If the Astros had won their first nine games of the season instead of losing them, they would have been atop the National League West last Sunday, seven games ahead of the Dodgers, to whom they dropped five decisions in the season's first two weeks. Houston's turnabout has been a complete one. The Astros' team batting average, .259 at week's end, is 12 points higher than in '82, when they were tied for last with the Mets. The Houston defense has also been much better, largely because Shortstop Dickie Thon and Second Baseman Bill Doran have moved in as the regular double-play combination. And the pitching has been improved dramatically. Mike Scott, who got off to an 0-3 start, had through Sunday won eight of his last nine decisions. Vern Ruhle had been a winner seven times in a row. Mike Madden was 6-4 with a 2.96 ERA, and relievers Bill Dawley and Frank DiPino had teamed up for 29 saves and nine victories.
Credit must also go to General Manager Al Rosen's trades. Thon was picked up from the Angels in 1981 for Pitcher Ken Forsch. Madden and DiPino were acquired from Milwaukee last August for Pitcher Don Sutton. Houston this year got Dawley from Cincinnati for Catcher Alan Knicely and Scott from the Mets for Danny Heep. One player Rosen wisely did not trade was Outfielder Terry Puhl, who had raised his average from .146 on May 9 to .314.
Why does Texas' Charlie Hough throw balls against a wall before most games instead of shagging fly balls, as most pitchers do? Hough figures no long flies will be hit to the mound, but he'll have to contend with base runners, whom he loves to pick off. Which is what he practices while throwing those balls against the wall. According to Hough, he'd picked off only seven runners in his first 10 major league seasons. But he has nailed nine this year.
TV or not TV, that is the question. After an 11-inning, 5-4 loss to Minnesota, Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson and reporters watched a videotape of Umpire Durwood Merrill ruling Tom Brunansky of the Twins safe at second after advancing from first on a wild pitch. The tape clearly showed that Brunansky, who went on to score the decisive run, should have been called out. Merrill was involved in another controversial decision during the following day's 4-3 Tiger win over the Twins, ruling Minnesota's Kent Hrbek out at first on an inning-ending double play to nullify a run that would have tied the score. "Have Sparky show you replays of that call," Twins Manager Billy Gardner angrily told Merrill. "No replays tonight," Anderson said. "I don't show replays when I haven't been wronged."
Manny Trillo's home run against the Padres last week was the first by a Montreal second baseman since June 8, 1982.... Through Sunday Philadelphia's Joe Morgan had 14 stolen bases in 15 tries this season.... During August the Expo bullpen was 0-4, with only five saves and a 5.40 ERA.... Although he didn't join the Mets until June 16, Walt Terrell has hit three home runs, the most by a pitcher in one season since Philadelphia's Ken Brett had four in 1973.... Just for kicks, anytime a runner barges into Pirate Catcher Tony Pe√±a, the runner ought to be called a Pe√±a Collider.
When Tim Raines of Montreal admitted in June of 1982 that he had a drug problem, Expos President John McHale said, "If there was anyone who we'd have said wouldn't have been affected by drugs, it would have been Tim Raines. He was the ideal baseball citizen. It was like it happened to one of my children. And I was determined we were not going to lose Tim Raines to drugs. Last year, I'd pick him up at noon or 12:30 once or twice a week and drive to a consultant who was helping him. Both of us were going "to school on this matter." McHale also saw to it that Raines got further help at the Care Unit Hospital in Orange, Calif. And McHale and Raines still meet periodically with Dr. Joseph Pursch, the hospital's director, when the Expos are playing in California.
"The main thing about his concern was that he was from the front office," Raines says of McHale. "He was willing to help and it was inspiring to me."
Although McHale is justifiably pleased with Raines's comeback—he's batting .290 and playing some of the best ball of his career—last week he went a step further. McHale attended a meeting in New York, where a committee was formed to deal with the players' drug and alcohol problems. Those named to the committee were McHale, Player Relations Committee President Lee MacPhail, A's owner Roy Eisenhardt and two representatives from the Players Association, Director Ken Moffett and Mark Belanger.
Greg Luzinski of the White Sox broke away from some distinguished company—Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx—when he became the first player to slug three homers onto the Comiskey Park grandstand roof since it was added in 1926. Williams and Foxx each hit two shots there during his careen the Bull's drives there have all been this season.... Strange as it may seem, Baltimore's Mike Boddicker, who is 12-6 and has a 3.02 ERA, is eligible to be the American League rookie pitcher of the year. Boddicker had spent 122 days—spread over three seasons—on major league rosters before this year. The rule stipulates that a rookie cannot have spent more than 45 days on a 25-man roster.... A six-game losing streak all but eliminated Kansas City from the pennant race. They finished the week with a win and two more losses to fall 12 games behind Chicago, the farthest the Royals have been back during the second half of a season since 1974.... The A's stole third base four times in as many tries in three games with the Yankees.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
CAL RIPKEN: The Oriole shortstop slugged four home runs and two doubles while hitting .424 (14 for 33), scoring 11 runs, driving in eight and tying two club records—two-base hits in one season (38) and total bases in one game (13).
What player butted behind the two greatest home run hitters in baseball history? Impossible, you say, because Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth played in different eras? Wrong. Davey Johnson hit behind both Henry Aaron and Sadaharu Oh.
BALL PARK FIGURES
Through Sunday these pitchers had the best and worst won-loss records since the All-Star break:
Vern Ruhle, Astros
Jesse Orosco, Mets
Phil Niekro, Braves
Bruce Sutter, Cardinals
Atlee Hammaker, Giants
Renie Martin, Giants
Craig Swan, Mets
Floyd Bannister, White Sox
Jack Morris, Tigers
Scott McGregor, Orioles
Danny Darwin, Rangers
Don Sutton, Brewers
Steve Renko, Royals