As the Eastern leaders battled on one coast (page 26), Kansas City (5-2) and California (5-3) fought it out on the other. Before arriving in Anaheim, K.C. was enjoying another late-season drive. In 1977 the Royals won 15 straight and 23 of 24 in September, finishing with a divisional title and the best record in baseball. This September they had moved 3½ games in front with six wins in a row. Early in the week Larry Gura beat Detroit 6-2 on five hits, Al Hrabosky survived a bases-loaded, no-outs situation to preserve Rich Gale's 5-3 win over Oakland, and Dennis Leonard whipped the A's 3-0 on a two-hitter. The Royals also overcame a seven-run deficit to beat Oakland 11-8. "Without a doubt, our best comeback of the season," said Manager Whitey Herzog.
Meanwhile, the Angels had been under fire for losing to Texas by scores of 11-5 and 9-2. "Sometimes I think the manager has more desire than the 25 players put together," said California Executive Vice-President Buzzy Bavasi referring to the enthusiasm of his skipper, Jim Fregosi. Added veteran Ron Fairly, "This is a very unemotional ball club. It's very frustrating to a person like myself. I feel the more involved I become in the game, the easier it is to play."
The Royals opened the critical California series with a 9-7 win. In a five-run eighth inning, little-used sub Jerry Terrell made the key play, scoring the winning run from second on an infield hit. Leading now by five games in the loss column, the Royals were in position to all but wrap up their third straight title by sweeping a Saturday night double-header. Instead, California won 3-2 and 4-2. Joe Rudi and Don Baylor had timely hits, and Don Aase and Dave Frost outdueled Gale and Leonard. Now it was time for some Royal gripes. The team's happy-family image took a beating when teammates accused Shortstop Freddie Patek, who has missed 20 games with illness and injury, of malingering.
September 17, 1978
But front-runner dissension was nothing compared to the bleating of the division's also-rans. In Texas (2-4), the Rangers were taking shots at their heretofore popular manager, Billy Hunter. Quoted anonymously in the Dallas Times Herald, one player said, "If Hunter were managing Kansas City, we'd be as far ahead as we are behind." Another said, "The man's a dummy, and I think 95% of the players who have been around agree with me." The story divided the Rangers into two cliques—a small one questioning the manager's ability, a larger one questioning the manager's ability to deal with the small one. The players themselves were not above reproach. On three consecutive pitches to Angel batters, Reggie Cleveland served up a two-run homer, a single and another two-run homer. And Richie Zisk and Bobby Bonds nearly came to blows—over nothing, they both agreed.
The worst news in Oakland (1-4) occurred on the night of a victory. Civic leaders attempted to stage a "Save the A's" night. Unfortunately, it coincided with the annual Lions Night. Finally, both sides agreed on a joint promotion, but only 9,841 fans showed up to watch the A's demolish Texas 11-4. Lamented owner Charlie Finley, who had hoped for 50,000, "You can't ballyhoo a funeral."
Chicago won four of seven as Lerrin LaGrow got a win and a save and Ken Kravec and Rich Wortham threw complete-game victories. The week went sour when Manager Larry Doby accused Umpire Joe Brinkman of making a racial slur in the heat of an argument.
Minnesota (3-4) was shut out a club-record three straight times. Even more embarrassing was a slipup by Dan Ford, who stopped between third and home to tell trailing runner Joe Morales not to slide when he scored. Ford then neglected to touch the plate and was passed by Morales. Said Manager Gene Mauch, "I've never seen anything like that in 19 years of big league managing, and I never expect to again."
Seattle (3-3) got one of its wins in a game in which Lee Stanton, a .181 hitter, drove in the winning run and Glenn Abbott used his "rope-a-dope" tactics to startle the Brewers. "I wore them out with my fastball, and then got 'em with a bunch of breaking stuff," he said.
KC 77-63 CAL 77-66 TEX 68-70 OAK 65-76 MINN 62-80 CHI 60-82 SEA 53-86
While New York (7-1) and Boston (2-5) went head to head at the top, Milwaukee (5-2) and Baltimore (4-2) kept gaining. The Brewers, 10 games behind on Aug. 14, have chopped 5½ games off the lead by going 19-8, primarily against losing clubs. While Milwaukee beat up on Texas, Seattle, Toronto and Minnesota last week, Larry Hisle reached the 30-homer and 100-RBI plateaus, and Bill Travers won his 18th game. But the Brewers also had two painful losses—Mike Caldwell throwing away a 3-0 lead in losing 4-3 to Seattle, and Jerry Augustine, Bill Castro and Bob McClure together squandering a 4-2 advantage as the Brewers fell 5-4 to Toronto. Nonetheless, Manager George Bamberger, who has had a brilliant first season, went right on insisting, "I have a feeling we're going to catch them. Yes, both clubs."
The Orioles broke out the champagne—not for getting back in the race, but for twice beating the Blue Jays, who had defeated Baltimore seven out of 10 times. The Orioles looked as if they could beat better clubs, too. Getting three saves from Don Stanhouse, they extended their latest hot streak to 16-4. Stanhouse even saved one game without throwing a pitch; he picked Carlton Fisk of the Red Sox off first with two out in the ninth. "I put the runner to sleep," said Stanhouse. "I needed an easy save. Look at all the tough ones I get."
Detroit (3-4) could not keep up with the winners, dropping one to Kansas City and three of four to New York. Ron LeFlore's 27-game hitting streak was stopped by the Yankees, and he muffed a fly ball in the same game. Cleveland lost four of six, and club officials began changing the subject. The city of Cleveland is a "sleeping giant," boasted President Gabe Paul and majority owner Steve O'Neill, whose team has drawn only 731,132 so far this season. Not even Buddy Bell's 1,000th career hit could prevent Cleveland Press writer Bob Sudyk from demanding the scalp of Manager Jeff Torborg. "Torborg is young, talented and intelligent," wrote Sudyk, "but still learning on the job. He remains too nice a guy to nudge awake 'The Sleeping Giant,' but should be groomed...for the front office."
Toronto suffered one of the most immemorable weeks of the franchise's brief and immemorable history. First, the Blue Jays lost six of seven and were one-hit by California's Chris Knapp. Then Willie Horton, the only Jay to hit in that game, missed the team's next outing after a bizarre parking-lot incident. Horton claimed that he was kayoed by a mounted policeman's riding crop, and that one of his sons was stepped on by a police horse. Horton, his wife, two sons and three others were charged with creating a disturbance. And finally, writer Neil Campbell of the Globe and Mail was tossed out of Exhibition Park after admitting that he had taken a folder of the club's documents.
BOS 86-55 NY 85-56 MIL 82-60 BALT 80-62 DET 77-64 CLEV 60-80 TOR 56-88
No team in the division had a winning week, and the best performances were turned in by players on season-long losers. Forkballer Ken Forsch of Houston (3-4) threw only 84 pitches in two-hitting the Dodgers 5-0. "He didn't even work up a sweat," said Los Angeles Manager Tom Lasorda. "He could have lasted another nine innings." No less effective was Jose Cruz, who has batted .348 since the All-Star break. With a .407 week, Cruz increased his average to .313, second best in the National League, and promised, "If I'm still close to the lead in a couple of weeks, you'll see me start bunting for hits."
Atlanta's (3-4) other knuckleball pitcher, Phil Niekro, became the first 18-game winner in the league. Niekro beat San Diego 8-1 and L.A. 7-4. The Braves might have had a winning week, but Manager Bobby Cox removed Pitcher Buddy J. Solomon, who had won his last three starts and had an earned run average of 2.02 in his last five turns, with a 2-0 lead. The Pirates rallied against his replacements, Craig Skok and Gene Garber, and went on to win 6-3.
Resigned to finishing fourth, San Diego (3-3) called up five rookies. The team's best work, however, was done by veterans Gaylord Perry, who had his 16th and 17th wins, and Rollie Fingers, who got his 31st and 32nd saves. Another veteran, Randy Jones, continued pitching well, but lost because of two more errors by his teammates. The Padres have made 43 errors behind Jones, whose record is 11-13.
The Dodgers (3-3) stayed comfortably in front, thanks in part to a 3-2 win over Houston by Burt (Happy) Hooton, their glum-faced righthander. Since the All-Star break, Hooton has pitched well enough to cheer himself up: a 9-1 record, and nine consecutive games in which he has lasted at least until the ninth inning.
The Giants (3-4) were preparing for the worst. As the team blew leads in four losses, fatalistic fans recalled that the club has led the division 10 times since 1958, each time collapsing in the stretch. "At least we're where they can talk about us folding," said Manager Joe Altobelli. With Relievers Gary Lavelle and Randy Moffitt out with injuries, the talk made sense.
Cincinnati (3-3) Manager Sparky Anderson was surprisingly chipper, though his team fell 6½ games behind. Asked why, he said, "The Yankees and Pittsburgh." The realities seemed to preclude a surge of the sort the Pirates and New York have made: Reds hitting and runs were down and Cincy's ERA was higher than its average of runs scored. Most embarrassing was Tom Seaver's 14th loss, his highest total ever. And that was not the only place that Seaver was too high. "He's pitching too high," said Bob Watson of the Astros, whose sacrifice fly had beaten Seaver 3-2. "He's up in the strike zone, and we're getting the fat part of the bat on the ball." To further depress everyone but Anderson, Pete Rose, who is playing out his option, told San Diegans, "It's been a pleasure being here."
LA 84-58 SF 81-61 CIN 77-64 SD 73-70 HOUS 66-75 ATL 62-80
Pittsburgh's (5-3) pennant express was temporarily derailed—by St. Louis and New York, of all teams. First, Ted Simmons cracked an eighth-inning, two-out homer to beat the Pirates 5-4 and halt their winning streak at 11. Then the Mets ended Bert Blyleven's string at six games without a loss, beating him 3-2, and defeated Jim Rooker 4-1. And it may be tough for the Pirates to get back on the track, because sore-armed John Candelaria doubts he will be able to pitch effectively again this season.
League-leading Philadelphia (6-3) never felt seriously threatened by the Pirates, although at one point the Bucs were only one game back. The Phillies began the week by returning from a 9-6 road trip, an excellent performance for a team that usually fares poorly away from Veterans Stadium. "When we left home, I don't think anybody gave us a chance to return with the division lead," said Manager Danny Ozark. "The media just thought we'd go through the motions and fold." Back home, the Phillies went through the right motions and built a six-game winning streak. Looking ahead to the playoffs, they once again said June 15 was the season's turning point. Last year they acquired Outfielder Bake McBride on that date. This year they re-acquired Pitcher Dick Ruthven, who has since gone 11-4. Ruthven threw a 1-0 three-hitter at the Cardinals last week.
The Mets (4-4) had good reason to act starry-eyed. Brooklyn's Lee Mazzilli, authentic Saturday Night Fever material, had two homers, two singles and three RBIs in an 8-5 win over the Dodgers—and then passed a Hollywood screen test. And John Stearns stole his 24th base to break an unofficial 75-year-old record for steals by National League catchers.
Chicago (4-5) blew four leads, thereby falling out of the race. The main culprit was Reliever Bruce Sutter, who could not hold three of the leads, but he had plenty of help. Ivan DeJesus lost a fly ball in the sun, and Manager Herman Franks acted sunstroked. Under fire for removing pitchers prematurely, Franks became enraged at a call and three times kicked dirt onto the shoes of Umpire Doug Harvey. Franks faces a possible fine—and perhaps a suspension.
Montreal won four of seven as Larry Parrish hit .400, but Dick Williams—one of the game's most realistic managers—pooh-poohed talk of contention. "Two weeks ago, I knew what we had to do," he said. "Somebody had to get hot to make it a race! The Pirates did. We didn't."
In a painful season, St. Louis (3-5) looked for balm wherever it could find some. The Cards were solaced by the performance of rookie Danny O'Brien, who pitched well in his debut before losing 2-1 to the Phillies.
PHIL 78-63 PITT 74-67 CHI 71-71 MONT 67-76 ST.L 61-82 NY 58-85
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
AMOS OTIS: The Kansas City centerfielder went 14 for 26 with a homer, a triple, two doubles, 10 runs batted in and four stolen bases. He had two four-hit games and three times delivered key hits in Royal victories.