Which is more important, pitching or hitting? "When you are hitting, everything else perks up," said Houston Manager Preston Gomez after the Astros banged out 13 hits in an 11-1 win over New York. But even though the Astros went on to score 36 runs for the week, the best they could do was split six games. The reason: the pitchers allowed 34. Speaking of which, "I'd trade almost anybody to get some," said San Francisco Manager Charlie Fox. But as the June 15 trading deadline passed, all he could do was bring up 35-year-old Steve Barber from Phoenix, and the Giants lost five of six.
Atlanta, a team that has lived and died by the homer—usually the latter—was thriving on its arms for a change. Some 45,000 fans showed up at Atlanta Stadium to watch Buzz Capra try to extend his string of 25 scoreless innings, against Tom Seaver. The Mets got three runs off Capra in the first two innings, but five relievers held New York scoreless the next 9‚Öì and the Braves won 4-3 in 11. Then Carl Morton blanked the Mets 1-0 on six hits, Roric Harrison beat the Cardinals 6-1, and Capra stopped them 7-1. The Braves, 5-1, were just .002 out of second. It hardly mattered that only Ralph Garr (.376) and Henry Aaron (11 homers, 33 RBIs) were hitting with authority. "We're playing Dodger baseball now," said Morton.
If there was any lesson the Dodgers could offer, it was not to ignore hitting altogether. Having stayed on top with the best pitching and power in baseball, Los Angeles won only two of six as Dodger bats produced just 2.2 runs a game. Still, pitching remained the one thing everybody wanted and practically no one would give up. No team since Pittsburgh in 1970 has won a division title with a pitching staff that allowed more than 3.50 earned runs per game. The Dodgers (2.85) and Braves (3.17) were under that figure by last weekend. The Giants (3.76) and Astros (3.59), who are looking more and more like long shots, were over it. The Reds (page 22) went from 3.33 to 3.53.
The one certain non-contender, San Diego (4-2), took three of three one-run games—its specialty—and had a second straight winning week. Bobby Tolan beat St. Louis 6-5 with a three-run eighth-inning home run and Derrel Thomas hit an inside-the-park homer to edge the Expos 5-4.
LA 43-20 CIN 34-25 ATL 35-26 HOUS 32-31 SF 31-34 SD 26-41
In the freak play of the year, a ferocious drive by Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt hit an Astrodome speaker 300 feet from home plate and 117 feet in the air and dropped down, worth but a single. Enough bad luck for Schmidt? No. His two homers off Don Gullett went for naught as the Reds beat Philadelphia 7-4. The Phillies' major problem was relief pitching. After scouring the league they gave up and promoted Jesus Hernaiz from Toledo. Then Steve Carlton and Jim Lonborg permitted the bullpen some rest with wins over Houston and Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh starter Jim Rooker was outraged. Taken out of a game in which he led San Diego 8-1, he watched in horror as the Padres rallied to win 9-8. "I want out," he said. "I just think I deserve the right to win or lose the game myself." One difficulty in St. Louis was that 38-year-old Bob Gibson was losing too many for himself. He has allowed 11 home runs and lost seven of 10.
"There was only one Jackie Robinson, and he was fantastic," said Willie Davis of Montreal. "There's only one Willie Davis, and I'm fantastic, too." As Don Meredith once said, if you can do it, you ain't braggin'. Davis could, with seven RBIs against Cincinnati. Another celebrated can-do Expo, Pitcher Steve Rogers, couldn't. He gave up 10 hits in seven innings to lose the fifth of his last six starts, 3-1 to Cincinnati. The Expos were stuck at .500. The Cubs were eight games below break-even, and understandably building. Rookie Catcher Steve Swisher did a good defensive job in two games, the former a 10-7 victory over Houston in which Jim Todd got his first victory.
Two items of bad news from New York: Shortstop Bud Harrelson was sidelined for at least a month (except for pinch running) with a broken hand, and Reliever Tug McGraw, back after a month, gave up the deciding run in a 3-2 loss to Los Angeles.
PHIL 33-28 ST. L 30-29 MONT 27-27 CHI 24-32 NY 24-35 PITT 23-34
When California Manager Bobby Winkles threatened to remove Nolan Ryan after 12 innings against Boston, Ryan was aghast. "But I haven't broken my record yet."
"Record? What record?"
"Most pitches in a game," said Ryan.
In his pursuit of this questionable distinction Ryan was permitted another inning. He fell six short of his own mark of 241, but did establish a club high of 19 strikeouts—two below the major league record for extra-inning games. Reliever Barry Raziano was the winner as Denny Doyle's 15th-inning double beat the Bosox 4-3. The Angels' top pitcher, Bill Singer, was lost for at least eight weeks, possibly the season, because of back surgery, and California may well establish another record of sorts—a man on the disabled list every day of the season.
Cedric Tallis' performance as Kansas City general manager was regarded as superior by just about everyone but Owner Ewing Kauffman, who demoted him to "Vice-President—Baseball." Whereupon the team Tallis built swept four straight one-run victories. Paul Splittorff won his first game since May 24, Steve Busby his first since May 21, Al Fitzmorris went 33 innings without walking a batter, and John Mayberry delighted some 20 hometown friends in Detroit with a three-run homer. The Royals passed Chicago, a team that could do nothing right, nor win a game. Ron Santo made three physical and a couple of mental errors at second base; two errors by Dick Allen offset the joy of his 300th homer earlier in the week.
Things remained topsy-turvy in Oakland. The A's were 2-6 after the Reggie Jackson-Bill North fight, but Jackson and North were seen talking. "Stoppers" Ken Holtzman, Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue collectively were 21-20. The A's stayed ahead of Texas when Joe Rudi hit a grand slam and Sal Ban-do a three-run homer in a 9-1 victory over New York. The Rangers, however, kept gunning. They have won five of their last six series and Jackie Brown (6-2) has won all five games he has started.
Joe Decker (7-4) five-hit Cleveland 8-2 to give Minnesota a 2-4 week, but better-known Twins were stumbling. Bert Blyleven (5-9), wondering if "they were using voodoo on me," lost twice and Harmon Killebrew was replaced at first by rookie Craig Kusick.
OAK 33-28 TEX 32-29 KC 30-29 CHI 26-29 CAL 27-35 MINN 24-32
Dick Williams returned to baseball—as color man for the Monday night national telecast of a game between Boston and Oakland, teams he had managed. On the air he was bland; off it he was hardly original in suggesting that Carl Yastrzemski is having a good year "because he has a one-year contract.... Yaz has his best years when his contract is up for renewal." Yastrzemski got two or more hits in every game, batting .481 for the week and leading the Red Sox to five wins in six games.
And who was gearing up for a run at the pacesetters? Surprisingly enough, the Cleveland Indians. The Indians picked up Steve Arlin from San Diego as a fourth starter, meanwhile getting four wins from their first three: Steve Kline (two) and Jim and Gay-lord Perry (one each). Baltimore and New York had 4-2 weeks. The Yankees acquired another pitcher, Rudy May, from California, and the Orioles got a rare win—his first in 55 days—from sore-armed Jim Palmer.
In Detroit the fans lustily cheered ex-Manager Billy Martin on his return with the Texas Rangers, despite Martin's pregame blasts at his former boss, Tiger General Manager Jim Campbell ("He out-and-out lied to me"), Rightfielder Jim Northrup ("I want to put stitches in his big mouth") and Coach Dick Tracewski ("Benedict Arnold"). But Detroit got last bite by taking two of three from Texas. In a 4-2, eight-homer week (including gamewinners by Willie Horton and Aurelio Rodriguez), the Tigers moved from fifth to tie for third. Martin was more successful elsewhere. His deft second baseman, Dave Nelson, pulled a hidden-ball trick on Milwaukee's Bob Coluccio, an indignity that low-lighted an 0-6 week for the Brewers.
BOS 34-26 CLEV 30-28 BALT 30-29 DET 30-29 NY 31-32 MIL 28-29