Which is more important, pitching or hitting? "When you are hitting, everything else perks up," said Houston Manager Preston Gomez after the Astros banged out 13 hits in an 11-1 win over New York. But even though the Astros went on to score 36 runs for the week, the best they could do was split six games. The reason: the pitchers allowed 34. Speaking of which, "I'd trade almost anybody to get some," said San Francisco Manager Charlie Fox. But as the June 15 trading deadline passed, all he could do was bring up 35-year-old Steve Barber from Phoenix, and the Giants lost five of six.
Atlanta, a team that has lived and died by the homer—usually the latter—was thriving on its arms for a change. Some 45,000 fans showed up at Atlanta Stadium to watch Buzz Capra try to extend his string of 25 scoreless innings, against Tom Seaver. The Mets got three runs off Capra in the first two innings, but five relievers held New York scoreless the next 9? and the Braves won 4-3 in 11. Then Carl Morton blanked the Mets 1-0 on six hits, Roric Harrison beat the Cardinals 6-1, and Capra stopped them 7-1. The Braves, 5-1, were just .002 out of second. It hardly mattered that only Ralph Garr (.376) and Henry Aaron (11 homers, 33 RBIs) were hitting with authority. "We're playing Dodger baseball now," said Morton.
If there was any lesson the Dodgers could offer, it was not to ignore hitting altogether. Having stayed on top with the best pitching and power in baseball, Los Angeles won only two of six as Dodger bats produced just 2.2 runs a game. Still, pitching remained the one thing everybody wanted and practically no one would give up. No team since Pittsburgh in 1970 has won a division title with a pitching staff that allowed more than 3.50 earned runs per game. The Dodgers (2.85) and Braves (3.17) were under that figure by last weekend. The Giants (3.76) and Astros (3.59), who are looking more and more like long shots, were over it. The Reds (page 22) went from 3.33 to 3.53.
The one certain non-contender, San Diego (4-2), took three of three one-run games—its specialty—and had a second straight winning week. Bobby Tolan beat St. Louis 6-5 with a three-run eighth-inning home run and Derrel Thomas hit an inside-the-park homer to edge the Expos 5-4.
LA 43-20 CIN 34-25 ATL 35-26 HOUS 32-31 SF 31-34 SD 26-41
In the freak play of the year, a ferocious drive by Philadelphia's Mike Schmidt hit an Astrodome speaker 300 feet from home plate and 117 feet in the air and dropped down, worth but a single. Enough bad luck for Schmidt? No. His two homers off Don Gullett went for naught as the Reds beat Philadelphia 7-4. The Phillies' major problem was relief pitching. After scouring the league they gave up and promoted Jesus Hernaiz from Toledo. Then Steve Carlton and Jim Lonborg permitted the bullpen some rest with wins over Houston and Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh starter Jim Rooker was outraged. Taken out of a game in which he led San Diego 8-1, he watched in horror as the Padres rallied to win 9-8. "I want out," he said. "I just think I deserve the right to win or lose the game myself." One difficulty in St. Louis was that 38-year-old Bob Gibson was losing too many for himself. He has allowed 11 home runs and lost seven of 10.
"There was only one Jackie Robinson, and he was fantastic," said Willie Davis of Montreal. "There's only one Willie Davis, and I'm fantastic, too." As Don Meredith once said, if you can do it, you ain't braggin'. Davis could, with seven RBIs against Cincinnati. Another celebrated can-do Expo, Pitcher Steve Rogers, couldn't. He gave up 10 hits in seven innings to lose the fifth of his last six starts, 3-1 to Cincinnati. The Expos were stuck at .500. The Cubs were eight games below break-even, and understandably building. Rookie Catcher Steve Swisher did a good defensive job in two games, the former a 10-7 victory over Houston in which Jim Todd got his first victory.