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"We're on our death bed, but we're not dead yet," said Baltimore Outfielder Pat Kelly. "We're still breathing," was how Boston Manager Don Zimmer put it. While they described their teams' dwindling first-place hopes in morbid terms, the first-place Yankees were the ones who were lucky to be alive. Their plane to Toronto made an abrupt stop on the runway in Boston and narrowly avoided being hit by an incoming jet. New York Manager Billy Martin insisted the miss was so close that he was able to see who was piloting the approaching plane. "It was Zimmer and Earl Weaver," said Martin.
The Yankees had started the week with a close call of another sort, carrying a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth in Detroit and escaping with a 6-5 victory. Home runs by Reggie Jackson (his 30th) and Dave Kingman helped build that lead, before two errors and four Tiger hits led to five quick runs. With Ron LeFlore on third base and two out, Sparky Lyle came in from the Yankee bullpen. Jackson, who had been replaced in right field for defensive purposes, came back from the clubhouse to the dugout in his shorts to watch the tense situation. After Lyle nailed down the win with his 24th save, the Yankees winged their way to Boston for two games.
Almost 52,000 fans showed up in Baltimore on Sunday to pay tribute to recently retired Brooks Robinson. Summing up the crowd's feelings best was a banner that read IT HURTS. What hurt the Birds even more that day was a 10-4 loss to the Red Sox. Ted Cox of Boston equaled a record with four hits in his major league debut, Bob Stanley hurled five innings of scoreless relief, and Bill Campbell blanked the Orioles for the last 2? innings to chalk up his 27th save. That left Baltimore 3� games in back of New York and Boston 4� out.
The Red Sox tightened up the race again by sweeping the Yankees 6-3 and 3-2. Reggie Cleveland went the distance in the first game, supported by Carlton Fisk's three-run homer and a bases-empty drive by Carl Yastrzemski. In the second game, First Baseman George Scott did in the Yankees with his bat and glove. He walloped a tie-breaking home run in the sixth, thwarted a Yankee uprising in the seventh with a diving catch and ended the game by turning another "sure" hit into a double play. That glove work enabled the hard-working Campbell to hold the Yankees without a run during the last three innings.
Baltimore received a new source of hope when Kenyan witch doctor Dr. John Agunga, whose wizardry did not help the club two years ago, accepted a $12 fee to try again. But assorted incantations could not keep the Orioles from losing to the Blue Jays 3-1. The next night Jim Palmer, who receives slightly more than $12 to work his magic, beat Toronto 5-2. Ken Singleton drove in two of the Oriole runs, and rookie Eddie Murray slugged his 23rd home run of the season. Then Lee May's two-run homer and the four-hit pitching of Ross Grimsley made the Orioles winners over the Blue Jays again, this time by a 4-0 margin. After Wednesday's action the Orioles trailed by two games. The Red Sox were 2� behind.
Four hits by Murray and a three-run homer by May, the 299th of his career, gave Mike Flanagan plenty of working room as he beat Toronto 7-1 on Thursday. With Campbell's arm aching, the Red Sox were knocked off 5-4 by the Tigers, who scored four times in the seventh. The Yankees had the day off after their near crash.
Don Gullett of New York struck out 12 Blue Jays and allowed only five hits on Friday, but it took a two-run homer in the ninth by Graig Nettles—his 36th—to make Gullett a 5-3 victor. Butch Hobson's three-run shot and a four-hitter by Bill Lee gave Boston a 5-1 win in Detroit. In that game Fisk became the first catcher in the American League to score 100 runs since Yogi Berra of the Yankees did it in 1950. Baltimore was a 3-2 loser in Cleveland.
Rain washed out New York's Saturday game in Toronto, while homers by Cox, Yastrzemski and Fred Lynn propelled Boston to a 6-1 triumph in Detroit. Rookie Mike Paxton picked up his 10th win and Campbell his 29th save. Meanwhile, late-inning heroics gave Baltimore a 4-1 win in Cleveland. With the score tied 1-1 in the eighth, the Indians loaded the bases with none out. Palmer got the next two batters on a pop-up and strikeout, and Al Bumbry climbed the fence in deepest center to rob Rico Carty of a grand slam. In the ninth the Orioles got back-to-back homers from Singleton and Murray, who hit .464 during the week. Palmer, who has yielded only four runs in his last 44 innings, got his 19th win. At week's end, both pursuers were still alive, the Orioles two games back and the Red Sox 2�.
Detroit (3-3) virtually sewed up fourth place as Ron LeFlore and Jason Thompson excelled. LeFlore batted .385 and became the first Tiger to get 200 hits since Al Kaline in 1955. Thompson bopped two homers and became the first Detroit player to hit 30 since Norm Cash in 1971.