It wasn't even September, but there was Pittsburgh's other lefthanded first baseman, John Milner, being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates in a wild celebration. Milner had just pinch-hit a mammoth grand-slam home run off Tug McGraw to give the Pirates (5-3) a dramatic 12-8 win over Philadelphia in the first game of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won the second game 5-2 to move ahead of Montreal into first place. McGraw was the victim of another Pirate slam, by Ed Ott, six days later. That homer came in a game that saw Pittsburgh overcome an 8-0 Philadelphia lead to win 14-11. McGraw's two big gopher balls—along with two other bases-loaded shots he allowed earlier in the year—put him in the record book alongside Detroit's Ray Narleski, who is the only other pitcher to give up four grand slams in a season.
After the Phillies' sixth straight loss, Manager Danny Ozark was feeling a little depressed. "I blame myself for everything that's happened," he said. "I don't know what else can happen, other than me taking a hike." Ozark stayed put, however, as Philadelphia (4-4) righted itself by taking all three games from the Expos. Montreal lost one of those games on a ninth-inning error and another by surrendering five unearned runs. In the same series Mike Schmidt hit his 39th homer, a career high. A crowd of 63,346, the largest in the regular season in the Phillies' history, came out to see a doubleheader with the Pirates. Philadelphia made the hometown fans happy with a victory in the first game on Bud Harrelson's single in the 12th, but Pittsburgh won the nightcap 3-2.
St. Louis (7-2) edged to within five games of the Pirates before Chicago stopped the Cardinals' seven-game winning streak. The Cards picked on the scrawny Mets for four wins, and then swept a doubleheader from the Cubs, 13-8 and 5-3. Bob Forsch won twice and John Denny pitched a two-hitter, but the biggest boosts came from Jerry Mumphrey and Keith Hernandez. Mumphrey hit .586 with nine RBIs, three of which came on an in-side-the-park homer. Hernandez went 16 for 36 with five doubles and 10 RBIs to take over the lead in the league batting race with a .342 average. Lou Brock had four hits, leaving him four short of 3,000.
Steve Dillard had a grand total of two home runs in four previous seasons with the Red Sox and Tigers, so his show of power for the Cubs (4-4) came as a considerable surprise. Dillard hit three homers, drove in nine runs and batted .478. Manager Herman Franks, who installed Dillard at second base when Ted Sizemore stopped hitting, remained unimpressed. "What's the big deal?" Franks said. "I hit .667 one day."
The Expos (3-5) were puzzled over the disappearance of Ross Grimsley, at least the Ross Grimsley who won 20 games for them last year. The Mets chased him twice, the second time after only a third of an inning, and his record fell to 8-8. The bright spots for Montreal were four homers in four days by Ellis Valentine and Rusty Staub's first home run for the Expos since he left Montreal eight years ago. The Mets (2-7) sank to 18 games out of first. Craig Swan's seven-hitter broke a five-game losing streak.
PITT 66-49 MONT 63-49 CHI 60-52 ST.L 59-54 PHIL 60-57 NY 47-66
With only 137 shopping days left, Houston Pitcher Joe Niekro had a thought: "Winning 20 games sure would be a nice Christmas present for my parents. A division title would be nice, too." Niekro and the Astros (3-2) both made Christmas Club deposits last week. Niekro's 2-1 victory over Atlanta made him the first pitcher to win 16 games this season, and Houston stayed 4½ games ahead of second-place Cincinnati. Joe's brother Phil could give their parents a matching present because he has 14 wins for the Braves. Unfortunately. Phil also has 15 losses, which means he could become the first National Leaguer since Irving Young of the 1905 Boston Beaneaters to win 20 and lose 20.
Generous Joe Niekro also had a present for Astro Reliever Joe Sambito. Sambito gets a free dinner every time he saves one of Niekro's victories, and he earned his fifth freebie for his performance against Atlanta. "I like to help Joe," said Sambito, who's seven years younger than the 34-year-old Niekro. "It reminds me of helping my father with the lawn." J. R. Richard didn't need any assistance in beating the Dodgers for the 10th straight time, 4-1. He allowed six hits, struck out 12 and drove in two runs. In an earlier 3-2 win over the Braves, the Astros set a club record with seven steals—by five different players—even though they only had 11 base runners.
There was good news—and bad news—for Cincinnati(4-2). George Foster, out with a pulled muscle since the All-Star break, hit four balls into the stands during batting practice and pronounced himself ready to play this week. But the Reds also learned that .316-hitter Ken Griffey would be lost for the season with a strained knee. Actually, the pitching staff didn't need either one of them as it allowed only 11 runs in six games. Frank Pas-tore, recently recalled from the minors, won twice, Mike LaCoss gained his 12th win with a four-hitter, and Bill Bonham two-hit Atlanta 3-1. In the process, Bonham stopped Bob Horner's hitting streak at 20 games, the longest in the league this year. Horner's hitting hadn't been of much help anyway, because the Braves (1-5) lost 14 of the 20 games.
Los Angeles (5-2) moved up to fourth, 2½ games out of third, as Don Sutton won twice and set Dodger records for strikeouts (2,494) and shutouts (50). The Giants (3-4) ended a five-game losing streak by winning three in a row. Ed Whitson seven-hit the Dodgers 7-1, Vida Blue returned to form in a 3-2 win over San Diego, and John Curtis drove in three runs and got the victory in a 10-7 defeat of the Padres. San Diego (2-3) benefited from John D'Acquisto's first shutout since 1974 and a four-hitter from Randy Jones, but still fell to fifth place. Ray Kroc, who owns the Padres among other franchises, thinks he has a solution. "I am thinking of firing all of our scouts," he said.
HOU 68-49 CIN 64-54 SF 55-62 LA 52-64 SD 52-65 ATL 46-71
Just a few hours earlier Bobby Murcer had delivered a moving eulogy at the funeral of teammate Thurman Munson in Canton, Ohio, and two innings before he had brought the Yankees (3-3) to within one run of Baltimore with a three-run homer. Now, with runners on second and third and none out in the bottom of the ninth, Murcer came to bat against Tippy Martinez. After two quick strikes, Murcer reached out for a low-and-away fastball and lined it into the leftfield corner to give New York an emotional 5-4 victory. Later in the week the Yankees lost two of three to the White Sox and blew a 6-4 lead in an 8-6 loss to the Orioles (2-4). Baltimore had earlier snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Milwaukee 3-2.
There were no surprises in the Boston Herald American poll that asked who was to blame for the Red Sox' second-place standing. After receiving 44% of the votes, Manager Don Zimmer said, "I knew I had a lock on it. I was like Secretariat. I won wire to wire." Nobody was complaining when Boston (5-3) took a doubleheader from Milwaukee 7-2 and 19-5. Or when the Red Sox trounced the Indians 12-3. But Fenway fans were howling when Boston dropped a doubleheader to Cleveland 6-4 and 8-2. Even so, the Red Sox were the only team in the division to play better than .500. With five home runs, Fred Lynn increased his total to 31 to take the league lead from Jim Rice, whose three homers gave him 30.
Following the horrendous doubleheader loss to Boston, Milwaukee Captain Sal Ban-do told his teammates, "Scatter when you leave the ball park. That way, the grenade won't get us all." The Brewers (3-4) got a measure of revenge later in the week by beating the Red Sox 9-6 in 10 innings.
Cleveland (4-4) stayed at .500 with good pitching from Len Barker, who beat his old team, the Rangers, twice, and Dan Spillner, who left the bullpen long enough to pitch a six-hit complete game victory over Boston. After Aurelio Lopez of Detroit (4-5) pitched 11‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings of relief over six days, Manager Sparky Anderson gave him the weekend off, instructing him to put a first baseman's glove on his throwing hand so he wouldn't use it. Toronto (2-4) had a three-hitter by Tom Underwood and a four-hitter by Dave Stieb.
BALT 76-38 BOS 70-44 MIL 67-50 NY 61-53 DET 59-57 CLEV 58-58 TOR 35-80
Richie Zisk hit two home runs and a double, and Pat Putnam went 4 for 5 with a pair of homers. Some more performances like those and Zisk and Putnam could end up in Cooperstown. Unfortunately for the Rangers (3-6), Zisk and Putnam were in Cooperstown—on Doubleday Field, to be exact, where the fences are short and the games don't count. Texas wasted 12 runs in a win over San Diego in the annual Hall of Fame game, and then proceeded to lose five of its next six real games and drop from second to fourth. The Rangers are 8-17 since the All-Star break, and they could use a day off to rest and regroup. They played three double-headers in four days and spent their "off day" in Cooperstown.
While Texas fell, Kansas City (6-1) rose from the ashes. Hal McRae, back in action after missing 51 games with a shoulder injury, went 11 for 31 with 13 RBIs, three home runs and three doubles. The Royals scored 56 runs during the week, including 11 in the seventh inning of a wild 16-12 win over Toronto. Kansas City also beat the Tigers four times, in the process sweeping its first doubleheader in nearly two years.
The fans are calling Jim Fregosi "Magic" for the way he has kept the Angels (4-3) in first place despite a heavily populated disabled list. Fregosi may not need his wand much longer, because his pitching staff should soon be intact again. Chris Knapp, sidelined for two months with a herniated disc, has been reactivated, and Nolan Ryan, out since July 25, tested his arm and will start next week. Even Frank Tanana, who hasn't pitched since June 10 because of tendinitis, vowed he would be back for the stretch drive. The Angels still had their bats: Don Baylor raised his major league-leading RBI total to 104; Rod Carew and Brian Downing kept hitting (their batting averages were .344 and .332, respectively); and Dan Ford batted .469 for the week.
American League hitters won't have Matt Keough to kick around anymore, at least not as a starter. A's Manager Jim Marshall sent the hard-luck pitcher to the bullpen for his own safety after the Angels beat him 8-1. The loss dropped Keough's record to 0-14, tying him with Joe Harris of the 1906 Red Sox for the worst season's start. The defeat was Keough's 18th straight, stretching back to last season, bringing him to within one of the league record. The rest of the Oakland A's (3-4) still had a decent week—for them—as Dave Revering hit five home runs and Mike Heath was twice a late-inning hero.
Minnesota (5-3) gained half a game on California, thanks to Mike Marshall's three saves and Ken Landreaux' .548 hitting. The next three weeks will determine whether the Twins are contenders or pretenders, because they will be playing 20 straight games against the Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees.
Chicago (4-2) had won only seven of 41 previous meetings with the Yankees, but the White Sox came bouncing out of their latest three-game series with two wins as Tex Wortham won the rubber game 5-1 on a two-hitter. Seattle Manager Darrell Johnson told reporters he had a secret ingredient for success. "Brewers' yeast has made me a better manager," he said. But after the Mariners won only two of six, Johnson decided to add wheat germ to his diet.
CAL 66-51 MINN 61-53 KC 60-55 TEX 60-56 CHI 51-63 SEA 49-68 OAK 35-82
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
DAN FORD: The Angel outfielder batted .469 with 10 RBIs and two home runs, and eight of his 15 hits were consecutive, tying Manager Jim Fregosi's club record. Ford also joined Fregosi as the only Angels to hit for the cycle.