Once again, as twilight descended on Southern California on a Friday night, Nolan Ryan took the mound. Exactly two weeks earlier he had thrown a near no-hitter. Not this time. There were no fans and there was no opposing team, only an anxious manager, team doctor and trainer. The usually hard-throwing Ryan lobbed four or five pitches in a 90-second test that was to have lasted 10 minutes. He stopped, walked over to Jim Fregosi and Dr. Lewis Yocum and together they disappeared into the clubhouse tunnel. And with them, perhaps, should his injury linger, went the pennant hopes of the California Angels (3-4). Ryan had felt his elbow pop on an 0-2 pitch to Reggie Jackson in the second inning of a game at Yankee Stadium. The injury was diagnosed as a possible strained muscle. Whatever it was, Ryan joined fellow starters Frank Tanana and Chris Knapp on the sidelines. No one knew exactly when any of them would return. Without them it is doubtful that even the Angel bats, which have produced 564 runs—the most in either league—can compensate. There were two bright notes, however: Don Baylor raised his RBI total to 96 and Joe Rudi hit his third grand slam of the year.
Geoff Zahn and Mike Marshall of Minnesota (3-4) stood watching Baylor, Rudi and the rest of the Angel lineup take batting practice before a matchup between the first- and second-place teams. It must have helped. The pair pitched a five-hitter, Marshall picking up his 20th save and Zahn getting his ninth win. But the Twins scored just seven runs in five games after getting 20 in their first two games.
The Rangers (1-5) continued their slide, losing two games each to Kansas City and last-place Toronto, and beating only Boston, 11-2, Steve Comer pitching a five-hitter for his 11th win. "We're always able to play super against contending clubs," said Centerfielder Al Oliver. "We just don't play consistently against the non-contending teams."
August 5, 1979
One of those "non-contenders" threatened to shed that status. Having lost 16 of 19 games, the Royals (5-2) started to play like the defending champions they are. They took two from the Rangers, two from the White Sox and handed Baltimore a rare defeat. Third Baseman George Brett hit four homers—three in one game—batted .379, drove in 11 runs and scored seven. Even Freddie Patek had a homer, his first of the year. "The midget smoked him," said Manager Whitey Herzog after the 5'4" shortstop's belt off Chicago's Ross Baumgarten. The White Sox (2-5) lost that game 6-1 despite a sensational play by Shortstop Greg Pryor, who dived to intercept a smash by First Baseman George Scott. Pryor caught the ball, rolled over, and, while on his back, threw a strike to first to beat Scott. "It's the best play I've ever seen by a shortstop," said Scott, who has spent 13½ years in the majors. "It's probably the best play I've ever seen," said an amazed Brett.
For the first time since joining the league in 1977, Seattle (2-6) beat Baltimore at home in Memorial Stadium, ending the Orioles' win streak at seven and giving Byron McLaughlin his eighth save. Two days later he picked up his ninth, when the Mariners shut out Oakland 1-0. The A's won the next night, though, to make it a 2-5 week. The other win came against the Red Sox, 8-6.
CAL 59-45 MIN 54-46 TEX 54-47 KC 50-51 CHI 46-56 SEA 44-61 OAK 28-76
It happens time and again. When the manager of a losing team is fired, his team responds by winning for his replacement. It happened to Jeff Torborg of Cleveland two years ago when he took over for Frank Robinson—the Indians winning seven straight—and it happened again last week. After months of rumors, Torborg was released following a doubleheader loss to Milwaukee. Third Base Coach Dave Garcia moved in and Cleveland (6-2) won six straight. Mindful that such good fortune was unlikely to last and that President Gabe Paul had talked with Bob Lemon, Garcia said, "I like to coach third base."
But, for now, Garcia is helping the Indians play the role of spoiler. They beat Milwaukee 5-4, snapping the Brewers' 10-game winning streak; they allowed Minnesota only four runs in three games while sweeping that series; and they took Chicago twice. But they still were 18½ games behind Baltimore. However, the Indians had the distinction of being the only team in the division not to lose ground to the Orioles, the Birds having also gone 6-2 to bring their record to .667. And Baltimore showed no sign of letting up.
"In order to do what we've done," said Manager Earl Weaver, with pure Weaverian logic, "we have to keep doing what we've done in the past." And last week they did, a different player coming through every night: Steve Stone won his seventh and eighth and Mike Flanagan his 14th, on a three-hitter, to become the first 14-game winner in the league. When Flanagan was knocked out in the second inning of another game, Tippy Martinez came in and retired the last 23 batters and won when Pat Kelly pinch-hit a grand slam in the eighth. Gary Roenicke saved a near grand slam with a spectacular leaping catch several feet above the fence. Two nights later, Lee May hit still another grand slam to key a nine-run fourth inning. The Orioles out-scored their opponents 56-26, getting 84 hits while allowing just 54.
The biggest satisfaction for the third-place Brewers (5-3, 6½ games out) was whipping New York (4-3, 13 back). The 10-game Brewer win streak had come solely at the expense of the pre-Garcia Indians and Toronto, and then Milwaukee lost two to Detroit (4-3) when the Tigers held them to two runs on consecutive nights while scoring 16. Jack Morris gave up five hits on Wednesday and rookie Dan Petry seven on Thursday. But the Brewers snapped back against the Yankees. New York fans thought their team had been taken all week. There were accusations of fan interference in a loss to California, arguments aplenty and a brawl between Reggie Jackson and Milwaukee Pitcher Mike Caldwell. Jackson had been decked by two "inside" pitches. He tossed his bat at Caldwell as he fouled out. Caldwell picked it up and banged it on the ground, breaking it. Jackson, enraged, charged the mound and started choking Caldwell. Reggie was ejected, Caldwell was not, causing Manager Billy Martin to play the game under protest. The theatrics obscured what should have been a satisfying week for New York. Jim Kaat and Don Hood combined for a shutout; Ed Figueroa won his first game since May 9 after coming off the disabled list; Rich Gossage got his first save since April 18; and Ron Guidry tossed a three-hit shutout against California.
Despite turning two triple plays in one week—making it three for the year to tie a major league record—Boston (4-3) lost 1½ games to the Orioles. The week belonged to Carl Yastrzemski, who made a catch in leftfield that he ranked as his best in 12 years. And after going 16 games without a home run, Yaz hit his 400th—at home—to the delight of 30,395 fans. He was within 35 hits of becoming the first American Leaguer to get 3,000 hits as well as 400 home runs.
Toronto (3-3) beat Texas twice to snap a seven-game losing streak. Dave Stieb, the only Blue Jay pitcher with a winning record, got one victory and Tom Underwood picked up his fourth—against 13 losses. Pitcher Dave Lemanczyk pitched no-hit ball for six innings, settling for a 3-0 three-hitter and his 11th complete game of the season.
BALT 68-34 BOS 61-37 MIL 62-41 NY 55-47 DET 51-49 CLEV 49-52 TOR 32-71
The first meeting came at midnight following the All-Star Game. Davey Lopes was spirited away from a party by Dodger vice-presidents Fred Claire and Al Campanis and Manager Tom Lasorda for a "talk." Two days later came a closed-door clubhouse meeting. That day the Dodgers won. And the next. After having lost 19 of their previous 23 games, the Dodgers (6-1) won six straight, and eight of 10, and at long last rose from the cellar. Oh, they were still 14 games out, and there was little talk of pennant fever, but they were winning. They scored 57 runs during the week, nearly double their weekly average, and put together back-to-back road victories for the first time since April 29. And they found a new star. Or rather an old one who had been sitting around rusting. After nine years in the bullpen, during which he had just 59 saves, Charlie Hough started a game for the second time in his major league career. In six innings against the Mets he allowed just four hits and two walks and the Dodgers won 4-3. He started again against the first-place Astros, holding them to eight hits and three runs in seven innings, his longest outing since he pitched a complete game in Spokane in 1971. "I like starting," said the knuckleballer. "I can throw more fastballs. It's fun." Also having fun for a change was Dusty Baker, who emerged from a prolonged slump to drive in 13 runs on 13 hits, which included three doubles and two homers, and score 11 runs.
Houston (5-2) slowed down the Dodgers when Ken Forsch picked up his second win of the week, allowing L.A. just three hits after four-hitting the Cubs earlier. J. R. Richard, who had been struggling after four straight losses, received a phone call from ex-teammate Bob Watson. "You're overstriding," said the Red Sox first baseman. Richard adjusted and struck out 12 Cubs to raise his strikeout total to 174, and won the game 6-4. Also winning for the Astros was Joe Niekro, who on Monday got his 14th victory, the same night brother Phil of Atlanta (3-7) got his 14th, high for the league. Phil allowed just two hits in an 8-0 victory to snap the Pirates' nine-game winning streak. The brothers pitched again on Friday night—this time losing, Phil's a heart-breaker (2-0) to the Reds.
Cincinnati (6-4) placed George Foster on the 15-day disabled list because of a pulled adductor muscle in his right thigh suffered in the All-Star Game. Several Reds rushed in to take up the slack left by the .333-hitting 72-RBI slugger: Ken Griffey got 15 hits in 26 at bats; Johnny Bench hit three home runs and drove in 12; Dave Concepcion hit .421 and had a grand slam; and Dave Collins, Foster's replacement in leftfield, hit .348. Nonetheless, the Reds remained 3½ games behind Houston.
Vida Blue of San Francisco (3-5) beat Montreal 8-6 for his 150th career win, and Jack Clark got his 20th home run of the year in the 11th inning to defeat San Diego 4-3. The Padres (3-4) had little to cheer about until Saturday, when Gaylord Perry struck out five Giants to pass Bob Gibson and move into second place (3,120) behind Walter Johnson (3,508) on the alltime strikeout list. "I can catch him," said the 40-year-old Cy Young award winner. "Three more years."
HOUS 59-46 CIN 56-50 SF 50-54 SD 48-58 LA 44-59 ATL 43-61
After leading the division for 45 straight days, Montreal yielded to Pittsburgh and perhaps the inevitable. The Expos (3-5) started with an 8-6 defeat at the hands of San Francisco, followed it with a 14-inning, 4-3 loss in San Diego in which they committed five errors, and wound up by dropping three straight to the Pirates. Those three defeats occurred in Montreal, where the Expos had won 26 of their first 32 games. The largest baseball crowd of the season, and in the history of Canada, 59,260, turned out to watch the first two games—a doubleheader—and to welcome home Rusty Staub, Le Grand Orange, just in from Detroit. After getting a three-minute standing ovation when he appeared as a pinch hitter late in the game, Staub not so grandly flied out on the first pitch. All in all, it was a dismal week for the Expos, one marked by poor defense, blown plays, weak pitching, lack of speed on the bases and an inability to deliver in the clutch. In other words, inexperience. After the third loss to the Pirates, Pitcher Rudy May said, "I don't think anyone's feeling the pressure, though. Half of these guys aren't old enough to know what pressure is."
The veteran Pirates (6-4) know what pressure is, but usually they don't apply it until later in the season. On Sunday, Pittsburgh beat Atlanta twice, Pitcher Jim Bibby giving up only five hits in the second game, which he won (3-2) with a two-run homer. The two games lasted nearly 10 hours because of several rain delays. "The day is short when you win," said Bibby. The next day, another twin bill was shorter, but longer in the Bibby sense, the Pirates winning the first game but losing the second despite making their first triple play in eight years. Before taking the Expos, Pittsburgh lost three straight to Cincinnati and endured yet another delayed game—this one held up 35 minutes as a result of a debated call by Umpire Dick Stello.
One couldn't argue with Dave Kingman's week. After missing six games with injuries, Kong returned to the lineup and oh how he made his presence felt! He warmed up with his 30th home run, against Cincinnati, then came roaring into New York and in a 20-hour binge hit five more. The first two were on Friday night, the next three Saturday. "All the guys are in awe of him," said Mets Catcher John Stearns. "The more he hits, the better. You can't root against him."
Stearns himself homered in that game for the Mets (3-4), as did Lee Mazzilli, which undoubtedly gave the fans—and, more particularly, management—greater joy than did the 6-4 victory. Their All-Star centerfielder—in New York they call him "The Franchise"—had collided head on at top speed with rookie Dan Norman while going after a fly ball in Dodger Stadium Monday night. Maz caught the ball, but it trickled out of his glove when he fell to the ground, where he lay unconscious for 10 minutes. After spending the night in a local hospital—he suffered a mild concussion—he was released, complaining of nothing more than a headache.
The Cardinals (4-3) hope their headaches are over. Catcher Ted Simmons returned to the lineup after breaking his left wrist on June 24. During his absence the Redbirds, who were in second place at the time, 4½ games back, lost 17 of 27 and fell to fifth, seven games out. Simmons had four hits in 13 at bats last week, driving in four runs while scoring three in the Cardinals' four victories. And he helped get St. Louis pitching back on track. Bob Forsch, who is 4-9, hurled a three-hitter against Philadelphia, Silvio Martinez pitched a five-hitter, and Pete Vuckovich picked up his first complete-game victory since June 9. "He makes it easier for me," said Vuckovich. "He knows me like a book. I don't have to think; I just worry about mechanics."
The Phillies had better think and worry about mechanics. They won once, then lost five straight. Only Mike Schmidt was producing, hitting three more home runs, to tie him for the league lead with Kingman at 35. "This is the best groove I've ever been in," said Schmidt. It might be the Phillies' worst.
PITT 56-43 MONT 54-42 CHI 54-43 PHIL 52-48 ST.L 49-47 NY 41-55
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
DAVE KINGMAN: In addition to his six home runs, the Chicago Cubs leftfielder drove in nine runs and scored six while batting .526 for the week and raising his season average to .306, 74 points higher than his career average.