San Francisco (4-5) survived a nightmarish schedule of three doubleheaders in six days, mainly because Rightfielder Jack Clark walloped five home runs and took over the National League RBI lead with 55. Vida Blue won his fifth straight to improve his record to 11-4, and 40-year-old Willie McCovey socked his 500th career homer to move into 12th place on the all-time list behind another Giant great, Mel Ott.
At one point Dave Winfield was the only San Diego (6-3) player in almost three weeks who homered, but thanks to a revitalized pitching staff, the Padres wrested fourth place from Houston (4-5) by taking four out of five from the Astros. Reliever Rollie Fingers got his 17th save, tops in the majors, while Winfield finished the month of June with 31 RBIs in 29 games. The Astros' two 23-year-old starters, Tom Dixon and Floyd Bannister, fired back-to-back shutouts against the Reds.
Atlanta (4-5) was still in last place, but bearded Relief Pitcher Gene Garber has been so effective since being acquired from Philadelphia on June 15 (three saves, one victory) that Braves Manager Bobby Cox has relaxed his policy against facial hair. "I just don't think it would be right to make him shave his beard," said Cox after Garber had hurled two scoreless innings against the Dodgers. "It's him."
SF 48-29 LA 45-32 CIN 44-34 SD 38-40 HOUS 34-40 ATL 31-44
Chicago (3-5) seems to be staging its annual El Foldo act a lot earlier than last year, when it didn't surrender first place to the Phillies until Aug. 5. The Cubs dropped their fifth, sixth and seventh games to the division leaders in the space of nine days, including a 6-5 ninth-inning loss charged to relief ace Bruce Sutter, who hadn't allowed an earned run against Philadelphia in 32 innings. The Phillies (6-2) were carried by Greg Luzinski, who whacked three home runs to take over the league lead with 18. One of Luzinski's blasts gave Philadelphia a 1-0 victory over Montreal on an output of just two hits.
The Expos' (2-4) starting pitchers were given only 12 runs to work with in six games; the principal victim of this parsimony was 11-game-winner Ross Grimsley, who allowed only three hits in 10 innings against the Cardinals, yet lost 2-1. Ironically, the staffs hard-luck pitcher, Steve Rogers, won twice to take the league lead in ERA (2.10) and tie Grimsley for the lead in complete games (11). In 19 starts this season Rogers has never yielded more than three runs. "There isn't a team in the league that doesn't know he's the best pitcher they've faced," said Montreal Third Baseman Larry Parrish.
Pittsburgh (5-4) lost .316-hitter Dave Parker when he fractured his cheekbone in a home-plate collision with Met Catcher John Stearns. But the Pirates welcomed back Willie Stargell, who forgot his knee problems long enough to go 3 for 3 in one game, including a homer and a double, and to win another with a pinch single.
The Mets (2-5) were defeated by a pinch grand-slammer, by a squeeze bunt with two out in the ninth and by an outfielder's AstroTurf-induced error. The only bright spots were the pinch-hitting of Ed Kranepool, who went 3 for 5, and the pitching of Pat Zachry, who is now 9-3—and 16-9 overall since coming to New York from Cincinnati last year.
The lowly Cardinals have scored only three runs in the ninth inning all season, but they managed to put a run across in the 10th inning to beat Montreal 2-1. The victory gave St. Louis (5-3) a four-game winning streak, which must have pleased owner Gussie Busch, who warned his team recently that there might be a wholesale shakeup "down to the bat boys."