Danny Ozark sat in his office and produced a rare smile. After a disastrous 5-9 road trip, his Phillies (4-4) had just opened a home stand to a thunderous chorus of boos. But the Phils had won, beating the Mets and getting, of all things, a complete game from a pitcher, Nino Espinosa, on two days' rest. "Maybe they need to pitch on just two days' rest," said Ozark wryly. Then gloom returned. The next night, starter Larry Christenson strained a groin muscle while batting, and Randy Lerch broke a wrist in a scuffle with a gang of youths after the game. Dick Ruthven was already suffering from an inflamed right elbow, so the Phils found themselves minus three starters.
Which explains why Reliever Tug McGraw started against the Giants, only his second such assignment in five years. He lasted four innings as the Phils lost 8-6. Two brighter notes: Mike Schmidt hit home runs in four consecutive plate appearances (over two games) to become the first player to do so twice, and Steve Carlton threw his fifth one-hitter, blanking the Mets.
The Pirates (3-3) celebrated the Fourth of July in St. Louis. First-place Montreal (page 20) had lost the previous night, and the Pirates had pulled to within 5½ games. Before the Independence Day game, John Candelaria and Willie Stargell stood looking out to right centerfield. "No way you can put a ball over that scoreboard," challenged Candelaria. No? In the seventh inning Stargell put a roman candle of a shot over it, 500 feet into the upper deck, for his 443rd career home run and second of the game, and the Pirates won 6-4. But the Pirate hitting slacked off, and after having won 12 of their last 18 games, they dropped three straight to St. Louis and Cincinnati and scored just 18 runs during the week.
July 15, 1979
Chicago (6-3) got twice as many runs as the Pirates and won twice as many games, getting 36 runs in cozy Wrigley Field. The Cubs have either won or tied 11 straight series and haven't lost two games in a row since May. And after receiving a couple of gift games from New York, they beat the best, taking two from Montreal and two from Houston. They did it with the help of a rookie, Scot Thompson, and a player who has seen little action in recent years, Mike Vail. The two have been platooning in rightfield since the departure of Bobby Murcer to the Yankees. In the first game of a doubleheader against the Astros, Thompson had five singles in five at bats and was greeted by the Bleacher Bums with cries of "Bobby Who?" In the second game, Vail responded with a two-run homer, two singles and four RBIs, and the chant changed to "Scot Who?" There's not a pitcher in the league who has to ask Dave Who? Kingman's home-run pace slowed a bit, but he blasted two for a total of 29. He also drove in six runs and even threw a runner out at the plate.
St. Louis (5-4) also received some help from a rookie. Catcher Terry Kennedy, called up from Springfield the week before to replace injured Ted Simmons, hit his first major league home run in grand style—a grand slam in the eighth inning against the Phils. Manager Ken Boyer tried him as a pinch hitter in the second game of the day's doubleheader with the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, two outs and a runner on second. Alas, this time he popped up, but—hold it—the ball dropped safely and the Cardinals won again making Reliever Mark Littell a two-time winner for the day.
The Mets (1-7), who had given signs of making a run for fifth place, fell apart after winning three straight and dropped to 16½ games back.
MONT 47-29 CHI 41-36 PITT 40-37 ST.L 41-38 PHIL 43-40 NY 31-46
Tradition has it that a team comfortably ensconced in first place on July 4 will finish there. Houston (4-3) is giving every indication it intends to do just that. Its speed is the best in the league and its pitching may be, too. The defense is exceptional, the top reliever has not allowed an earned run in 24 games and the Astros have the ability to get key hits. "The only thing we lack is power," says Manager Bill Virdon, whose team has yet to lose more than three in a row. "If you play the game right, you don't need that." The Astros didn't seem to need it. Joe Niekro won his 12th and 13th games against three losses, Ken Forsch allowed just two earned runs on six hits in his second strong outing since coming off the disabled list, and Joe Sambito picked up three saves to bring his total to 10. He has the lowest ERA in the majors: 1.08. Houston had a six-game winning streak on the road, its longest since 1973, before losing three of four, including a double-header to the Cubs.
Cincinnati (3-4) turned Riverfront Stadium into a war zone. Baseball's latest beanball episode involved Joe Morgan, the target of Houston Pitcher Joaquin Andujar, who in turn got brushed back in his next at bat. Both benches emptied, but no one was hurt in the ensuing fracas. Pitching was the Reds' strong point for a change, their staff yielding just 22 runs in the seven games. Still, the Reds fell twice to San Francisco (3-4). In the first game of a doubleheader, Giant Reliever Pedro Borbon got a save by retiring ex-teammates George Foster and Johnny Bench with the bases loaded.
San Diego went 4-2, the four wins coming against the lowly Dodgers—how's that sound?—and the Mets. Padre superstar Dave Winfield hit a 12th-inning home run to beat New York and played host for 1,200 underprivileged New York children during the four-game Mets series.
More than 51,000 fans, the largest crowd in two years, packed Atlanta Stadium on the Fourth. The Braves (5-2) had just climbed out of the cellar for the first time since April 16. "I heard the crowd screaming," said Outfielder Gary Matthews, "and I said, 'Let's go.' " So Matthews did, hitting his 17th home run. San Francisco Reliever Gary Lavelle balked in the winning run in the 7-6 game. Surprisingly effective hitting and pitching gave the Braves 12 wins in their last 19 games. Rookie Tony Brizzolara won twice, yielding but four runs in 16‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, and the way Atlanta veteran Phil Niekro (11-10) and brother Joe (13-3) were going, they could become the second set of brothers to win 20 games in the same year—Jim and Gaylord Perry did it in 1970.
The Dodgers (1-5) continued to plummet. After losing twice to San Diego, they dropped to last place for the first time in 11 years. Manager Tommy Lasorda was summoned back to Los Angeles for a 90-minute conference with President Peter O'Malley and Vice-President Al Campanis. He arrived on the field for a game in Montreal just after the playing of the national anthems. No one discussed what had gone on and Lasorda, who, as usual, is on a one-year contract, remained the manager. For now.
HOUS 53-34 CIN 44-40 SF 41-43 SD 39-48 ATL 36-48 LA 34-51
After winning 22 of 25 games, the Orioles (1-5) lost five straight and were shut out twice. In five games against the Rangers and Angels, they scored nine runs to their opponents' 32 and left 33 men on base. Even their pitching—the best in the American League—fizzled. After winning 10 straight, Dennis Martinez lost his fourth in a row. Jim Palmer, citing a sore elbow, once again removed himself from the rotation, and Reliever Tim Stoddard was ailing with a muscle tear. The team ERA rose from 3.32 to 3.54.
"I ain't worried," said Manager Earl Weaver. "We're still in first." But the Birds' lead, which was 5½ games at the beginning of the week, slipped to just two games over second-place Boston (4-3).
The Yankees (6-2) took the final two games of their series with the Red Sox and set a league attendance record (206,016) for a four-game series. They were playing once again like the Yankees of yore, or at least of 1978, cutting their deficit to Baltimore from 12 to eight games. They were running and stealing bases again, Billy Martin-style. Reggie Jackson, recovered from his leg injury, was ripping balls over fences. Tommy John returned to form, winning two complete games and allowing just one earned run in 18 innings to become the league's first 13-game winner. And the presence of rookie Ron Davis made the absence of Rich Gossage less catastrophic. Since replacing the injured Goose on May 28, the young reliever has won eight games without a defeat and saved four. Teammates nicknamed him "The Vulture" when he turned a couple of sure saves into wins for himself by blowing a lead.
Before a matchup with Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry, Lary Sorensen of the Brewers (3-4) felt a no-hitter in the air. "With Guidry you always feel he can pitch a no-hitter," explained the young righthander. And for 7‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings it was a no-hitter—Sorensen's, not Guidry's. "I was thanking my infielders for their good plays, but no one was talking to me," said Sorensen, who is in his second full major league year. "They'd just walk away. I got so lonely I started talking to a Gatorade bucket." When Chris Chambliss got a hit in the eighth, Third Baseman Sal Bando came to the mound and broke the silence, "We have to win this game." Which they did, 3-0, Sorensen pitching a two-hitter. But the ground the Brewers gained during the Oriole slide was erased when they lost three straight to Sparky Anderson's clean-shaven Tiger youngsters. Detroit (5-3) was rescued three times—by the rubber-armed Mexican Aurelio Lopez, called Se‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±or Smoke, to reach .500.
Cleveland's 4-3 week was overshadowed by the bad manners of club president Gabe Paul. He had leaked to the press and whoever else would listen the news that Bob Lemon was to be the next Cleveland manager. But Lemon declined. Paul then said Jeff Torborg, the incumbent, was his manager—for now. But Torborg rose up and announced that he was quitting at the end of the season, saying, "I don't want my players to think that when they lose a game they are costing me my job." The Indians rallied behind their manager and won four of the next six games.
Toronto, splitting six games, languished 28½ behind Baltimore.
BAL 54-29 BOS 51-30 MIL 47-37 NY 47-38 DET 40-40 CLEV 38-44 TOR 27-59
More than the other three divisions, this one promises late-season excitement. For the moment it is the Angels and Rangers seesawing in and out of the lead. Both teams took advantage of Baltimore's decline last week. California (6-1), led by Bobby Grich, Don Baylor and Joe Rudi, batted .330 and scored 59 runs, nearly twice as many as Texas and 44 more than last year's division-champion Royals. They won two games from the Orioles, three from the A's and one from the Royals. The Rangers (4-2) triumphed on pitching, as they made it 12 victories in their last 14 games. Steve Comer shut out Baltimore on Monday night, Fergie Jenkins did likewise the next night on a one-hitter, during which he had 10 strikeouts, and on Saturday, Doc Medich, pressed into duty as a starter when Jon Matlack developed a sore elbow, combined with Jim Kern, who picked up his 15th save, for another one-hit shutout. And when rookie Danny Darwin allowed five runs on Wednesday, the Rangers rode to the rescue with 15 hits and nine runs for another win.
No wonder Steve Busby of the Royals (1-5) had a fainting spell. After losing to the Red Sox one night and then, on the next, seeing his team blow a game on a two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth, the righthander keeled over and was carried out of the park on a stretcher. "He's O.K.," said Red Sox trainer Charlie Moss. "He just didn't have much pep." Neither did his teammates. All except Willie Wilson, who has 37 stolen bases and can beat out any bunt he lays down. Said Sox Manager Don Zimmer: "I played with Willie Davis and I thought he was the fastest I'd ever seen, but this guy's feet never touch the ground."
At the beginning of the season, Gene Mauch praised his Twins (4-4) pitching staff as the best he has had in 20 years of managing in the big leagues. But it is the Twins bats that have carried the team the first half, with a league-leading team average of .292, while the team ERA is 4.35. Jerry Koosman got his 10th win on a four-hitter last week for his 150th career victory. Chicago (3-3) and Seattle (3-5) fell further behind. Oakland (2-6) outlasted the Rangers in a 13-12, 15-inning marathon that produced 50 hits, eight shy of the league record, but dropped 3½ games further into the cellar. They are currently at .276, 26½ games back, and have a shot at another record: worst winning percentage in baseball history.
CAL 50-36 TEX 48-35 MINN 43-38 KC 43-40 CHI 36-46 SEA 37-50 OAK 24-63
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
DON BAYLOR: In seven games the Angels' designated hitter had seven home runs, a double and five singles for a .481 average, driving in 17 runs and scoring 11. He has 79 RBIs, the most in either league, and 21 homers.