While players in all the other divisions were still going at it tooth and nail, spitter and slider, the Orioles (3-3) simply sat in the clubhouse and clinched their division. The Brewers did the job for them, by losing 6-3 to Minnesota. The Birds got the news 20 minutes before a scheduled doubleheader with Cleveland. Forty-eight bottles of champagne sat chilling in the refrigerator; clubhouse attendants methodically covered the players' lockers with plastic to guard against sprayed bubbly; and after one loss and a 20-minute rain delay that ended in a postponement of the nightcap, the Birds celebrated.
Earl Weaver had not been idle while waiting for the clincher. He had his scouts busy charting every pitch, every hit, every step taken by a base runner on every possible playoff and Series opponent. And clearly Weaver doesn't intend to lose in the playoffs; his pitchers have been taking batting practice for nearly two months, this being the year for National League rules in the Series.
The Milwaukee loss that did it for Baltimore was one of only two the Brewers suffered in six outings. They beat the Angels 2-1 and swept three from Seattle, scoring 26 runs on 39 hits. "Second place is important, too," said Manager George Bamberger. "I'd like to see us do better than last year." They already have. Gorman Thomas raised his league-leading total of home runs to 43 and set a club record of 116 RBIs. The Brewers have already surpassed—by seven—the team record for homers in a season (173) set last year, and with eight games to go, they were just three wins short of tying 1978's 93.
September 30, 1979
Don Zimmer finally found someone willing to speak out in his behalf. "Letting Zimmer go is not what's needed here," said Red Sox (4-3) Shortstop Rick Burleson. "We've got to have a couple of more pitchers and no injuries." While management can do little about the latter, they can do a lot about the former as rookie John Tudor, recently called up from the minors, showed. He beat the Tigers 4-1 to become the first lefthanded starter to win a game for the Sox at Fenway since Bill Lee won on July 15 of last year.
The Yankees (2-6) spent the week in the headlines. On Sunday the winners of the last two world championships were mathematically eliminated from the race. What better way to take a fan's mind off that than a good old-fashioned Yankee-style controversy? The New York papers are always willing to oblige. It had to do with Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. But, then, you already knew that.
It was none other than Sparky Anderson's Tigers (3-3) that had the honor of putting the Yankees to rest, as Lance Parrish hit a bases-loaded single in the 12th inning for an 8-4 win. The real surprise for the Tigers has been rubber-armed Aurelio Lopez, who has more pitches than Anderson has superstitions. Lopez won his ninth game and saved his 20th. "He throws everything at you but his glove," marveled one scout.
Everybody was climbing all over New York. Throwing the traditional blend of fast-balls and curves, Rick Waits of Cleveland (4-2) beat the Yankees 5-1 on five hits, and Cliff Johnson belted two home runs and drove in five runs against his former teammates in a 16-3 win. The Blue Jays (4-4) also joined in the fun. They snapped Ron Guidry's 11-game winning streak and induced New York's Damaso Garcia to hit into a triple play, the third in Jays' history and their second in three weeks. The Yanks hadn't hit into a TP in 26 years. "It happened so fast," said the reeling Garcia. "At least when I hit into a double play, I have time to sit on the bench and think about it."
BALT 99-53 MIL 90-64 BOS 86-66 NY 82-71 DET 82-72 CLEV 78-75 TOR 52-103
"This has been the screwiest season I've ever seen," said Manager Whitey Herzog. His Royals had entered the week in second place, three games behind California. The two teams were to meet for the division title—four games in K.C. that would decide it all. "They hit more home runs. We've got more speed and steal more bases," said Herzog. "The key will be who gets the best pitching." Angels' pitching gave up 32 runs on 56 hits, and the Royals' 25 on 38. Each team won two of the head-to-head contests, and each had a 3-4 record for the week. They'll try again to settle the championship this week.
While the Angels and Royals battled, Gene Mauch sat back and smiled as his Twins (5-2) put together their best week since the All-Star break. In a 10-3 rout of Chicago, Minnesota scored five times on one hit in a fifth-inning rally that included a bases-loaded walk, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. Down 2-0 in the ninth to the Brewers in Milwaukee, the Twins got back-to-back homers from Ken Landreaux and Butch Wynegar for a 3-2 win. Rookie John Castino drove in all three Minnesota runs in a 3-1 victory over the Yankees. "Everybody is loving every minute of it," said Mauch. "Optimum expectancy is a beautiful thing."
Although Texas (4-2) gained a game and a half on the Angels, there was no "optimum expectancy" and few players were loving any of it. "I don't know if I can take this for another year," said Outfielder Al Oliver. Ferguson Jenkins was mad at Shortstop Nelson Norman because he muffed a grounder. But Norman may not have noticed, because he was busy being mad at Willie Montanez for not scoring on Norman's fly ball. That cost Norman an RBI arid a point in his batting average. "When something like that happens, I lose all my concentration and don't give a damn," he proclaimed.
Perhaps they should all take a lesson from Matt Keough of Oakland (1-5). Pitching for one of the worst teams in A's history, Keough, 2-16, has been the victim of poor defense and even poorer offense, all the while maintaining his poise and good humor. Last week Keough got a reward for his good behavior, a seven-hit, 2-0 win over K.C.
The White Sox (4-2) received sparkling performances from two young pitchers, who held the .277-hitting Twins scoreless for 18 innings. Ross Baumgarten won 6-0, on four hits, to bring his record to 13-8 despite missing six weeks with a virus, and Ken Kravec had a no-hitter for seven innings before allowing three hits.
It was just a year ago that Willie Horton was clubbed over the head by a Royal Canadian Mountie in a bizarre parking-lot scuffle. He began experiencing dizzy spells and was told by a doctor that he was "lucky to be alive." The Blue Jays let him go. The Mariners (2-4) thought there were still some homers in Horton's 35-year-old body, and they knew there's nothing like clean Northwest air to clear a man's head. So they signed Horton, who responded with one of his most productive seasons ever—club records of 28 home runs and 103 RBIs. Horton hasn't had that many homers in a season since 1969, or as many RBIs since 1966. No other major league player has ever gone more than eight seasons between 100-RBI performances. To honor their very own comeback player of the year, the Seattle writers gave Horton the Mariners' MVP award on Fan Appreciation Night. To thank the Mariners and the fans, Willie stepped to the plate in his first at bat and drove in a run.
CAL 84-71 KC 81-74 MINN 81-74 TEX 78-77 CHI 68-85 SEA 64-91 OAK 53-102
There was little left for players on non-contending teams to do but pursue personal goals and honors. With Rose threatening to surge right into the batting title, Keith Hernandez of the Cardinals (5-4) dug in. He went 10 for 24 and raised his average three points. "I'm not that selective a hitter," said Hernandez. "If it's over the plate, I'll hit it." And he has, to the tune of 202 hits. His average—.346—is nearly 100 points higher than it was last year. With his seven errors, 103 RBIs and 111 runs scored, he is a leading candidate for MVP.
Hernandez' teammate, Garry Templeton, took dead aim at a record; he wants to become the first player to get 100 base hits from each side of the plate in one season. To help, Manager Kenny Boyer is letting Temp bat righty for the rest of the year, because he already has 111 hits lefty, but only 91 as a righthander. Lou Brock, who already has the modern career stolen-base record, stole his 20th of the year to tie "Sliding" Billy Hamilton's all-time mark of 937, most of them gotten between 1888 and 1898 when stolen bases were credited to runners going from first to third on a single. No. 937 came on Lou Brock Day at Shea Stadium, during which the Mets (1-8) presented Brock with a rocking chair as a retirement present.
It was just one of many gifts offered up by the charitable Mets last week. In the first game of a doubleheader with the Expos, Outfielder Gil Flores held on to the ball after a fine running catch, allowing two runs to score, and in the second game, Second Baseman Kelvin Chapman handed the Expos a sweep when he held the ball while the winning run crossed the plate. New York, which has been defeated in 31 of its last 36 games, lost four straight doubleheaders, but even that was for naught: it was one short of the 1928 record. The Mets' front office had a gift for the fans—it will install 55,000 new plastic molded seats. The fans, in turn, presented the Mets with a record—the lowest attendance—761,872 with one day remaining—in the history of the franchise.
The Mets had some goodies for old teammate Dave Kingman of Chicago (4-4). He got the game-winning RBI in each end of a twin bill against New York. It's unlikely that Kong will break Hack Wilson's league home-run record of 56, but with 47 he is within reach of becoming the sixth National Leaguer to hit 50 in a season.
MONT 92-60 PITT 92-61 ST.L 82-71 PHIL 80-75 CHI 78-76 NY 56-97
With two weeks to Play, it became official. Last year's National League champion Dodgers were mathematically eliminated from the race. But it was done in style. Tom Seaver of the first-place Reds (3-4) shut them out 2-0 on three hits. Although the Dodgers (4-3) lead the league in home runs (176), and a club-record five players—Davey Lopes (28), Ron Cey (27), Steve Garvey (27), Dusty Baker (23) and Joe Ferguson (20)—have 20 or more, L.A. is still five games under .500. Rick Sutcliffe, one of the few rays of sunshine in smog-bound Los Angeles, added to his credentials for Rookie of the Year with his fifth straight win. The victory brought his record to 16-9; 12 of the wins have come at Dodger Stadium. There was one reminder of last year's triumphs. Bob Welch, who has been bothered by a sore arm most of the season, took the mound for only his second start since the All-Star Game and got his first win since May 15.
The Giants (3-3) played giant killer. After starting the week with their second straight win over the Astros (4-3), they turned around and beat the Reds twice. The victories gave San Francisco 12 wins over Cincinnati in 18 meetings this year; they also put the Giants in position to challenge the Dodgers for third place. Two defeats in L.A. and one in Atlanta promptly knocked them back into a battle with San Diego (3-3) for fourth.
Padre President Ballard Smith turned down Gaylord Perry's offer to return to the club, which he had jumped three weeks before. "We just can't have guys walking out on us," said Smith. And it's a good thing he feels that way, because had Perry returned, he might have cost Juan Tyrone Eichelberger a start and fans an opportunity to guess how many and exactly which countries produced that wonderful name. J.T. got his first major league win, striking out seven Dodgers and allowing just four hits in a 3-1 victory. After that game, in which he hit his 32nd homer and collected his 113th RBI—a Padre club record—Dave Winfield declared himself the National League's MVP.
The Braves' MVP—Most Valuable Pitcher—is Phil Niekro. "I still say he's one of the top five pitchers in all of baseball," said Manager Bobby Cox of Atlanta (2-3). Although Niekro has led the league in losses the last two years and, with 20, is a safe bet to do so again, he has also won 19—or nearly one-third of the Braves' victories for the season. His latest triumph was a two-hitter in which he gave up only one earned run as he beat the Giants 10-2. "It was a nice night to pitch," said Niekro. "The wind was light and I didn't tire myself out."
CIN 87-68 HOU 86-68 LA 75-80 SF 68-87 SD 65-90 ATL 61-91
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
CHET LEMON: The White Sox centerfielder hit .450, extended his hitting streak to 16 games and raised his average to .317. He has 17 home runs, 82 RBIs and has been hit by a pitched ball a league-leading 13 times.