With the Phillies heating up and the Pirates hurrying up, the race in the East tightened up, only half a game separating the top four clubs. "It's tough to grip the bat," said Mike Schmidt of first-place Philadelphia (4-2), alluding to the cold weather. "You've got to put your hands in front of the heater before you go up to hit." Schmidt must have camped out in a boiler room, because he batted .417, and he was not the only torrid Phillie. Reserve Outfielder Jerry Martin locked up a 3-2 victory over San Diego with a three-run homer; Pitcher Randy Lerch helped himself to a 12-2 win against Chicago with a two-run homer and an RBI double; and in his first outing of the season, 39-year-old Jim Kaat was masterful as he beat the Cubs 7-0 on three singles. The only chilling news was Second Baseman Ted Sizemore's fractured left hand.
After clinging to the lead for most of the week, Montreal (3-3) slid seven percentage points behind Philadelphia. The Expos did not slug a home run and batted a skimpy .225, even though Dave Cash had a .435 average. Ross Grimsley ran his record to 4-0 with a 6-3 defeat of the Astros.
The Pirates (5-1) sped to within half a game of the lead, getting the deciding runs in a 4-2 defeat of the Mets without hitting the ball. After Omar Moreno walked and stole second and Dave Parker was intentionally passed, both advanced on a double steal and scored as the throw to third base skipped into leftfield. Altogether, the Bucs had 17 steals, with the 6'5", 235-pound Parker picking up three and the 6'3", 175-pound Moreno six. Pittsburgh subsequently edged New York 1-0, as Ed Ott homered in the 11th and Bert Blyleven hurled a six-hitter. Rookie Don Robinson, 20, a 6'4", 225-pound righthanded fastballer, got two wins, beating the Mets 2-1 and the Giants 6-2, both on five hits.
Also half a game off the pace was Chicago (3-3). The Cubs thrived on clutch hits: a single in the 12th by Joe Wallis finished off New York 3-2; Bobby Murcer's grand slam cooled off Philadelphia 4-2; and Atlanta fell 4-3 as Heity Cruz homered twice and Larry Biittner had a pinch run-scoring hit in the 10th. After a so-so start, Reliever Bruce Sutter recovered his 1977 form and struck out nine of the last 11 batters he faced.
With Manager Vern Rapp given the heave-ho, the Cardinals (3-3) turned gung-ho. In their first game under interim Manager Jack Krol, St. Louis pounded the Expos 12-2. Then, in their first game under new Manager Ken Boyer, the Cardinals made short work of the Dodgers, Eric Rasmussen needing only 67 pitches to become a 1-0 victor.
Seven days after being in first place, the Mets (0-6) were in fifth. Although Steve Henderson ended his 0-for-25 slump and although New York made five double plays in one game, the Mets lost by margins large (14-7) and small (1-0, 2-1 and 3-2).
PHIL 9-7 MONT 10-8 PITT 9-8 CHI 10-9 NY 9-12 ST.L 8-11
Johnnie LeMaster, San Francisco's 23-year-old shortstop, agonized over his .190 batting average and the boos of Giant fans. "Don't worry about it," LeMaster was advised by Pete Rose of Cincinnati (3-2). "They boo me louder." Hearing that, an eavesdropper said, "Yeah, but not for the same reason." In New York, where Rose has received lots of jeers, he got a standing ovation. It came in the eighth inning as Rose circled the bases after his third homer of the day, the first time in his 16-year career he had hit three in one game. That home run also was the sixth the Reds clouted in a 14-7 romp and was Rose's fifth hit, bringing him to within four of 3,000 for his career. Tom Seaver continued to be ripped, his record falling to 0-2 and his ERA rising to 5.00.
A two-game sweep in Cincinnati moved Los Angeles (4-1) into first place. The Dodgers won 4-2 behind Tommy John (4-0) and 14-4 as they walloped three home runs. Dusty Baker, usually a slow starter, lifted his average to .366 with a .556 week. Rick Monday, who leads the majors in homers with eight and the league in RBIs with 22, kept the Dodger attack going by driving in six runs.
Pounding the ball, too, was Jeff Burroughs of Atlanta (3-3), who took over the league lead with a .413 average. Phil Niekro, who had been 0-4, baffled the Giants 3-1 and the Cubs 5-0 with his knuckleball.
After the Giants had scored only one run in each of four straight losses, Willie McCovey called a San Francisco (2-4) team meeting and told his mates they were pressing. McCovey then helped the Giants relax. He drove in four runs to beat Atlanta 5-3, and the next day Stretch hit a three-run double in the ninth to jolt Pittsburgh 5-4.
The Padres (2-4) made their first flight aboard a 727 bought by owner Ray Kroc, who fitted the jet with 60 first-class seats. San Diego then got a first-class performance from Gaylord Perry, who stopped Houston 2-1.
The Astros (3-3) lost 6-3 to Montreal as rookie Tom Dixon surrendered two runs on successive balks. Another rookie, Denny Walling, fared better, his single in the 10th nipping the Padres 4-3. Three-hit pitching by Joaquin Andujar and Bob Watson's third homer of the week knocked off Montreal 3-1.
LA 13-6 CIN 13-7 HOU 10-11 SF 9-10 SD 7-11 ATL 6-13
Corks went pop and champagne flowed in the Minnesota (2-4) clubhouse after a 6-1 win over Oakland. Such festivities are usually reserved for momentous victories, which was precisely what the Twins felt their triumph was because it ended Minnesota's losing streak at nine games. The ninth loss had been particularly painful, Dan Ford having driven in seven runs, including a go-ahead pair in the 12th, before the A's pulled it out 9-8. Footing the bill for the bubbly was Rod Carew, who had called a pregame meeting to tell his younger teammates not to be downhearted and then whacked four hits.
Texas (6-1) was the only team to gain on first-place Oakland. Richie Zisk topped off his four-homer, 10-RBI week with two game-winning home runs. One of Zisk's clouts came in the 11th and did in Detroit 2-1, and the other was a two-run drive in the ninth that stunned Boston 5-4. First Baseman Mike Hargrove homered in three games in a row and also executed the hidden-ball trick to nab Cleveland's Paul Dade off first.
Willie Wilson of the Royals (4-3) put his extraordinary speed to good use. During an 11-2 rout of Milwaukee, Wilson turned a routine double into a triple; in another inning he stole second and scampered home on an infield single. There were, though, two blue notes for Kansas City: Third Baseman George Brett was expected to be out for 10 days with a shoulder contusion, and injury-plagued Pitcher Steve Busby was sent to the minors after being clubbed by the Brewers.
Ron Fairly's first two homers of the season helped California (4-2) dispose of Toronto 5-4 and 5-0. Pitching the shutout was Nolan Ryan, who struck out 11 as he tossed a two-hitter. Frank Tanana's fifth win was a 5-1 four-hitter against Seattle.
Wilbur Wood of Chicago (1-5) earned his first victory when he beat Detroit 7-2. But the White Sox, who were shut out only twice all last season, got few other runs and were whitewashed for the third time this year.
A massive traffic jam kept Seattle Manager Darrell Johnson from making it to Anaheim Stadium Monday night. In his absence the Mariners (3-4) beat the Angels 6-5. Friday night Johnson watched in dismay as the Mariners had traffic problems of their own. In the first two innings against Detroit, six of the first 10 Mariners hit safely and another walked, yet Seattle scored just once as four runners were cut down trying to stretch hits or steal bases.
OAK 15-5 KC 13-5 CAL 14-6 TEX 8-10 CHI 6-11 MINN 8-15 SEA 7-18
Detroit's youth movement has received most of the publicity, but last week it was the rejuvenation of the geriatric set that kept the Tigers (5-2) in front. Rusty Staub, 34, hit .393 and had eight RBIs, and Aurelio Rodriguez, 30, belied his .237 career average with .364 hitting. At week's end his .429 was leading the majors. Jack Billingham, 35, beat Chicago 4-1 for his third win without a loss. And John Hiller, 35, earned a win and a save as he gave up only one run and three hits in seven innings of relief.
Three pitching stalwarts faltered for Boston (2-4). Reliever Bill Campbell faced two batters in Texas, gave up a single and a homer and lost 5-4. After being clobbered by Cleveland in a 10-7 loss, Dennis Eckersley said, "I just don't have a good popping fastball and my breaking ball is lazy, sloppy." Mike Torrez, a 6-4 loser in Milwaukee, said, "No fastball. No curve. No slider. No zip." There were no complaints from Bill Lee (4-0), who trimmed the Brewers 4-3.
Perhaps fearful that whatever goes down might come up, Ron Guidry of New York (3-2) was removed in the eighth inning against Baltimore after swallowing tobacco juice while trying to make a fielding play. The Yankees won that game 8-2 with an eight-run fifth in which they had seven straight singles, one short of the league record.
Heeding the advice of Rod Carew, Cecil Cooper of Milwaukee (2-3) has been crouching at the plate. The change has straightened out Cooper's hitting. He batted .381 and unloaded his sixth and seventh homers, one of which helped defeat Boston 6-4.
Baltimore (2-3) has led the league in defense in each of the past four seasons, averaging slightly under 115 errors. This year, however, the Birds already have made 20 errors, including six last week. Reliever Don Stanhouse, who is unscored on in 10‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, notched his fourth and fifth saves.
Don Hood of Cleveland (4-4) matched his 1977 victory total as he won twice. With relief help from Jim Kern, Hood beat Toronto 4-2; Hood and Mike Paxton then defeated Oakland 6-2 on three hits.
For Toronto (3-4) there were demoralizing losses and impressive triumphs. Five errors in one game and 13 stranded runners in another led to setbacks. But Jesse Jefferson mowed down Chicago 4-0 with a three-hitter. For offense, the Blue Jays relied on Rico Carty (four homers) and ninth-inning hits by Roy Howell, whose two-run homer beat the Royals 3-1, and Willie Upshaw, whose two-run double toppled Kansas City 8-7.
DET 13-4 BOS 11-8 NY 9-9 MIL 9-10 CLEV 8-10 BALT 7-11 TOR 7-13
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
JEFF BURROUGHS: Eight RBIs and two homers were only part of the Atlanta outfielder's productivity, which also included eight consecutive hits (two shy of the National League record) and a .778 average (14 for 18).