Talkative Paul Blair's teammates in Baltimore (6-2) used to call him Motormouth, but recently he has acquired a new, more nattering nickname. The sure-handed centerfielder, who had a 433 week to raise his season's average to 315, has been renamed 20 Junior On the Eastern Division-leading Orioles, 20 means just one thing, the uniform number of superstar Frank Robinson. There are not many players who compare favorably with Robbie, but Blair is making a strong bid. Always an exceptional fielder, he endured a year-long slump last season and finished at .211. This year he has matched his fielding with hard hitting and trails his more renowned teammate by just 19 points in average, two homers (20-18) and 12 runs batted in (62-50). Blair's totals in home runs and RBIs are already higher than they were for all last season. Boston (4-4) also has a fast-climbing young star in Reggie Smith (below), but the player Red Sox fans are watching closest now is George Scott. Scott, a slick defensive player at either first base or third, seemed to have arrived at stardom two years ago when he averaged 303. Then last season he crumbled to 171 and had trouble getting over .200 in the early weeks this year But over the last month he has raised his average by 40 points and last week crashed two triples and a single in one game to give Ray Culp all the runs he needed for his 11th win Twelve errors resulting in 14 unearned runs knocked Detroit (3-5) back temporarily from second to third place, while Cleveland (4-4) narrowed its margin for escaping the cellar. The Indians closed within five games of New York (2-5) as Ken Harrelson (page 22) belted six homers and drove in 13 runs. The Yanks started the week with a three-game nose dive, finally checked when reliable Mel Stottlemyre recorded his 13th victory with a complete game For the first time in four visits to Robert F Kennedy Stadium, President Nixon saw Washington (4-3) win. The Senators' victory came on a four-hit, 11-strikeout shutout by Joe Coleman Harmon Killebrew picked up eight RBIs to raise his major league-leading total to 90, and Minnesota (7-1, page 16) averaged .315 as the Twins opened up a five-game Western Division lead Little Luis Aparicio of the White Sox almost did in Oakland's (5-4) ace righthander Blue Moon Odom with a rare home run. After the blast gave the Sox a 1-0 lead in the third inning Odom said, "I was ready to fall out, but I had me a little Gatorade, got a little salt in my body and began to come around." The A's hitters gave Blue Moon a big boost, too, scoring eight runs in the fourth Odom finished smoothly with a three-hitter for his 12th win In the middle of the pack Seattle (2-6), Chicago (4-5) and Kansas City (4-4) jock-eyed within half a game of each other The Pilots, burdened with a staggering casualty list, fell out of third place Eight of Manager Joe Schultz's players were either out of action or available for only part-time play due to leg injuries The White Sox, continuing their improved slugging, belted five home runs last week to bring their season team total to 70, just one shy of last year's sum Also using heavy hitting, the Royals were advanced to third place The team averaged .290, with 78 hits for the week as Lou Piniella led the regulars with .455 and 10 runs driven in But the most spectacular batter was Pitcher Jim Rooker In two starts he clouted two homers and a double, while driving in three runs and winning his first major league game after six straight losses California's (3-5) Andy Messersmith had been almost as bad as Rooker, but was beginning to look as good. Starting the month of June with five consecutive defeats, Messersmith has turned the trend around, evening his record at 6-6 early last week with a four-hit, complete-game victory.
Standings—East: Balt 62-27, Det 47-38, Bos 49-41, Wash 48-45, NY 42-49, Clev 36-53. West: Minn 53-35, Oak 47-38, KC 39-50, Chi 38-50, Sea 38-50, Cal 32-55.
July 20, 1969
For the first time since mid-April, St. Louis (6-2) reached .500, and the Cards again talked of jumping back into the Eastern Division pennant race. The odds are long against them. They trailed by 15½ games on July 4, and no team has ever come from that far back to win the championship. In taking eight of their last 10 games the Cardinals found help from unexpected sources. Ray Washburn, who had not won in 81 days, pitched the victory that evened his team's record, and Julian Javier, a .268 hitter, batted .333 for the week and showed some surprising muscle when he bounced a home run off the roof of Connie Mack Stadium In the process he may have had an answer for critics who claim the highly paid Cards are not hungry enough. "I didn't eat any breakfast, and all I ate before going to the park was a small salad If I had eaten a big salad I would have hit the ball over the roof and out of the park," Javier said. Pittsburgh (5-3) had just three home runs, all by Roberto Clemente, but still slugger Willie Stargell could not have been happier He averaged .556 and took over the lead in the race for the batting championship Second-place New York (4-2) met division leading Chicago (4-3) before huge crowds at Shea Stadium For the afternoon series opener 55,000 showed up, followed by a crowd of 60,000 the next night as the Mets won the first two games of the series. They took the opener with a three-run, ninth-inning rally. The second win came when Tom Seaver picked up his 14th victory with a near-perfect performance, going 8‚Öì innings before rookie Outfielder Jim Quails lined a solid single to left field to become the Cubs' only base runner of the game. With Richie Allen still AWOL, Philadelphia (2-6) Manager Bob Skinner continued to sprinkle his lineup with unknowns. Outfielder Rich Barry made his debut last week and became the 14th rookie to appear for the Phils this season. Montreal's (1-6) Mike Wegener hurt the Mets' run toward the top with both his arm and his bat. The righthander broke a personal four-game losing streak, checking the Mets for 7‚Öî innings and cracking three hits, including a bases-loaded double. In the Western Division, Cincinnati (4-3) moved within three games of the top as defending batting champion Pete Rose led the way with a .355 week. Rose, who slumped below .300 in June, raised his season's average to .320 and moved into position to challenge for another title. While San Francisco (5-2) edged within 1½ games of the top, Juan Marichal, who missed most of May with an injury, was back in top form. He moved in among the league's four biggest winners with his 12th victory, a three-hit shutout. And signs were good for Giant fans for the rest of the season: the righthander twice interrupted his tight pitching to make his usual complaints about his woes. First it was a gnat in his eye and then a bruise on his hand. Los Angeles (4-4) and Atlanta (3-5) traded first and second places three times. The Dodgers took the top spot briefly when they swept a doubleheader from the Braves behind Pitchers Claude Osteen and Al McBean. Manny Mota, whom the Dodgers picked up last month from the Expos as an extra outfielder, had his biggest day since joining the team and taking over as its leading batter. His eight hits in 10 times up in the double bill helped raise his average with the Dodgers to .412. Surprising Houston (4-3) also stayed in the Western Division battle, the closest in either league. Fastballer Don Wilson, who struck out 24 batters in a pair of complete-game victories, and slugger Jim Wynn, who hit four homers with 10 runs scored and nine driven in, kept the Astros within 6 games of the lead. Even last-place San Diego (2-5) got a hand in the race. The Padres caused the Braves to lose the lead when Ivan Murrell clouted a decisive two-run homer, his first in the big leagues. The next day Murrell again shocked the Braves when he rapped a game-winning single.
Standings—East: Chi 56-34, NY 49-36, StL 46-46, Pitt 43-46, Phil 38-49, Mont 27-61. West: LA 50-37, Atl 51-39, SF 50-40, Cin 45-38, Hou 46-45, SD 31-61.
In recent seasons the Boston centerfielder, surround ed as he was by Carl Yastrzemski in left and Tony Conigliaro in right, has had trouble gaming recognition. Not only did they hit a pile, but their nick names—Yaz and Tony C—made the man in center seem like just another guy named Smith And for his first two years in the majors that is exactly what Reggie Smith was. The switch-hitting Louisianian averaged 253 and distinguished himself only by having the best arm in the American League Bui this year, with three-time batting champ Yastrzemski hitting 39 points below his career average and Conigliaro being platooned. Smith is the big name in the Red Sox' outfield While running a con secutive-game hitting streak to 19 last week, the 24 year-old had 15 hits in 32 at bats to raise his season's average to 343, second best in the league He already has 19 home runs, four more than he hit in either of his other years, and 63 RBIs, only six short of his total all last season "I've never been in a streak like this even in the minors," Smith says "And here's the thing I think I can hit this way all the time " Abounding confidence like that was not Smith's strength in the past. As a youngster, he turned himself into a switch hitter because he was discouraged with his natural, right-handed swing. This season the only one distraught when Smith steps up right-handed is the opposing pitcher. He is hitting .414 as a righthander. A karate expert and an enthusiastic horseman, Smith occasionally shows up at Fenway Park in a cowboy hat and boots. In other years such accouterments might have seemed ostentatious for a nameless outfielder. But not now, with Smith riding high.