With the Phillies heating up and the Pirates hurrying up, the race in the East tightened up, only half a game separating the top four clubs. "It's tough to grip the bat," said Mike Schmidt of first-place Philadelphia (4-2), alluding to the cold weather. "You've got to put your hands in front of the heater before you go up to hit." Schmidt must have camped out in a boiler room, because he batted .417, and he was not the only torrid Phillie. Reserve Outfielder Jerry Martin locked up a 3-2 victory over San Diego with a three-run homer; Pitcher Randy Lerch helped himself to a 12-2 win against Chicago with a two-run homer and an RBI double; and in his first outing of the season, 39-year-old Jim Kaat was masterful as he beat the Cubs 7-0 on three singles. The only chilling news was Second Baseman Ted Sizemore's fractured left hand.
After clinging to the lead for most of the week, Montreal (3-3) slid seven percentage points behind Philadelphia. The Expos did not slug a home run and batted a skimpy .225, even though Dave Cash had a .435 average. Ross Grimsley ran his record to 4-0 with a 6-3 defeat of the Astros.
The Pirates (5-1) sped to within half a game of the lead, getting the deciding runs in a 4-2 defeat of the Mets without hitting the ball. After Omar Moreno walked and stole second and Dave Parker was intentionally passed, both advanced on a double steal and scored as the throw to third base skipped into leftfield. Altogether, the Bucs had 17 steals, with the 6'5", 235-pound Parker picking up three and the 6'3", 175-pound Moreno six. Pittsburgh subsequently edged New York 1-0, as Ed Ott homered in the 11th and Bert Blyleven hurled a six-hitter. Rookie Don Robinson, 20, a 6'4", 225-pound righthanded fastballer, got two wins, beating the Mets 2-1 and the Giants 6-2, both on five hits.
Also half a game off the pace was Chicago (3-3). The Cubs thrived on clutch hits: a single in the 12th by Joe Wallis finished off New York 3-2; Bobby Murcer's grand slam cooled off Philadelphia 4-2; and Atlanta fell 4-3 as Heity Cruz homered twice and Larry Biittner had a pinch run-scoring hit in the 10th. After a so-so start, Reliever Bruce Sutter recovered his 1977 form and struck out nine of the last 11 batters he faced.
With Manager Vern Rapp given the heave-ho, the Cardinals (3-3) turned gung-ho. In their first game under interim Manager Jack Krol, St. Louis pounded the Expos 12-2. Then, in their first game under new Manager Ken Boyer, the Cardinals made short work of the Dodgers, Eric Rasmussen needing only 67 pitches to become a 1-0 victor.
Seven days after being in first place, the Mets (0-6) were in fifth. Although Steve Henderson ended his 0-for-25 slump and although New York made five double plays in one game, the Mets lost by margins large (14-7) and small (1-0, 2-1 and 3-2).
PHIL 9-7 MONT 10-8 PITT 9-8 CHI 10-9 NY 9-12 ST.L 8-11
Johnnie LeMaster, San Francisco's 23-year-old shortstop, agonized over his .190 batting average and the boos of Giant fans. "Don't worry about it," LeMaster was advised by Pete Rose of Cincinnati (3-2). "They boo me louder." Hearing that, an eavesdropper said, "Yeah, but not for the same reason." In New York, where Rose has received lots of jeers, he got a standing ovation. It came in the eighth inning as Rose circled the bases after his third homer of the day, the first time in his 16-year career he had hit three in one game. That home run also was the sixth the Reds clouted in a 14-7 romp and was Rose's fifth hit, bringing him to within four of 3,000 for his career. Tom Seaver continued to be ripped, his record falling to 0-2 and his ERA rising to 5.00.