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It was a messy kind of week for the Oakland A's, but at the end of it—even as Reggie Jackson, their most valuable player (and perhaps the league's), pulled a hamstring muscle—there they were 5� games ahead of second-place Kansas City. Jackson, baseball's RBI leader with 112, will be out 10 days or more, possibly until the season's end if the A's remain comfortably ahead. But the team's powerful pitching staff suddenly seemed shaky. "We've been getting lousy pitching," said Manager Dick Williams bluntly. In 12 games he had made 28 calls to the bullpen. Although Catfish Hunter was a winner, Catcher Ray Fosse said he was "not popping, just pushing the ball, maybe afraid to cut loose after his layoff." Rollie Fingers, usually a control artist, was giving up walks. Vida Blue's overpowering fastball had diminished. Still, Ken Holtzman won No. 20, and tempers were right-on. The A's lost to Nolan Ryan but won the next three curse-filled brawls from the Angels. In one, California's Mike Epstein high-tagged Bill North on a bunt down the first-base line to start one of many flare-ups.
Fortunately for Oakland, Kansas City's pitching was even worse. It was, in fact, in a state of collapse. The KC staff gave up 30 runs and 51 hits in four straight losses to the Twins and Angels. Only twice since July 29 had the starters completed games. And ace Paul Splittorff failed for the seventh straight time to get his 16th victory. "We are looking for help from above for our bullpen," said Manager Jack McKeon. Acts of God apart, KC's chances of heading off Oakland were dim. Even their six-game lead over Chicago was less than comforting.
The White Sox, with an eight-game winning streak and 12 wins in 13 games, were coming on. Knuckleballer Wilbur Wood (23-18) gave credit to young Sox players. "When the kids came up, they were so scared they were even quiet in the clubhouse," said Wood. "Then they got the feel of things." It helped that the Sox averaged eight runs a game in seven victories during the week.
The Twins, although leading the majors with a .270 team batting average, continued their so-so ways, winning four of seven. Bert Blyleven pitched his 17th victory (and eighth shutout, the most in baseball), and his ERA of 2.38 tops all league starters. Even so, Blyleven was dour. "Winning," he said, "is all that matters." A pennant, that is.
Reports of Bobby Winkles' departure proved to be premature, but the Angel manager remained uneasy. A rookie centerfielder with the poetic handle of John Milton Rivers provided some encouragement, something for an uneasy man hoping to hang on. Rivers went 5 for 9 and stole two bases to lead California to a doubleheader sweep of Kansas City. However, the Angels managed only one other victory and lost five games. The Texas Rangers, possessed of the worst record in baseball, fired Manager Whitey Herzog and grabbed Billy Martin, who offered a couple of Martinisms: "Winning is everything," and "I'd play Adolf Hitler to win." This the Rangers promptly did, 4-3 over the A's.
OAK 82-59 KC 76-64 CHI 71-71 MINN 68-72 CAL 64-73 TEX 49-91
When the season is finally over, the Cardinals are going to try to figure out how they managed to stay in contention, never mind get out ahead of the field. There is no easy explanation except perhaps that Manager Red Schoendienst has done a masterful job and received timely cooperation from embarrassed, reluctant contenders. Even so, it appears that mirrors or tricks with wires have come into play. St. Louis has less power than any team in either league, with only 67 homers for the season, and two key pitchers, Bob Gibson and Scipio Spinks, have missed a good part of the year. But Lou Brock was his old larcenous self (he leads the majors with 62 stolen bases), and Catcher Ted Simmons had hit safely in 19 games on his way to a third .300 season. And so, despite a weekend tailspin in Chicago, the Cardinals split eight games and retained a hairy one-game lead over Pittsburgh.
When the Pirates dropped three to St. Louis, General Manager Joe Brown fired Manager Bill Virdon and brought back Danny Murtaugh for his fourth go-round as the Pirate boss. It was Murtaugh who guided the world champion Pirates of 1960 and 1971. Before Murtaugh had eased himself well back into his old dugout, the Pirates had a win over the Phillies, and Murtaugh was a happy man. "I can't deny it," he said. "Anytime you've managed and then had to leave, you regret it. You miss it." But the smiling Irishman was in for more than fun and games. There were fences to mend, hurt feelings to soothe. If Pirate pitching was in and out, at least Murtaugh had a powerful, dependable bat in Willie Stargell, who hit his 37th and 38th home runs of the season.
But even the Expos were crowding Pittsburgh. They were a breathless 1� games behind and playing the best baseball yet seen in Montreal's Jarry Park—impressive enough in the crazy mixed-up East, where .500 is currently a lofty niche. Though the mercury plummeted, and the winds blew, the fans were ecstatic when the Expos took three games from the Cubs. A Montreal Star headline boasted: RAIN, CUBS, CAN'T COOL OFF THE RED HOT EXPOS. Then the Mets, playing in what amounted to a wind tunnel aimed at right field, took both ends of a doubleheader. Neither the fans nor the Expos were dismayed; Montreal came back to win the next game behind the brilliant young righthander, Steve Rogers, who outdueled the Mets' Tom Seaver 3-1 for the win. "I can't remember seeing such great pitching over three games," said Expos Manager Gene Mauch. Mike Marshall had pitched 11? honorable innings of the lost doubleheader to set a National League record for games finished (63), and for Rogers the victory over Seaver was his sixth complete game in 12 starts. The winning hit was a homer by Ken Singleton, once a Met himself.