What was once the Western Division race suddenly began to look like a cakewalk, Eastern Division style. The season-long semi-suspense of Minnesota's (7-1) hassle with Oakland (2-6) pretty well ended in the 18th inning of a five-hour marathon played Saturday night in Oakland before only 17,600 fans. And for the second time in three games it was a home run by little Cesar Tovar that won the game 8-6 and most likely a playoff berth for the Twins. The A's left 18 men on base in the game, including 14 in the extra nine innings. Earlier in the week Tovar's 10th inning grand-slam home run had continued a five-game Minnesota winning streak. The homers overshadowed Oakland win in the second game of the series and Reggie Jackson's 46th home run of the year. For a disappointed Jackson, usually the first to admit he is a streak hitter, it was his fifth home run in 35 games after hitting No. 41 on Aug. 2. Elsewhere in the West no one was doing exceptionally well, especially Seattle (3-5), which finally won at home after 15 consecutive defeats. Unimpressed, Mayor Floyd Miller announced he would begin proceedings to close the gates of Sicks' Stadium to the Pilots if they failed to provide the city with a promised $660,000 letter of credit and a $150,000 performance bond. Helping to pay their bills, the Pilots' front office sent Tommy Davis, his 81 RBIs and his big salary to Houston. Danny Walton, who was leading the American Association in homers and RBIs, came to Seattle in return and promptly hit two home runs. Chicago (3-4) had won seven out of 10 ball games before three defeats at the hands of California (4-5) put a stop to loose talk describing the White Sox as the "hot club" in Chicago. The Angels, with only 19 runs, did well to win four games, which was not much of a consolation for their best pitcher, Andy Messersmith, who lost a four-hitter to the Senators 2-0. Kansas City (4-5) could not mount the kind of drive that would assure the team of third place and a share of what little Series money goes with that kind of finish, but the Royals did get a three-hitter out of 25-year-old Roger Nelson and a five-hitter from Dick Drago two days later as the staff turned in three complete games. What excitement there was in the East was provided by Washington (5-3) and New York (5-3) battling spiritedly for fourth place. Senator righthander Jim Hannan pitched his first complete game of the year, a three-hit shutout over the Angels, as Frank Howard smashed his 43rd home run. The Yankees briefly moved to within a game of the Senators, with Fritz Peterson and Stan Bahnsen tossing two-and three-hitters and Bobby Murcer getting three home runs. Baltimore (5-2), still winning two games for every loss, was 14½ games ahead of the Tigers and devastating when it had to be—as in a 5-4 victory over Detroit. Frank Robinson, Boog Powell and Brooks Robinson clouted successive homers to save that one in the ninth inning. Jim Palmer won his 10th game in a row and Mike Cuellar, who came to Baltimore for reserve outfielder Curt Blefary, won his 20th. Unlike other Oriole starters such as Dave McNally and Tom Phoebus, who have had trouble finishing, Cuellar has 16 complete games and 30 decisions in 34 starts. Detroit (4-5), with a rampaging Willie Horton (below) leading the way, had 16 home runs for the week and yet cheated the Tiger pitchers by scoring only 38 runs. Boston (4-3) won its 13th game in 20 starts but gained only two games in the standings. Cleveland (2-6) split a series with the Yankees while snapping an eight-game losing streak.
Standings—East: Balt 95-45, Det 80-59, Bos 74-63, Wash 72-68, NY 69-69, Clev 56-84. West: Minn 85-53, Oak 76-61, Cal 59-77, KC 56-82, Chi 54-82, Sea 52-85.
Willie Davis had not had a hit in four at bats and his 30-game streak seemed over as Los Angeles (3-4) carried a 4-0 lead into the eighth inning against the Mets. But Dodger Pitcher Claude Osteen, working on a three-hit shutout, was abruptly solved for a pair of two-run homers, and Davis found himself with another chance to extend his new club record in the ninth. Maury Wills singled, moved up on a sacrifice and, when Met Manager Gil Hodges sportingly refused to walk Davis, scored on Davis' double to left. The streak ended short of a league record the next night, and the Dodgers did not win another game all week, dropping 2½ games out of the Western Division lead. However, there was little stopping Davis, who began a new streak with eight hits in three games and raised his season's average to .323. Cincinnati (3-3) pitchers kept the Reds in the pennant race, while the hitters produced only 22 runs. Jim Maloney and Gary Nolan threw the staff's second and third complete games in four weeks. Maloney's two-hitter followed a doubleheader loss, and Nolan's four-hitter was his third straight win. The Reds helped him with their fourth delayed steal of home. "It's a gamble," said Manager Dave Bristol, "but that's what life is." Phil Niekro of Atlanta (3-3) was the one singing Thai's Life the night before, when he beat Cincinnati 11-2 for the fifth time and did not allow a hit after Tony Perez belted a knuckleball into the seats in the first inning. "I knew they'd be looking for the knuckler," Niekro said after throwing the one hitter, "and I didn't know how long I could get away with hanging them. I had the best fastball I've had all year." San Francisco (4-3, page 22), formerly a lamb in Houston (3-3), finally came through after seven straight losses there, beating the Astros 7-6 in the second game of the series with the help of Willie Mays, who returned from a knee injury to ram a game-winning two-run triple. The Giants lost the third game, too, but could still afford to laugh at Relief Pitcher Ron Herbel's gag. His only two hits had come in the Astrodome. "I'm strictly an indoor hitter," he said. San Diego (6-4) played its best ball of the season, surprising Los Angeles with sturdy pitching 3-0, 4-1, 3-1 and 4-2 after the Dodgers had averaged nearly six runs on 11 hits in four previous games. In the East, Pittsburgh (5-1) refused to admit it was too late to catch the leaders. The Pirate hitting the best in the majors—was even more persuasive. Counting Carl Taylor, who had seven hits against the Cubs but who has not batted enough times to qualify for the league's top 10, Pittsburgh has six .300 hitters. Pitcher Steve Blass even caught the fever, going 4 for 5 and cracking a three-run homer while firing a four-hitter. Chicago (3-4) led by five games and had a string of six victories before 16-game winners Bill Hands and Ken Holtzman and 19-game winner Ferguson Jenkins were beaten in succession. The footsteps that continued to haunt the Cubs, however, were not those of Pittsburgh but of New York (5-4) which for the umpteenth time this season refused to quit. Tom Seaver, with a pair of complete game wins, became the first Met ever and the first National Leaguer this year to reach 20 victories. While no other starter could go the distance and the bullpen was erratic, the Mets did show good power (10 home runs) as they headed into their two-game series with the Cubs. There will be no pennant in St. Louis (2-4) this year, for good pitching has been offset by a lack of hitting and an inability to win at home. With Bob Gibson on the mound, the defending league champions got 14 hits and still lost to the Reds. Montreal (3-4) scored only two runs a game but got excellent pitching out of a converted first baseman, Steve Renko, and Bill Stoneman, who both won five-hitters, and Howie Reed, who lost a five-hitter. Before a week's-end disaster in New York, Philadelphia (3-5) had the best pitching in either league as rookie Billy Champion, Woody Fryman and Rick Wise all won complete games. Champion's three-hit shutout snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Standings—East: Chi 84-56, NY 80-57, Pitt 74-61, StL 73-65, Phil 55-82, Mont 43-96. West: SF 77-61, Cin 74-61, Atl 76-64, LA 74-63, Hou 72-65, SD 44-95.
Good pitching might, as the adage goes, beat good hitting every time, but there is nobody in baseball who won't take both. Recently the Detroit Tigers have had both, mainly because of outstanding performances by two heroes of the 1968 season, Denny McLain and Willie Horton. When McLain beat the Angels 3-1 for his 20th win this year, it was Horton who accounted for the victory, bringing in all three runs with one swing. On Aug. 30 McLain won No. 21 against Seattle and Horton hit his second homer in two days. In doing so, he kicked off the same kind of hitting spree that the league had suffered through earlier with the A's Reggie Jackson. Horton hit four home runs in the next two days against Seattle and Kansas City, skipped a day and blasted two more out of the park to help McLain to his 22nd victory. When he homered Saturday against the Orioles, Willie Horton had hit nine in nine days. By Sunday he had driven in 18 runs and batted .422. This clearly was not the same Horton who, booed in May, left the club "for personal reasons" and was fined $1,300. His teammates were disappointed in Horton then because they felt he had deserted them when the pennant race was just developing. Always a sensitive person, Horton apparently was still suffering a letdown after the 1968 World Series, when Manager Mayo Smith replaced him for defensive reasons, notwithstanding his extraordinary throw that caught Lou Brock at the plate in the fifth game and turned the entire Series around. But all is forgotten and forgiven now. Horton has hit 26 homers, has 80 RBIs, is batting .265 and is not bothering to remind anybody of the American League record he once tied with 11 outfield putouts in a single game. The pitcher that day? Denny McLain, of course.