New York won five of nine and could contemplate the All-Star break from a lofty eminence, being 9½ games in front of the rest of the division. The Yankees also passed the million mark in attendance, the earliest they have done so since 1961, and placed the most players on the American League All-Star team, six. And still they quibbled. Manager Billy Martin protested a 2-1 loss to Kansas City because Royal Outfielder Hal McRae took three extra warmup tosses when he replaced injured Amos Otis. McRae did not take part in a defensive play and the protest was disallowed. Then Martin began griping about an American League restriction against using All-Star pitchers on the Sunday before the game, saying that he had not been given sufficient notice by the league office and that his ace, Catfish Hunter, was going to lose a pitching turn. As it turned out, the word had been given to the Yankees but not to Martin, who was on the road. Hunter rested but it hardly seemed to matter to the Yankees. The rest of the division was dormant, no one else being above .500.
Boston also passed the million mark in attendance—on their 39th home date, earlier than ever before—but there was no celebration at Fenway Park. Instead there was a moment of silence for Thomas Austin Yawkey, the Red Sox owner, who died Friday. Earlier in the week the Red Sox (4-4) had crept above .500 for the first time since April but were back below it by week's end. Last year's MVP and Rookie of the Year, Fred Lynn, stung by criticism from the media and the fans, was accused of sequestering himself in the off-limits training room. Carlton Fisk was also hearing boos and had been benched.
Cleveland lost seven of eight and dropped to third place. In the Indians' only win Manager Frank Robinson went 2 for 2—a homer and a single—and drove in two runs. The speculation is that he will insert himself into the lineup more frequently after the All-Star break to try to upgrade Cleveland's offense.
July 18, 1976
The Tigers (2-4) were also slumping but more than 51,000 Detroiters turned out on two separate occasions to watch Mark (The Bird) Fidrych pitch. He shut out Baltimore 4-0 on four hits at the beginning of the week but then lost 1-0 to Kansas City. His record stood at 9-2, with both losses coming in shutouts. Even in defeat the Bird fanciers chanted until he came back on the field for a post-game bow. A state politician is talking about getting Fidrych a raise above the minimum $16,000 the Tigers are paying him.
Jim Palmer became the first American League pitcher with 11 wins and Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver was ejected on two consecutive nights as the Orioles split eight games. Bill Travers, bound for the All-Star game, won twice for last place Milwaukee (6-2) to up his record to 10-6 and lower his ERA to 1.91.
NY 49-31 BOS 39-40 CLEV 38-40 BALT 39-42 DET 37-41 MIL 32-44
Kansas City won six of eight to open a 6½-game lead, their biggest margin of the season—and of their entire history. In a possible prelude to the American League playoffs, the Royals took three of four from the Yankees, with Steve Mingori being credited with saves in all three victories. In their last five wins Royal pitchers had allowed only four runs, including one 24‚Öî-inning stretch without yielding an earned run. The only sour note was Steve Busby's continued failure to pitch well. At week's end he was sent to Los Angeles for an examination of his sore right shoulder.
Texas pitchers needed support from the rest of the Rangers (3-6). In his last four outings Bert Blyleven has pitched four complete games and yielded just three runs, yet he came away with a 2-2 record. Typically, in midweek he lost to Detroit 2-1. At week's end Gaylord Perry got the same treatment from his teammates, pitching a four-hitter and losing to Milwaukee 3-1.
Oakland (6-2) crept above .500 for the first time in two months and much of the credit went to Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers, the two pitchers Owner Charlie Finley tried to sell in June. Blue was superb in a six-hit, 2-0 win over Baltimore while Fingers recorded a pair of saves and a win. The A's were also burning opponents on the base paths. In two straight wins over Cleveland, Oakland stole 12 bases.
Last year Mike Cubbage was 0 for 17 as a major-leaguer with Texas when he got his first hit, a grand slam off Bill Singer, who was then pitching for California. This year both play for Minnesota (5-4) and this week Cubbage helped Singer to his eighth win, against three losses, when he broke out of an 0 for 24 slump with another grand slam. "I owed Billy one," said Cubbage.
Chicago (3-6) has been hitting so poorly that Manager Paul Richards allowed Pitcher Ken Brett, a good hitter, to bat for himself, the first time an American League manager had not used the designated hitter in a meaningful game since the DH was introduced in 1973. (Oakland used pitchers as hitters in 1973 and 1975 after clinching divisional titles to ready pitchers for the World Series.) Brett hit three balls hard, but at fielders, and went hitless as Chicago lost to Boston 4-0. In his next outing he stuck to pitching and six-hit the Yankees 4-1 to give the White Sox their first win over New York in nine games this season.
California dropped five of eight games to remain in the cellar. Bobby Bonds decided to take the All-Star break to have X rays made of his right hand, which was fractured early in the season. "I don't shake hands with anybody," says Bonds. "You could put me down on my knees with just a normal handshake." Bonds still managed to hit his 10th home run last week.
KC 51-30 TEX 44-36 OAK 43-41 MINN 39-43 CHI 37-44 CAL 35-51
A microcosm of Montreal's 1-7 week might have been a pop fly hit by Houston's Leon Roberts. Expo First Baseman Andre Thornton successfully called everybody off the ball, then tripped on the pitching rubber giving Roberts a double. Montreal made 15 errors during the week, which meant that 13 of the 54 runs scored against them were unearned, which in turn prompted a newspaper headline reading, TO ERR IS HUMAN—BUT ALL THE TIME? Matters were no better offensively as Montreal hitters set a new standard of ineptitude when they were no-hit for the first time in the club's 1,200-game history, by Larry Dierker of the Astros.
At the opposite end of the standings Philadelphia also took its lumps, losing four in a row. Three of the defeats were at the hands of Los Angeles before big Bicentennial week hometown crowds, but the Phillies rebounded to win three straight from San Diego and finish the week with a 5-4 mark. Steve Carlton struck out his 2,000th batter in his ninth win, prompting a 25-second standing ovation. "I took my hat off," said Carlton. "You can't overdo it. Fidrych, or whatever his name is, he'd probably have done cartwheels. I have to keep up my conservative image."
Pittsburgh (3-6) fell 10 games behind the Phillies when it played giveaway, blowing a 6-1 lead in losing to Atlanta 8-6 and a two-run 10th-inning lead in losing to Cincinnati 12-11.
New York (5-4) ran its winning streak to 10 before dropping three in a row. Dave Kingman hit three more homers to make his major league leading total 30. The Mets' winning streak was stopped by Chicago (6-3), which broke a nine-game losing streak. The Cubs did a remarkable turnabout, going on to make it four in a row and getting three straight shutouts from their supposedly ineffectual pitching staff. Chicago's skein was broken after a local radio station, hoping to prolong the team's success, hired a "witch" to rub the Cubs with magic potions before the game. The juices of magnolia, cypress and cinnamon only made the Cubs stink.
The Cardinals held a team meeting and promptly won three out of four. But St. Louis (4-3) is still punchless. The Cardinals have hit 31 home runs this season, their opponents 58.
PHIL 55-25 PITT 45-35 NY 46-41 ST.L 36-45 CHI 36-47 MONT 25-51
Larry Dierker of Houston (5-3) pitched the first no-hitter of the season when he beat Montreal 6-0. Dierker struck out eight of the light-hitting Expos, who entered the game with a team batting average of .234. "I went with my fastball," he said. "It was really sailing and I was too keyed-up to try anything else. I wanted to keep the ball in the upper part of the strike zone and make 'em pop it up. The one thing I didn't want was ground balls. Anything can happen when they hit into the dirt."
The Dodgers (4-3) held a players-only clubhouse session before a three-game series in Philadelphia, and it apparently paid off as they took all three from the Eastern Division-leading Phillies. But even that wasn't enough to catch Cincinnati, which won seven straight before suffering a rare Saturday defeat to Pittsburgh (over the last two years the Reds are 33-6 on Saturdays). When Fred Norman beat the Pirates 2-1, it upped his home record this season to 5-1 with a 1.16 ERA. Since joining Cincinnati in 1973 he is 29-7 at Riverfront Stadium. "It's roomy and I'm a fly ball pitcher," explains Norman.
San Diego won just twice in nine outings and both wins went to Randy Jones (16-3), who now has more victories in advance of an All-Star break than any National Leaguer ever. In contrast, the Padres have now lost 14 of their last 21 and are jeopardizing their hold on third place. "I'm very satisfied with [Manager John] McNamara and with the way the team has played," said Owner Ray Kroc at mid-week, "but I won't be happy with anything less than a third-place finish."
"Andy Messersmith is the best pitcher I have ever seen," said Atlanta (4-4) Manager Dave Bristol after Messersmith beat Pittsburgh 4-2 to make his record 9-6. "He has five pitches he can throw for strikes and he has the keenest mind I've ever seen when it comes to getting hitters out." Later in the week Messersmith served up two gopher balls to the Mets' Dave Kingman and lost 4-2. Of the eight homers Messersmith has allowed this season, five have been by Kingman.
The Giants (3-4) insist on playing bad baseball. They're not quite the old Mets, but they're comically close. For example: Pitcher John (The Count) Montefusco executed a rarely seen pickoff play, jumping off the rubber, faking a throw to third, then wheeling around to throw back to first, easily trapping St. Louis' swift Jerry Mumphrey. But Giants First Baseman Darrell Evans ran Mumphrey too far toward second, saw Mike Tyson dashing for home, threw high and allowed Tyson to score, Mumphrey taking second. That's the way it is when you're in last place.
CIN 53-32 LA 46-39 SD 43-43 HOUS 41-44 ATL 39-45 SF 34-52
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
HAL McRAE: The Kansas City outfielder-designated hitter raised his average to .347 with 13 hits, three of them game-winners, and had seven RBIs. He celebrated his 30th birthday by hitting a double and a homer.