In a single inning three Kansas City players reached first base and were thrown out trying to take another base, and in a single game the Royals made eight errors. These were perhaps pardonable sins, for Kansas City was the hottest team in the league with 10 wins in 14 games. Doug Bird emerged as the Royals' best pitcher, sealing off five victories and achieving an 0.40 ERA over 11 games. "He's right up there with Rollie Fingers, Cy Acosta, Sparky Lyle and John Hiller among baseball's best relievers," said Manager Jack McKeon. Bird had to wonder if he would have sufficient rest. "Late last season," he said, "I got wore out."
Oakland was the beneficiary of those eight KC errors in an 11-2 win, and Manager Alvin Dark was amazed at how well his club was doing (7-3) without injured Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando. One bit of fortune was the emergence of 27-year-old Gaylen Pitts, the seventh man to play second base for Oakland this year. Pitts put the A's in first by doubling home the winning run in a 2-1 victory, also over the Royals. But Oakland's luck ran out against Chicago. After the A's tied the White Sox 4-4 on another Pitts RBI, rain washed out the inning and the run, the score reverting back to the seventh to endow Chicago with a 4-3 win. Ironically, White Sox Manager Chuck Tanner had campaigned last year for a rule change that would have had rained-out games continued to their conclusion another day. In better weather Saturday the White Sox took over first by beating the A's 3-2.
Hard times beset the Rangers, with Jim Fregosi suffering from muscle spasms, Jim Spencer unable to run well enough to play and Dave Nelson still recovering from a collision with Lenny Randle. Texas' woes were eased somewhat by young David Clyde, who beat California 6-1 for his third complete-game win. "I think I subconsciously realized that I shouldn't try to be a Nolan Ryan," he said. "I don't overpower people like he does." But "stoppers" Ferguson Jenkins and Jim Bibby lost their third and fourth straight, respectively.
Minnesota Manager Frank Quilici successfully discarded book strategy twice, to the chagrin of purists. First he had Outfielder Larry Hisle swing away in an apparent bunt situation, and Hisle homered to give the Twins a 2-1 lead over California. Then Quilici decided not to wait for starter Joe Decker to get into trouble, and replaced him with Bill Campbell at the start of the ninth inning. Campbell preserved the game for his eighth save. (He has now figured in 12 of the club's 15 victories.) Thus encouraged, the Twins blasted the Angels 10-4 the next day to move out of the cellar.
New tenant California began the week with Manager Bobby Winkles complaining after a doubleheader loss to Kansas City, "It's tough to get beaten by a team that just seems to drag around." Retorted a Royal, "He's the dumbest manager in baseball." The Angels did little for Winkles' case by losing three of their next four. In the defeats they averaged two runs and 10 men left on base. Adding to Angel woes, Ryan, holder of baseball's strikeout record, was giving up walks at another record pace.
CHI 18-15 OAK 19-18 KC 18-18 TEX 18-19 MINN 15-16 CAL 17-20
At one point the first four teams were separated not by games but percentage points—two of them. It was the closest mid-May race in the history of divisional play. Of course, tight standings often are a mark of spring, like slumping stars and surging hotshots. While Baltimore's Cy Young Award winner Jim Palmer was beaten for the fourth straight time, a 20-year-old Milwaukee rookie, Kevin Kobel, defeated New York twice. Another Brewer rookie, 18-year-old Shortstop Robin Yount, hit .381 to raise his average 40 points (to .235) as Milwaukee won five of seven to move into second. At the other end of the age span, Detroit took four of five and edged into first. Mickey Lolich, finally getting into stride, won a three-hitter and a five-hitter, John Hiller saved two games and Willie Horton clubbed his eighth homer.
Divisional favorite Baltimore recorded its first shutout of the year when rain gave Mike Cuellar a six-inning decision, but the Orioles were far from awesome. What did it mean? "What it means," said Manager Earl Weaver, "is that there's been no opportunity for the depth of the good teams, like us, to show up yet."