Lemongello was not the only Astro to finish with a rush. Centerfielder Cesar Cedeno, suffering from torn ligaments in the ring finger of his left hand, was batting .179 on June 22. From that date until the end of the season he hit .349, including a gaudy .417 in September, during which he also had five homers, 26 runs, 26 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. His Garrison finish earned him a lifetime multimillion-dollar contract with the Astros.
Houston is blessed with speed—Cedeno had 61 steals, Rightfielder Jose Cruz 44 and Infielder Enos Cabell 42—and good gloves. For a while this spring, Manager Bill Virdon considered realigning his infield—and benching slick Shortstop Roger Metzger, a .186 hitter—to get more punch. But a few days before breaking camp, Virdon reinstated the 1977 arrangement of Metzger, Art Howe (.264) at second, Cabell (.282, 16 homers) at third and Bob Watson, who had 110 RBIs, at first.
Virdon may have monkeyed with his infield, but no more than Alvin Dark did with his before his dismissal by San Diego on March 21. Dark thus became the first manager since the Cubs' Phil Cavarretta in 1954 to be cashiered in spring training. Dark, Padre officials say, could not "communicate"—that word again—with his players. He left a fine mess in the infield. Leftfielder Gene Richards had gone to first, Shortstop Bill Almon to second and Derrell Thomas, who played mostly in center field for the Giants last season, to third. Dark's successor, Roger Craig, may not be content with this alignment, but it is inconceivable that he will tamper with the Padres' outfield of Oscar Gamble in left, George Hendrick in center and Dave Winfield in right, who combined for 79 home runs last season.
It is on the mound where the Padres come a cropper. Gaylord Perry, approaching his 40th birthday and 250th victory, may be the ace if Randy Jones is not fully recovered from his arm ailments. Mickey Lolich, emerging from a year's retirement at 37, will be around to keep Perry company, although he may well be confined to the bullpen, particularly if Bob Owchinko, Bob Shirley and Dave Freisleben perform to expectations. With or without Lolich, the relief corps should be formidable with the indomitable Rollie Fingers and reliable Dan Spillner.
The Padres may be all mixed up, but they have not approached the level of disorder of the Atlanta Braves. "This is a very iffy team all around," says slugger Jeff Burroughs. "Everything has to click for us to have a half-decent season." Burroughs sounded a rare positive note last season with his 41 home runs and 114 RBIs. The rest was despair. Now the team is building anew, if not exactly afresh. Willie Montanez is gone. Andy Messersmith is gone. And so is Dave Bristol, the manager who yielded the helm for a few days during the season to yachtsman Ted Turner, the team's improbable owner. The new manager is Bobby Cox, whose combat training as a Yankee coach may stand him in good stead during the routs to come. The Braves have some hitting with Burroughs, Gary Matthews (17 homers) and Catcher Biff Pocoroba (.290), but they are weak defensively and the pitching, to borrow from Burroughs, is decidedly "iffy." Dick Ruthven (7-13) and 39-year-old Phil Niekro (16-20) are still around, and Cox has high hopes for Adrian Devine and Tommy Boggs, two righthanders acquired from Texas.
The Braves are at least determined not to challenge the powers of darkness. This spring they changed Infielder Jerry Royster's uniform number from 13 to 1. "I guess they thought that was why I had a bad year," said Royster, who hit .216.