcomed their hero at the airport, chanting, "We want Stoneman." For a while, anyway, the Cubs might feel just that way, too.