Boston's new Manager Don Zimmer, signed for 1977, is not waiting until next year. He has replaced veteran Third Baseman Rico Petrocelli with rookie Butch Hobson and has had Hobson and Outfielder Jim Rice taking extra bunting practice. "Why wait?" Zimmer asks. "We could win four games or so the rest of the way just by getting a few bunts down."
The Red Sox have been taking advantage of every opportunity lately, winning eight of their last nine and six of seven during the week. One of the victories, 4-1 over Detroit, went to Ferguson Jenkins, his sixth straight. The best news, though, was that holdouts Carlton Fisk, Rick Burleson and Fred Lynn had finally signed. Expressing the relief of players, management and fans, Fisk said, "I'm very glad it's over. The whole thing has really bothered me. We've been booed this year and it affects your concentration. You can't do your best under those conditions."
New York was still 10 games ahead of the pack, despite a 3-4 week and nine losses in the last 13 games. Two of the wins came against the Tigers, when Doyle Alexander had his weekly brush with a no-hitter, allowing just two hits in a 1-0 victory, and when Roy White and Oscar Gamble crashed two-run homers to beat Mark Fidrych 4-3.
August 15, 1976
Baltimore (3-3) was not gaining much ground because of its continuing problems with Milwaukee. The Brewers (4-4) beat the Orioles twice, giving them six straight wins over the Birds in less than two weeks. They also took two of three from the Yankees, one on Bill Travers' five-hitter.
The Tigers were perilously close to last place after losing five straight games, but victories over Cleveland by Dave Roberts and Fidrych ended the slide. Fidrych's 6-1 victory was his first in three weeks following two losses. "I feel so good I'm getting a little cocky," the Bird crowed.
The Indians (4-3) had better success against Boston and Baltimore, Dennis Eckersley and Rick Waits pitching consecutive shutouts. Second Baseman Duane Kuiper, who was batting .230 at the All-Star break, went 4 for 4 against Jim Palmer in the win over Baltimore and by week's end had added 46 points to his average.
NY 64-42 BALT 54-52 CLEV 52-54 BOS 52-55 DET 50-56 MIL 47-58
Things are worse than Chicago Manager Paul Richards thought. "We seem helpless against the better pitchers in the league," he said early last week. "We seldom beat a pitcher with a winning record." Alas, Richards spoke too soon, for a few nights later his White Sox (2-4) were just as helpless against Kansas City's Andy Hassler, who had lost 18 straight games since April 29, 1975. Hassler went seven innings in the 9-2 victory, giving him a 1-7 record and stopping him one short of tying the American League mark for consecutive defeats. "I'm relieved," he said. And thanks to Hal McRae, he had champagne to honor the occasion. After KC put the game away with five runs in the sixth inning, the designated hitter slipped away long enough to order champagne for the expected celebration.
The Royals had plenty more to celebrate during their 5-2 week, especially a three-game sweep of Minnesota. The Twins had come into town with an eight-game winning streak that had propelled them into second place, but 7-1, 4-2 and 6-4 losses ended the surge. Not even Bill Singer's tricky stuff could help the Twins (4-3). After KC's Fred Patek slammed a Singer special for a two-out, two-run single in the sixth inning of the third game, the little shortstop said, "The spitter I hit was a dandy. It dipped right down on my hands." And then on into center field.
Oakland (3-4) moved back into second place despite three straight losses to the Twins at the beginning of the week. Owner Charles Finley, meanwhile, called all his players pathetic and said he was disgusted with their performance. For once, Finley was not blaming his manager, Chuck Tanner, but he did light into Captain Sal Bando. "I'll be damned if I were a player hitting around .224 that I'd have the guts to ask for a long term contract at more than $100,000 a year."
Another unhappy owner, Brad Corbett of Texas, indicated that some of his team's untouchables, possibly Jeff Burroughs and Toby Harrah, who are having subpar years, may not be so secure after all. Said Corbett after the Rangers had lost 20 of their last 25, "This slump has taught us a lot about our ball club. I'd say that some of the people we've taken a hard line on tradewise in the past might be more expendable. At least we'll be more receptive to any and all deals for these people." As good as ever for the 3-3 Rangers were Gaylord Perry, who won twice, including his first shutout of the year, 6-0 over Minnesota, and Bert Blyleven, who changed the grip on his fastball and beat California 1-0.
The Angels (3-3) climbed out of the cellar after Frank Tanana's 13 strikeouts beat Oakland 2-1, but they fell back following a 9-1 defeat. Earlier, Bruce Bochte helped Nolan Ryan to his second straight victory, 9-6 over Texas, by blasting four hits. With a single, double and triple in his first three at bats, Bochte admitted he was going for the homer that would complete the cycle in the ninth. He had to settle for a single instead.
KC 66-41 OAK 56-53 MINN 55-54 TEX 51-55 CHI 47-60 CAL 48-62
Those loud explosions you heard last week were the game-winning home runs that boomed all across the division. Philadelphia (5-4) provided the most thunder, starting with a doubleheader sweep of New York in which Greg Luzinski pounded a grand slam in the 7-6 opening win and Mike Schmidt a two-run shot in the 2-0 nightcap. Later in the week skinny Garry Maddox, who lifts weights after every game, showed new muscle by beating Chicago 8-5 with another grand slam. Then it was Schmidt again, his 28th and 29th home runs edging Chicago 7-5. "What the wind giveth, the wind taketh away," Schmidt said after his seventh homer in six Wrigley games this year. "I hit a ball to center as hard as I could two days ago and it was turned into a can of corn. Then I hit one today that was just a fly ball that got up in the wind." The Phils' No. 1 flake, Outfielder Jay Johnstone, had his ups and downs. First Johnstone sprinted all the way home from first on a routine ground single in the 11th to top the Mets, but then against the Cubs he misplayed a fly ball that resulted in three runs.
The Cubs (7-3) also had their share of game-winning homers. Pete LaCock's two-run blow beat the Phils 4-2, Jerry Morales' ninth-inning shot gave Steve Stone a 1-0 win over Montreal and Rick Monday returned to the lineup after a week's layoff to beat the Expos 6-5 with a home run in the 13th inning and 4-3 with one in the 11th.
Although stung often themselves, the Expos had a game winner of their own to celebrate. That had come earlier in a 3-6 week when Jose Morales, the league's best pinch hitter, lifted Montreal to a 5-4 victory over New York with a three-run blow in the eighth. The next night it was the Mets' turn. New York (4-4) was trailing 8-7 in the eighth inning when Ed Kranepool hit his 100th career homer for a 9-8 decision. Kranepool's home run, like two by the Cubs, was off shell-shocked rookie Reliever Joe Kerrigan.
This kind of power display was sorely needed by pitchers in St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The Cardinals (4-4) lost three 2-1 games, two of them in extra innings. Pete Falcone got sufficient support though, shutting out the Pirates 4-0 on four hits and stopping the Phillies 4-1 five days later. Doc Medich of the Pirates (3-5) was not so favored. He lost twice without a run being scored on his behalf. Against the Cardinals he pitched 6‚Öî innings of a 4-0 loss and against the Mets he left in the seventh inning of a 4-2 loss trailing 2-0. The Pirates did most of their hitting in one game, a 17-hit attack that racked Tom Seaver and New York 12-3.
PHIL 72-36 PITT 59-49 NY 56-56 CHI 50-62 ST. L 46-60 MONT 37-67
Were the Dodgers still in the league? Just barely, after losing three straight to Cincinnati and falling 12 games behind. "They should have a funeral before the body decomposes," Cincinnati Reliever Rawly Eastwick recommended. So what's everyone going to do until the playoffs begin? "Batting titles, runs-scored titles, RBI titles—that's all that's left," Pete Rose said. Jack Billingham turned in the best pitching job, three-hitting San Francisco 9-0. When it looked as if Billingham might be losing his stuff, Pitching Coach Larry Shepard came to the rescue. Shepard strolled to the mound, took the ball from Billingham, spanked it and said, "Be good." Then he walked back to the dugout.
The Dodgers (4-4) had warmed up for Cincinnati by winning four straight, including Burt Hooton's two-hit shutout of Houston. But the Reds were too much, even for Rick Rhoden, who lost his first game of the year after nine victories, 7-4.
It was a week to remember for San Diego's Randy Jones. Or maybe one he'd rather forget. First he lost to Cincinnati 5-2, then Atlanta 1-0 to make his record 18-6. He ended the road trip on an even unhappier note, driving his car into a telephone pole as he came home from the airport. The accident resulted in stitches in his neck and a missed pitching turn. The more fortunate Butch Metzger beat the Braves 7-3 and had three straight saves against Houston, giving the Padres a 5-3 week.
Atlanta (4-4) lost five straight before Andy Messersmith and Dick Ruthven pitched consecutive wins over the Padres. Cito Gaston helped Messersmith by hitting two homers and driving in five runs.
The Giants' only wins in eight games were spurred by first-inning home runs. Gary Matthews' helped beat the Reds 4-1 and Gary Thomasson's helped edge the Braves 2-1. Shutouts by Larry Dierker (6-0 over Atlanta) and James Richard (1-0 over L.A.) were Houston's best efforts in a 2-5 week.
CIN 72-39 LA 59-50 HOUS 56-57 SD 54-59 ATL 50-60 SF 48-64
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
BUTCH METZGER: The San Diego reliever continued his drive for Rookie of the Year by picking up his ninth win without a defeat and his ninth, 10th and 11th saves. He allowed only two runs in seven innings.