On opening night in Philadelphia the fans were tense. Were they praying for Steve Carlton's first win? No. All eyes were on one Richard Johnson—alias The Kiteman—who last year had soared off a 150-foot ramp in center field, bound for home plate with the "first ball," and had crash-landed in the stands. This year 25-mph cross-winds grounded him and when he did take off two nights later he reached only left center. "I got caught in a downdraft," he said. So did Montreal, whose three misplays in one inning gave Carlton a shaky 7-5 win. The game, played in 40° weather, was one of Tuesday's warm weather specials. Six others were postponed, and during the first nine days 14 major-league games from Atlanta to Montreal were halted by rain, cold or snow. Let's hear it for that April schedule.
New York won four straight for its best start as Cleon Jones, John Milner and Willie Mays delivered clutch hits and Felix Millan sparkled around second. Tom Seaver beat both Carlton and Bob Gibson.
Losing their first five, the Cardinals got off to a typically slow start, so no one was worried, right? Sure, and Gussie Busch hates beer. After the Cards gave Pittsburgh three games in which Gibson, Rick Wise and Scipio Spinks each had led halfway through, the home team Pirates came into the visiting Cardinal locker room to use the only operative showers in Three Rivers Stadium. "Better not," warned St. Louis Manager Red Schoendienst, "or you'll be as messed up as we are."
The Pirates won four straight behind seven homers from six men. "We've dealt with adversity before," said Willie Stargell referring to the late Roberto Clemente. "We know what we're capable of doing." Adversity's favorite victims, the Chicago Cubs, hit .201. They managed to take a 4-1 decision from the hapless Cardinals, who gave them 13 walks, three wild pitches, a passed ball and an error. Montreal got in the last home opener and won it 6-4 over the Pirates on home runs by Tim Foli and Ron Fairly.
PITT 4-1 NY 4-2 CHI 3-3 MONT 3-3 PHIL 3-3 ST.L 1-6
San Francisco has gotten a lot of mileage out of Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey, and when Marichal won his first two starts and McCovey hit four home runs, including two in one inning, it was enough to help the Giants cruise into first place. But all was not pacific by the Pacific. "Dirty Al" Gallagher said nasty things about Manager Charlie Fox, who would not start him at third, and got traded to California.
Cincinnati needed help from its superb bullpen to win five of eight, but Pedro Borbon, Tommy Hall and Clay Carroll were equal to the task. Houston, by contrast, needed relief help so much that there was talk of trading Jimmy Wynn. He had six homers in nine games, but Houston lost three after entering the ninth inning ahead.
Los Angeles' pitching was predictable—only 29 runs allowed in nine games—but so unfortunately was Dodger hitting. When the team finally unloaded for 16 hits in 12 innings, it left 16 on base and lost 4-3 to Houston. After the Padres took two of three from the last-place Dodgers, Outfielder Dave Marshall said, "The Dodgers stink. They're always talking about their new players coming up, but where are they?" Where, indeed, were the Padres but tied with LA? True, the pinch hitters were hitting .360 and the relievers had allowed only seven earned runs in 31 innings, but what about 16 errors in nine games? "Maybe this is the wrong sport in the wrong town," lamented Padre President Buzzie Bavasi after a Sunday crowd of 10,695. Maybe the Padres, a 150-1 shot, would not draw anywhere. Atlanta lost fans to the cold and to the basketball Hawks and games to its own poor pitching.
SF 7-2 CIN 5-3 HOUS 5-4 ATL 3-5 LA 3-6 SD 3-6
Boom went the Boston bats to the tune of a league-leading .367 as the Red Sox belted the Yankees for 29 runs in three games. Boston then had five off days, thanks to cold and snow in Milwaukee, before beating the Yankees again 3-1 to remain the only unbeaten team.
Boston was not New York's sole nemesis. The Yankees opened at home before only 17,028 and watched three of their ex-teammates—Rusty Torres, Charley Spikes and John Ellis—help Cleveland win 3-1. As some Clevelanders who own the Yankees looked on in anguish, ex-Indian Graig Nettles made a costly error. Then Mel Stottlemyre and Steve Kline two-hit the Tribe on consecutive days. It will not be an Indian summer.
After Milwaukee's Bill Parsons held Baltimore to one hit in 7‚Öì innings en route to a 2-0 win Merv Rettenmund charged that "He threw a sinking fastball, but only because he didn't have enough power to get to the plate." He was kidding. The Orioles could afford humor because their pitching—15 hits in four games—was comparable.
Detroit's pitching allowed no opponent more than three runs, but the Tigers, held runless for 22 straight innings, were only breaking even. Mickey Lolich, a 2-1 and 1-0 loser, was philosophical. "If I start 40 games a year, I'll pitch 20 good ones, 10 sosos, and 10 lousy ones," he said. "I've used up two of my good ones."
BOST 4-0 BALT 5-1 DET 3-3 NY 2-5 CLEV 2-5 MIL 1-3
Royals Stadium opened after a one-year delay, and a near-capacity crowd of 39,464 was not disappointed. Kansas City clobbered Texas 12-1, and the only problem was the $2 million computerized scoreboard, which failed to react to John Mayberry's homer with the usual stuff—illuminating his picture, exploding and turning cartwheels. Earlier in the week Manager Jack McKeon was so pleased by his team's performance in California, he personally served the players dinner on the plane home.
Oakland's Dick Williams served something else. When some of the A's whooped it up on the bus, he asked, "Are you guys three and oh or oh and three?" "We're oh and three," answered Blue Moon Odom. "Well, you better start busting your rears," said Williams. The incident recalled 1971, when Williams chewed out the players on the bus after they lost four of their first six. They went on to win 12 of the next 13 and the division. The 1973 A's are on schedule—in last place.
California's Nolan Ryan won his first two starts—3-2 over Kansas City with 12 strikeouts and 4-1 over Minnesota with 11—but was dissatisfied. He has a $100 bet with Manager Bobby Winkles that he can go through a game without yielding a walk. He is still trying. The White Sox were also trying, very trying. They gave up 12 runs twice, Wilbur Wood and Eddie Fisher could not get their knuckleballs working in the cold and Centerfielder Ken Henderson dropped two flies.
Texas pitchers had a 7.56 earned run average before Dick Bosman shut out the Royals 4-0 and Mike Paul and Steve Foucault beat California 4-2. Minnesota's Jim Kaat kept the Twins over .500 with two wins.
KC 6-2 MINN 4-3 CAL 3-3 CHI 2-3 TEX 2-3 OAK 2-5