The airtight Pitching of Atlanta's Phil Niekro was punctured when San Diego's Willie McCovey bopped a homer in the ninth to deprive him of a third consecutive shutout. Niekro held on to win that game 5-2 and later beat Philadelphia 11-4 for his 13th victory. Also helping the Braves build the league's best record for the week (6-2) were Ron Reed, who downed the Astros 1-0; Henry Aaron, who slugged two homers in a game for the 62nd time; Ralph Garr, who averaged .429; and Darrell Evans, who finished off the Phils 3-2 with an 11th-inning sacrifice fly.
While the Reds and Dodgers struggled for first place (page 22), Houston lost its battle with Atlanta for third. The Astros defeated the Braves 6-4 on Cliff Johnson's fourth pinch homer of the season. But Houston lost four of its other six games, all by one run.
A bumbling defense and a mediocre offense have hampered San Francisco, but they may have made a better pitcher out of Jim Barr. "I go out every game throwing as hard as I can, thinking I need a shutout to win," Barr says. He has won six times in the past four weeks, and his most recent victory, a 3-0 whitewash of the Cubs, was his second shutout during that period.
San Diego was 2-4 for the week and has lost 13 of 17 since Bobby Tolan was sidelined for knee surgery.
LA 74-40 CIN 69-46 ATL 60-54 HOUS 58-55 SF 51-63 SD 46-69
Frustrated by his team's three losses at the beginning of the week, Montreal Owner Charles Bronfman compared watching the Expos to eating peanuts. "You get a bad one, but you keep digging into the bag. You know eventually you're going to pick out one that tastes good." Montreal promptly came out of its shell winning four straight with the help of Catcher Barry Foote, whose home run curved around the foul pole to defeat Houston 2-1.
With Joe Torre batting .441, Lou Brock hitting .381 and stealing nine bases to bring his total to 77, and Ted Simmons grand slamming Los Angeles 5-3, St. Louis stayed atop the East. The Phillies moved briefly into a tie for the lead by defeating the Cardinals 6-1 in the first game of a doubleheader, as Mike Schmidt hit his 24th and 25th home runs. St. Louis took the next two, 11-0 and 3-2, winning the latter on Simmons' game-tying, two-run homer in the ninth and Torre's RBI single in the 13th.
Pittsburgh took five of seven, including a three-game sweep of the Mets. The Pirates dumped New York 10-1 on a three-hitter by rookie Larry Demery, 4-3 on a ninth-inning home run by Richie Zisk and 9-8 as they scored three times in the ninth and won in the 11th on an error.