- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The Dodgers (3-3) stayed comfortably in front, thanks in part to a 3-2 win over Houston by Burt (Happy) Hooton, their glum-faced righthander. Since the All-Star break, Hooton has pitched well enough to cheer himself up: a 9-1 record, and nine consecutive games in which he has lasted at least until the ninth inning.
The Giants (3-4) were preparing for the worst. As the team blew leads in four losses, fatalistic fans recalled that the club has led the division 10 times since 1958, each time collapsing in the stretch. "At least we're where they can talk about us folding," said Manager Joe Altobelli. With Relievers Gary Lavelle and Randy Moffitt out with injuries, the talk made sense.
Cincinnati (3-3) Manager Sparky Anderson was surprisingly chipper, though his team fell 6½ games behind. Asked why, he said, "The Yankees and Pittsburgh." The realities seemed to preclude a surge of the sort the Pirates and New York have made: Reds hitting and runs were down and Cincy's ERA was higher than its average of runs scored. Most embarrassing was Tom Seaver's 14th loss, his highest total ever. And that was not the only place that Seaver was too high. "He's pitching too high," said Bob Watson of the Astros, whose sacrifice fly had beaten Seaver 3-2. "He's up in the strike zone, and we're getting the fat part of the bat on the ball." To further depress everyone but Anderson, Pete Rose, who is playing out his option, told San Diegans, "It's been a pleasure being here."
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Pittsburgh's (5-3) pennant express was temporarily derailed—by St. Louis and New York, of all teams. First, Ted Simmons cracked an eighth-inning, two-out homer to beat the Pirates 5-4 and halt their winning streak at 11. Then the Mets ended Bert Blyleven's string at six games without a loss, beating him 3-2, and defeated Jim Rooker 4-1. And it may be tough for the Pirates to get back on the track, because sore-armed John Candelaria doubts he will be able to pitch effectively again this season.
League-leading Philadelphia (6-3) never felt seriously threatened by the Pirates, although at one point the Bucs were only one game back. The Phillies began the week by returning from a 9-6 road trip, an excellent performance for a team that usually fares poorly away from Veterans Stadium. "When we left home, I don't think anybody gave us a chance to return with the division lead," said Manager Danny Ozark. "The media just thought we'd go through the motions and fold." Back home, the Phillies went through the right motions and built a six-game winning streak. Looking ahead to the playoffs, they once again said June 15 was the season's turning point. Last year they acquired Outfielder Bake McBride on that date. This year they re-acquired Pitcher Dick Ruthven, who has since gone 11-4. Ruthven threw a 1-0 three-hitter at the Cardinals last week.
The Mets (4-4) had good reason to act starry-eyed. Brooklyn's Lee Mazzilli, authentic Saturday Night Fever material, had two homers, two singles and three RBIs in an 8-5 win over the Dodgers—and then passed a Hollywood screen test. And John Stearns stole his 24th base to break an unofficial 75-year-old record for steals by National League catchers.
Chicago (4-5) blew four leads, thereby falling out of the race. The main culprit was Reliever Bruce Sutter, who could not hold three of the leads, but he had plenty of help. Ivan DeJesus lost a fly ball in the sun, and Manager Herman Franks acted sunstroked. Under fire for removing pitchers prematurely, Franks became enraged at a call and three times kicked dirt onto the shoes of Umpire Doug Harvey. Franks faces a possible fine—and perhaps a suspension.
Montreal won four of seven as Larry Parrish hit .400, but Dick Williams—one of the game's most realistic managers—pooh-poohed talk of contention. "Two weeks ago, I knew what we had to do," he said. "Somebody had to get hot to make it a race! The Pirates did. We didn't."