The division was the classiest in baseball. Four teams had winning records, Cincinnati leading the way with seven victories in eight games. "By August first, first place," predicted Reliever Pedro Borbon after his 11th save helped Cincy move within eight games of the lead. Indeed everything was coming up rosy for the Reds. Rookie Tom Carroll won his first two major league starts, and Johnny Bench, who had been slumping, slammed two home runs and four doubles and drove in 10 runs. That brought his RBI total to 60 and prompted another prognosticator, Manager Sparky Anderson, to say, "If he drives in 120, we'll win this thing."
Those were brash statements to be sure, since first-place Los Angeles was hardly collapsing. The Dodgers won five games and Jim Wynn hit his 20th home run to take back the league lead. His clout helped Andy Messersmith beat the Mets 2-1. It was Messer-smith's 10th win and dropped his ERA to 1.96. Over his last 10 starts it has been a paralyzing 0.76.
Houston received strong pitching from Claude Osteen, who defeated the Cubs 4-0 for the 40th shutout of his career, and Tom Griffin, who stopped the Cardinals 4-1. That victory ran Griffin's record to 10-3, one win short of his alltime high.
Atlanta slipped a notch to fourth place, and Buzz Capra, who had won nine straight, lost to the Cubs and was bombed for nine runs in the first inning of his next start.
San Francisco's Gary Matthews hit a home run—at least the third-base umpire, Chris Pelekoudas, thought so. But when Expo Manager Gene Mauch challenged him Pelekoudas admitted he had not seen the flight of the ball. The plate ump then ruled Matthews' hit was foul. Matthews was consoled somewhat when the Giants won 5-4.
San Diego took four of six, but still could not earn any respect. Dan Spillner defeated the Mets 5-4 and appeared on TV afterward. The next day a young fan called and said, "I saw you, and you were pretty nervous."
"Yes, but I did my best," said Spillner.
"Just the same, you made a fool of yourself," concluded the youngster.
LA 61-29 CIN 52-37 HOUS 48-41
ATL 48-43 SF 40-50 SD 40-53
St. Louis lost seven of eight and its lead over Philadelphia shrank to a stalemate. The Cards scored just 12 runs in those losses, the solitary win being a 10-0 drubbing of Atlanta. That outburst provided a happy ending to righthander Bob Forsch's first week in the majors. Five days earlier he had lost 2-1 to the Reds. It all added up to tight pitching by a rookie who obviously is undaunted by crowds. Forsch appeared before 94,015 people in the two games.
Philadelphia had a chance to retake the lead if it could pick up a win at San Francisco, but the Phillies phlopped 13-3 despite the efforts of Willie Montanez and his wife Maria. Batting in the third inning, Montanez received word that Maria had given birth to a boy. He turned to the umpire and said, "I've got a son now. Watch me go." Montanez delivered four singles.
The Expos were one and six, largely because of a demonstrable lack of clutch hits. Montreal lost two of three to the Giants, although the Expos outhit San Francisco by 96 points (.294 to .198) and had better pitching.
Chicago kept its perfect record at the Astrodome intact by losing twice and running its indoor total to 0-5 for the year. Shortstop Don Kessinger led off one of the losses with his first home run in two seasons—but it ended up hurting his team. Humiliated Astro Pitcher Don Wilson dusted off the next two batters. Cub Rick Reuschel retaliated, hitting Wilson with a pitch that set off a five-run Houston rally and the Astros won 5-4.
New York split six games and moved within a half game of fourth with help from some unrenowned players. When Tom Seaver's sore buttock forced him from the starting rotation, Bob Apodaca started against Los Angeles and pitched six scoreless innings before Jack Aker came on to save the win. The pitching was backed up by Ted Martinez, who was filling in for injured Shortstop Bud Harrelson. Martinez broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning with a bases-loaded single and made three dazzling plays as New York triumphed 5-2. That victory left the Mets a shade behind Pittsburgh, which lost five of seven.
ST. L 44-43 PHIL 44-43 MONT 40-44
PITT 37-48 CHI 37-48 NY 37-49
New York enjoyed its best week of the year with six wins in seven games. The Yanks wound it up by embarrassing the first-place A's 12-6 for their sixth straight victory and the first of the week for Dick Tidrow. The successes moved New York into a fifth place tie with Detroit and only 3½ games behind division-leading Baltimore. The Orioles lost just two of seven games, consecutive ninth-inning defeats by the White Sox that left Manager Earl Weaver fuming. Ejected from one game, Weaver sent a message from the clubhouse to Outfielder Jim Fuller whose error had allowed two unearned runs. "Tell him that he's hurting us out there," Weaver instructed. "He thinks he's great. I either have to accept it or put his rear on the bench."
When Gaylord Perry's win streak was ended by Oakland at 15, his Cleveland teammates seemed more shaken by the loss than he did. The Indians were on a 12-2 streak and leading the division before Perry's defeat, but they promptly lost two of their next three and fell into second.
The erratic Red Sox had seemed to have straightened themselves out, winning three in a row from Texas, but then the Angels took back-to-back routs at Fenway Park by a total score of 19-1. After the second pasting Sox Manager Darrell Johnson muttered, "I didn't like a single thing I saw out there."
Milwaukee was brewing with a 5-2 record, which moved it into fourth place. George Scott won one game with a ninth-inning home run and Pedro Garcia won a pair with two more.
Detroit lost five games and power hitter Willie Horton, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with an injured leg. Said Manager Ralph Houk, "I wouldn't be surprised if that was it for Willie this year."
BALT 47-39 CLEV 46-39 BOS 47-40
MIL 44-42 NY 44-43 DET 44-43
It was a bad week out West. Minnesota won six and lost two, but the division's other teams had a tough time. The Twins defeated Cleveland in two of three, knocking the Indians from the Eastern lead with a 2-1 win. The deciding run scored on an 11th-inning bunt single by Rod Carew, who continued to float high above the rest of the league's hitters with a .382 average. It was Carew's second bunt hit of the game and his 16th of the season.
California ran its losing streak to 11 straight before the Angels gave Owner Gene Autry a reason to make a congratulatory call to new Manager Dick Williams, who had guided the team to 10 of those defeats. "I've waited two weeks for this call," said Williams after the Angels won 7-0. And the next day the Angels won again 12-1.
Oakland maintained its four-game division lead, even while losing three of five. In one of their wins the A's spoiled Gaylord Perry's bid for his 16th straight victory, Vida Blue outpitching him 4-3. A Family Night crowd of 47,582 turned out for Perry's appearance, despite Oakland's first July rainstorm in 75 years.
Kansas City had three wins, one of them Steve Busby's 12th victory of the season and sixth complete game in his last seven starts. Another player who was a winner even while the Royals lost was Rightfielder Hal McRae. He drove in his 50th run, equaling his RBI output in all of 1973. And after 85 games he was batting .315 with 11 homers. At this time last year those stats read .168 and two.
Chicago lost four of seven, despite the return of Mr. Smoke. Fastball Pitcher Bart Johnson received that nickname in 1971 when he was a hot reliever. Then came knee problems, an operation and very little pitching last year. The White Sox farmed him out this spring and he threatened to quit. Last week the Tigers, who reached him for just two hits and the Orioles, who were defeated 4-3, wished that he had.
Texas, which came into July in hot contention, seemed about to slip out of sight by the All-Star break. By losing five of seven the Rangers fell 6½ games behind Oakland.
OAK 48-39 KC 43-43 CHI 42-44
TEX 43-47 MINN 41-48 CAL 34-56