With a 12�-game lead, the Dodgers (5-2) contemplated postseason award possibilities: Comeback Player of the Year for Dusty Baker, MVP for Reggie Smith and the Cy Young award for Tommy John. All three enhanced their prospects last week. Baker, who had four homers and 39 RBIs in 1976, hammered his 22nd home run and Smith his 27th as John beat Pittsburgh 8-2. Smith hit No. 28 in a 3-2 win in San Diego. Baker homered in the next three games and increased his RBIs to 71. Again benefiting from one of Baker's clouts, this one a three-run shot, was John (18-5, 2.48 ERA), who beat the Reds 4-1. Getting in some pokes of his own was Ron Cey, whose three homers gave him 28.
While the Dodgers reduced their magic number to eight, Willie McCovey of the Giants (2-5) increased some pertinent figures of his own. Hitting like the Stretch of bygone days, the 39-year-old McCovey slammed five homers and had a dozen RBIs. In the process he picked up his 2,000th hit and his 26th homer, the 491st of his career.
Following 5-1 and 8-3 losses by Cincinnati (3-4) in Houston, Sparky Anderson said he felt "humiliated" and added, "It takes a lot to embarrass me." Pete Rose was within 25 hits of his latest goal: a ninth 200-hit season that would equal Ty Cobb's record. George Foster (page 18) erased Johnny Bench's team mark for right-handed sluggers with his 45th and 46th home runs.
Excellent pitching enabled Houston (6-1) to close to within 3� games of second-place Cincinnati. In those victories, the Astro staff yielded only seven runs and six extra-base hits, struck out 20, walked 10 and held batters to a .173 average. Among the wins were a three-hitter by Mark Lemongello and Joe Sambito against the Giants, five-and four-hitters by Joe Niekro over the Expos and Giants, and a six-hitter by Lemongello against the Reds. Since becoming a starter on July 24, Niekro has been 8-2 with a 2.57 ERA. After Art Howe, a .260 batter, was walked intentionally, Roger Metzger, a .187 hitter, slammed a bases-loaded triple that ensured a 7-1 win over San Diego. It was Metzger's fifth triple, all against the Padres.
Catcher Dave Roberts of San Diego (2-5) topped off his .417 hitting with a three-run homer to topple Houston 9-5. Rollie Fingers got his 32nd save in that game. Rookie Bob Owchinko did not allow a Dodger beyond first base as he nailed down a two-hit 1-0 win.
With Gary Matthews providing much of the offense, Dick Ruthven of Atlanta (4-3) was a double winner. Matthews drove in two runs as Ruthven beat the Giants 4-0 while allowing only three singles. Matthews had four RBIs when Ruthven held off the Padres 9-6. Two homers by Jeff Burroughs brought his total to 37, and 12 strikeouts by Phil Niekro gave him a club-record 231.
LA 87-55 CIN 75-68 HOUS 71-71 SF 65-78 SD 63-81 ATL 53-89
All three contenders came through with a pair of shutouts, and two of them—the Red Sox and Orioles—walloped 13 and 12 home runs, respectively. The Yankees (5-3) hit only five homers and had to scramble for their "wins. Don Gullett returned from the disabled list to pitch a two-hit 4-0 victory over Minnesota, in which Cliff (Drop Over Some Time) Johnson hit a grand slam. Johnson homered again as Mike Torrez (16-12) beat Toronto 2-0 on three hits. In between were a pair of 4-3 squeakers in Cleveland. Reggie Jackson may finally feel at home. After a three-run homer during an 8-3 defeat of the Indians, Jackson was greeted warmly by several Yankees. One was archrival Thurman Munson. who said, "September's the time to play ball and not worry about other stuff."
Boston (8-1) played magnificent September ball and moved to within two games of New York. Rookie Don Aase (5-1) yielded only eight hits as he won twice, 8-0 in Toronto and 7-1 over Detroit. Reggie Cleveland concluded a doubleheader whitewashing of the Blue Jays with a 6-0 five-hitter. The Red Sox took another twin bill, 5-1 and 8-6 against the Tigers, as Bill Campbell recorded his 25th and 26th saves. When Carlton Fisk and George Scott hit back-to-back homers, it was the 16th time the Sox had accomplished that feat this season, a big league record. Three homers by Jim Rice, who hit two in one game for the seventh time this year, gave him the league lead with 37.