MONDAY, AUGUST 11
PIRATES—The sign on the chartered city bus taking the team to Atlanta Stadium is ironic. It offers "priority seating" for "the elderly and the handicapped," and recently the ailing Eastern Division leaders have appeared to be a little bit of both. They have lost 11 of 15 games and six of seven so far on this road trip, and their 5�-game lead of July 27 is now down to two over Philadelphia, 5� over onrushing St. Louis. In the last two weeks they have averaged only three runs a game and their team batting average has plunged eight points. Despite a team meeting in St. Louis and extra batting practice in Houston, the Pirates, says Manager Danny Murtaugh, are in the worst slump he has ever seen.
But even without Willie Stargell, who flew home to Pittsburgh today with a fractured rib, the Pirates are an unlikely victim of hitting anemia. As they rip and snort in the batting cage before the game, lining frozen ropes to the outfield and 'taters into the seats, their recovery appears imminent.
And sure enough, Pittsburgh wins 8-1. A five-hit, six-run ninth, the biggest Pirate inning in two months, ends their longest losing streak of the year at five games. Murtaugh lets out a deep sigh. "Maybe we're out of it."—LARRY KEITH.
PHILLIES—There are two terribly nervous people among the 42,079 in Veterans Stadium this steamy night. Byrum Saam, who has been broadcasting Philadelphia baseball for 38 years, announces before the game that this season will be his last. Saam is popular in Philly for being funny when he is trying not to be. Several years ago he described what must have been a grisly episode: " Alex Johnson is going back.... He's going back, back. His head hits the wall. It bounces off. He reaches down, picks it up and throws it in to second base." Saam is 60 now. His solemn announcement over, he sits perspiring up there in the radio booth, nearly four decades of memories and malaprops rushing past.
Larry Christenson, who is only 21, is equally unsettled down on the pitcher's mound. He is facing the Dodgers on national television, and he is wild. He needs calming. He does not get it. His manager, Danny Ozark, orders him to walk Bill Russell, a .187 hitter, with one out and two on in the second to get to opposing Pitcher Andy Messersmith. His catcher, Bob Boone, calls for a futile pitchout on the first pitch, and Christenson, in his wildness, never catches up with the count. He walks Messersmith with the bases loaded. Then Davey Lopes hits a line drive to center which Garry Maddox loses sight of. It falls for a two-run double. Maddox says later that he could not see the ball because Christenson on the mound blocked his view. The Phillies lose 7-1 and fall three games behind the Pirates. Christenson is miserable. Byrum Saam is cooled down now. For him it is just another game, about his 6,500th.—RON FIMRITE
CARDINALS—After winning eight of 10 and the last four in a row, St. Louis loses to the Astros tonight 7-2 to fall 6� games behind the Pirates and 3� behind the Phillies. Nevertheless, the Cards have begun to show they can play inspired, if not brilliant, baseball after having been in the lower half of the division for months. They have begun to glow like a winner. They have become lucky (a sure sign of abilities jelling) and they have remained relatively healthy, although they did play tonight without Willie Davis, who was absent for "personal" reasons. Davis, who had hit safely in 20 of his last 23 games, is a strange man. He wanders through the hotel lobby carrying his elaborate hi-fi system with its earplug in his ear, while at the ball park he curls up on the trainer's table in a fetal position and then drapes a towel over his head as if all his waking moments are consumed by an attempt to blot out some psychic discomfort.—PAT JORDAN
PIRATES—They lose 3-2 when two of their best hitters, Al Oliver and Dave Parker, leave runners stranded at second and third in the ninth inning. Oliver pops to first, Parker grounds to second and a fine pitching performance by Bruce Kison is wasted. In the dressing room the usually placid Murtaugh indicates his renewed displeasure by answering reporters' questions loud enough for the offending players to hear. "We can't get anybody to get a bleeping hit," he fumes. "The third and fourth bleeping hitters were up there and couldn't do it." Across the quiet room Parker gets the message, "Constructive criticism," he calls it.
To a man the imperturbable Pirates consider their decline a painful aberration which must be temporarily endured. "People in Pittsburgh may think we're blowing it," says Third Baseman Richie Hebner, "but you're going to have losing streaks. All you can do is wait them out." Nor are they particularly bothered by the tightening division race. They may cast an occasional glance at the scoreboard to check the progress of Philadelphia and St. Louis, but they admit to no pennant pressure. Hebner says, "We've been through it before, and we know how to deal with it."—LARRY KEITH