Los Angeles, which had won 21 times during the month of June, started July with six straight defeats. Then Don Sutton went the route to beat the Pirates. When LA defeated Pittsburgh the next night as well, Sutton commented, "I said early in the year we would be the best ball club in the National League, but we'd have to pass the acid test by showing we can bounce back from rough times. I think we showed that after those six losses. We're going to be tougher now."
The second-place Giants failed to capitalize on the temporary Dodger collapse, losing five games themselves. The only contender to improve its position substantially was Cincinnati, which took the last three games of a four-game series from LA and two of three from the Giants. The Reds' top Giant killer has been slender Dave Concepcion, batting .487 against San Francisco pitching this year. Fred Norman has turned killer, too. Acquired from the Padres on June 12 with a 1-7 record, he got his sixth victory with his fifth complete game in six starts as a Red.
With Houston reeling, Coach Preston Gomez called a pep meeting. The Astros then swept a doubleheader from the Braves. But the inspiration was short-lived. Houston dropped the next four straight, giving up 39 runs.
The Braves got a shutout from Carl Morton, a five-hitter from Roric Harrison and a two-hitter from Ron Schueler, but Brave pitchers yielded a total of 61 runs in six other games, losing four. Still, Henry Aaron hit No. 694, and an Atlanta bank promised 700 silver dollars to the retriever of No. 700. No one was putting a price on No. 715.
Steve Arlin pitched his second straight shutout for San Diego, a two-hitter, as the Padres swept three from the Dodgers to move within 21 games of the lead. "If we'd played like this since the start of the season, there never would have been any thought of moving [to Washington]," said President Buzzie Bavasi.
LA 53-33 SF 48-39 CIN 46-38 HOUS 46-42 ATL 38-49 SD 30-54
Chicago still held a sound lead, but there were intimations of a slide. Owner P. K. Wrigley was happy to see the Cubs' home stand completed and eager to pick up the check for all the players' wives and children to go on their annual team trip—this time to the West Coast. Chicago finished the week with just three wins in seven games, and even the Phillies, who beat the Cubs two out of three at Wrigley Field, were talking pennant. Steve Carlton pitched his first complete victory since June 8 and Rookie Dick Ruthven threw a two-hit, 1-0 shutout at Bob Gibson and the Cardinals. But it was still surprising that a crowd of 58,294 turned out to watch the Phillies when they came in off the road. They promptly lost that game 8-2 to Cincinnati, then lost another.
The Pirates took a five-game winning streak west, and it went west, Pittsburgh dropping five of six. For the Mets, miseries multiplied. They continued to lose games—and players. The latest casualties were George Theodore and Don Hahn, victims of an outfield collision. The New York Post ran a ballot on its back page with pictures of Manager Yogi Berra, General Manager Bob Scheffing and Chairman of the Board M. Donald Grant, inviting readers to vote which one should be fired—or all.
One of the sorest Met losses was to the Expos, who set team records for hits and runs in a 19-8 tearaway. Montreal won six of its last seven games in a 6-3 week despite giving up 38 runs. How? Easy. They scored 63 times on 83 hits, 26 of the runs in a 12-8, 14-6 doubleheader win over Houston. Catcher John Boccabella became the 18th man in major league history to hit two home runs in an inning, and one of those was a grand slam. The barrage landed Montreal securely in third with a .500 record.
But the real pressure for the Cubs seems to be coming from St. Louis, which has played at a 37-18 clip since May 10. The Cards lost only three times in eight games and won three of four from Pittsburgh. Lou Brock raised his career total for stolen bases to 589, overtaking Maury Wills and hoving into 14th place on the alltime list. He has stolen more bases than any man in the majors in the last 43 years.
CHI 49-36 ST. L 43-39 MONT 40-40 PHIL 38-44 PITT 37-43 NY 34-45
"You can't play here and be happy," said Oakland's Reggie Jackson after a 3-1 loss to the California Angels. "I don't mean the owner [Charlie Finley], he's fine. But somebody makes a mistake and the coaches start hollering and kicking watercoolers. They act like they were Babe Ruth, like they never made any mistakes. With these coaches you get two home runs and they say, 'Well, that's your job.' "
"Tell Jackson I'm tired of watching him play half the time, too," retorted Coach Jerry Adair.
In that frame of mind the Athletics prospered, as is their wont, winning five of eight. Catfish Hunter won twice—his seventh and eighth in a row—to make his record 13-3. Blue Moon Odom got his first win since May 12 in a doubleheader sweep of the stumbling White Sox.
Chicago, with leg miseries hobbling four regulars, dropped six of 10 although Wilbur Wood, who had lost six straight and nine of his last 11, finally won No. 15. Despite the shocking slump, he is one win behind Denny McLain's 31-game winning pace of 1968.
Kansas City's Ken Wright gave thanks to the team's "visualization" expert for a four-hit, complete-game win over Detroit. The win extended a Royal streak to five and moved KC from fifth to second in the standings, one game behind Oakland. The Royal offense, which had been sagging, exploded for 12 runs on each of two consecutive nights.
California split six games while Minnesota split eight. The Twins' Tony Oliva became the first designated hitter to clout three home runs in a game—which Minnesota lost anyhow—but the big news was the debut of Eddie Ban, Minnesota's collegiate version of Texas' David Clyde. The Arizona State University ace attracted 45,890 in his first start (a Metropolitan Stadium regular-season record) and went seven innings, allowing just one run and three hits before being lifted with no decision. Alas, Minnie lost that game, too, to Kansas City 5-4.
Speaking of Clyde, he lost in his third outing—to Milwaukee 17-2, although he was not as bad as the two relievers who followed him, giving up but four earned runs. His record is now 1-1. Texas found some pitching solace in two complete-game victories by veteran Jim Merritt and a second straight strong performance by Jim Bibby, who has allowed no earned runs and a mere five hits in his last two starts.
OAK 47-38 KC 47-40 MINN 43-37 CAL 42-38 CHI 42-39 TEX 29-51
When your left-field fence is as close as the one in Fenway Park (315 feet) it does not pay to carry many lefthanders on your pitching staff. Boston never has, but Red Sox Manager Eddie Kasko found a way to throw three southpaws at first-place New York in a five-game series at Yankee Stadium. The goal was to avoid .397-hitter Ron Blomberg, who only bats against righties, and the results were most rewarding. First, John Curtis shut out the Yankees 1-0. Roger Moret won by the same score in a Fourth of July doubleheader sweep (righty Ray Culp taking the other game), and Bill Lee finished the series with his 10th win.
The Yankees salvaged their lone win behind a three-run homer by Blomberg and yet another save by Sparky Lyle, who has rescued 22 games, singlehandedly tying the league's next best bullpen—Detroit's. Carl Yastrzemski had forecast the Red Sox, mastery. "When I said we'd win four out of five in New York, it wasn't really a prediction," he explained, "it was a need." By taking seven of nine games during the week, the Red Sox moved into third, only 1½ games out.
Detroit got a team-record 35th shutout from Mickey Lolich and also won the American League's first pitching duel between brothers, although both Jim Perry and the Indians' Gaylord (page 22) took showers well ahead of schedule. The Tigers lost three of four at the end of the week to wind up in fourth, there only by the grace of Milwaukee, which continued its slump, dropping five of eight.
Come back for the comeback billboards have urged Baltimore fans all season. For a while this looked like the week. After dropping a doubleheader to the Tigers and the opening game of a four-game series to the Brewers, the Orioles rallied from deficits of 7-3, 4-1 and 5-0 to win three straight. In so doing they scored 12 eighth-inning runs, confirming the worst fears of Brewer fans, who had shuddered when Milwaukee dealt four pitchers to the Phillies in the off-season to gain extra hitting. Rich Coggins batted in the tie breaker in the third Bird win with an eighth-inning single to the wrong field. "I took a very unorthodox cut," he said, "and when I hit it, I said 'Aw, nuts.' Yet it beat a guy in a ball game."
But alas, the Orioles managed only a 4-5 week when they fell short two out of three times in catch-up games in Oakland.
The Indians, on a treadmill, lost six of eight. General Manager Phil Seghi said the team's most critical problem was "a lackluster approach." Among Indians lacking luster was Outfielder George Hendrick, who was fined for nonhustle.
NY 47-39 BALT 41-36 BOST 42-37 DET 42-41 MIL 40-41 CLEV 29-55