The Mets had their own not-so-secret hopes, winning four in a row to creep past the Cubs and making Manager Yogi Berra a far better bet to return in the same job next year. The rumor mill awarding the position suddenly closed down, and the papers ceased speculation as to his successor. The pitching was generally sharp: Tug McGraw saved the first game against Montreal and won the second. What the Mets needed most was a hitter—someone like, uh, Ken Singleton to bounce a few off the fences.
Perhaps the most baffling team was Chicago. Once strong leaders, then more or less given up for dead, they were humiliated last week by Pittsburgh, fell further off the pace in Montreal, came limping (physically and emotionally) back to Chicago and whipped the Cards twice to tighten the race. The Cubs were not particularly impressive—there were missed signals and missed opportunities—but Billy Williams' streaky bat was hot and it kept the Cubs alive. In a 14-game tear Williams had 25 hits to raise his average to .302.
Manager Danny Ozark couldn't believe it. "Everything we threw at the Expos they hit," moaned the Phillie manager. "Strikes, balls, good pitches and bad ones." In the end the Phillies were buried by Montreal 12-0. That kind of thing happened all week as Philadelphia lost seven of eight and dropped nine games behind St. Louis.
ST. L 72-70 PITT 69-69 MONT 69-72 NY 68-74 CHI 67-73 PHIL 63-79
On Aug. 30 the Dodgers were four games in front. On Labor Day they played the Giants, hoping to hold on to what was by then a one-game lead. Surely this was going to be a piece of cake. Pitcher Tommy John carried an 8-1 margin into the late innings. But it was not to be. Bonehead plays set the stage for a Bobby Bonds grand-slam home run that gave San Francisco an extraordinary 11-8 victory. That was but one grim interlude in a disastrous week, which left the Dodgers winless in September as Cincinnati shot ahead.
"It's not the pressure," Manager Walt Alston stoutly declared. Whatever it was, the Dodgers seemed to have forgotten how to hit, and relief pitching provided anything but relief. Meanwhile starters Andy Messersmith and Don Sutton have become walking wounded, Messersmith with a pulled hamstring, Sutton with a sore shoulder. Compounding the aggravation was Centerfielder Willie Davis' bum knee. All this added up to a nine-game losing streak—the last three defeats by unmenacing San Diego, which had turned the same trick the first week in July.
LA's slump, as fate would have it, coincided roughly with Cincinnati's seven-game winning streak. Pete Rose (page 40) was abloom, and the Reds' rookies, Ken Griffey, Dan Driessen and Ed Ambrister, were hitting the Haitian hide off the baseball. "Those kids are doing a hell of a job," said 25-year-old Shortstop Darrell Chaney. Indeed, it was the youngsters' assault that gave the Reds a sweep over Houston. Then came a trip to Atlanta, however, and two straight losses to the Braves. In the second of those games Henry Aaron hit homer No. 709, his third of the week. But despite the home-run bats of Aaron, Dave Johnson and several other Braves, Atlanta could do no better than split eight games.
San Francisco, still a factor in the divisional race, won seven of eight and 13 of its last 18, despite pitching that was seldom overpowering. Ron Bryant interrupted all the high-scoring contests with a one-hitter for his 21st victory of the year, and though the Giants were pulling out wins with dramatic late-inning rallies, the fans continued to stay in hiding.
Houston remained a puzzle. The Astros' impressive lineup could not develop any consistency, a problem that has been with the team all season. "I'll go with my best against the Giants, Dodgers and Reds," said Manager Leo Durocher, choosing to retain a pat lineup rather than experiment with rookies. Houston thereupon lost three to the Reds and split a pair with the Giants, after joining in the fun against the Dodgers. This left the Astros at an even .500.