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The team that moved out to a six-game lead in the American League East last week plays in a ballpark that opened six days after the sinking of the Titanic. Due to the many painful events the Fenway Park faithful have experienced in the intervening 74 years, including countless lost leads and not a single world championship since 1918, no one nowadays questions whether there's an iceberg on the Boston Red Sox' horizon. Inquiring minds only want to know what it will look like.
Will it have pinstripes? (The Yankees hope so.) A bit of acid rain corrosion? (That would mean the Blue Jays.) A pronounced list to port? (The Tigers feast on righthanded pitching.) Will it be refrozen, after at least two partial meltdowns (and herald an Indian summer)? Or will it have on its top a rookie singing Oh, What a Beautiful Morning? (That would be the Orioles, who found a smash-hit understudy named Jim Traber to play the part of Eddie Murray.)
Strange things have been happening in the AL East all season, including a flood, a lightning bolt and crowds in Cleveland. Last week the Orioles, Tigers and Yankees fought over second place, while the Blue Jays fought each other. A major league record three grand slams were socked during a game in Baltimore. A couple of guys in their 40's pitched dazzlingly. And another song Bird, Rick Dempsey, unwittingly summed up the whole scene when he grabbed a microphone during a rain delay in Baltimore Wednesday night and lip-synched Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On.
Everyone, except possibly the last-place Brewers, who stood 10½ games back at .500 (as well as under four feet of water after rains submerged the first four rows at County Stadium), was contending as of Sunday night, and all of them, the Brewers included, had narrowed the gap on the Red Sox in recent weeks (see boxes beginning on page 24), despite some glaring deficiencies. Give Milwaukee another lefthander to match Ted Higuera (15-7, 2.54), for instance, and the Brewers would rise through the division like yeast. Why? Because the Blue Jays are 8-15 against lefties, the Yankees 16-25 and the Tigers 16-19.
The Yankees (6 games back) can thank the White Sox for supplying them with help for the stretch. On July 29 Chicago owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, evidently taking their Second City tag seriously, sent shortstop Wayne Tolleson, catcher Joel Skinner and outfielder Ron Kittle to New York. In return, Chicago received minor leaguer Carlos Martinez, a player to be named later and catcher Ron Hassey, whose gimpy knees were no secret to anyone in the league except the Reinhorn Boys.
Although Kittle is 1 for 14 with eight strikeouts since donning pinstripes, Tolleson seems to have solved the Yanks' problems at short. The five previous shortstops—Bobby Meacham, Paul Zuvella, Dale Berra, Mike Fischlin and Ivan DeJesus—had a cumulative 23 errors and fewer RBIs (17) than RLIs (runs let in—that is, unearned runs attributable to an E-6). The trade didn't, however, address New York's most dire need. Yankee pitchers, with a combined ERA of 4.28, will almost certainly be the first New York staff in 36 years to finish a season above 4.00. Just the same, Dennis Rasmussen, Ron Guidry and rookie Doug Drabek threw encouragingly last week, and 43-year-old Tommy John, who had just finished a rehabilitative stint in the minors, was masterful in pitching 7⅔ innings of a 2-0 blanking of the Royals Friday night. "I have mixed emotions," said John upon being recalled. "I think I may have been in line for Player of the Month in the Florida State League."
The Yanks can only be grateful to have finished their season's series with the Brewers, who took six of the last seven. And they can only hope their owner avoids the sort of second-guessing for which he is so infamous. The red phone on manager Lou Piniella's desk rang minutes after Tuesday's 2-1, 10-inning loss to Milwaukee, in which umpire Dave Phillips ruled that Skinner's seventh-inning would-be bloop double landed in foul territory (replays clearly showed the ball bounced fair). It was George Steinbrenner who proceeded to argue strenuously with his manager for not arguing the call strenuously enough. Reporters standing by heard Piniella murmur a few O.K.'s and Yes, sir's into the phone during the harangue.
Two days later, Piniella was asked whether John would be the starter on Friday. "What do I know?" he said. "I'm only the manager." As if to emphasize that point, the Yanks celebrated Billy Martin Day on Sunday by losing again. "If we were 10 or 12 games out, then Boston's results would be important to us," says Willie Randolph. "But we can catch them easy enough. It's up to us..." New York, New York.
Only a few packs of unfiltered Raleighs ago, ORIOLES (7 back) manager Earl Weaver was moping about his team. Then on July 10 Eddie Murray went on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring, after which Traber was summoned from Rochester to replace him at first base; and on July 25, in what has become known as the Great Purge, regulars Alan Wiggins, Mike Young and Floyd Rayford were shipped to the minors. The O's have gone 15-13 since that chain of events began and crept to the middle of the pack from 10 back. "This is so good," says outfielder Lee Lacy, "I get up early every morning to read the paper."
No fewer than 11 O's have shuttled between Rochester and Baltimore. But Traber, the erstwhile Oklahoma State quarterback and star of such stage musicals as Oklahoma! and Guys and Dolls in high school, has performed better in the role of Power Hitter than anyone thought possible. He has hit .341 with 8 homers and 22 RBIs since the All-Star break. Murray came off the DL and returned to first base last week, and Traber stayed in the lineup, going a cool 3 for 11 in three games as a DH.