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Atlanta had records in mind, too. As the Braves (4-2) moved to within a half game of fifth place, 39-year-old Phil Niekro got his 19th victory by beating the Dodgers 3-2. "I couldn't believe it," said Manager Bobby Cox. "After getting two hits, running the bases, covering first on a couple of plays and throwing a lot of pitches, Phil was tired for the first time this year." Niekro (19-16) should be feeling fatigued after all the work he has done this season. He is leading the league in innings pitched (317), complete games (20) and starts (40), is second in strikeouts (232) and is among the top 10 in ERA (2.90). No wonder he's eying his first Cy Young Award. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't checking the other pitchers' statistics," Niekro said. A stat worth checking out belonged to teammate Larry McWilliams, who ran his record to 9-2 by beating Cincy 8-1, thereby backing up Cox' contention that McWilliams, a rookie, has been the league's best pitcher since the All-Star break.
Houston (1-5) slipped toward last place, but rehired Manager Bill Virdon. J. R. Richard fanned 11 Braves to raise his total to 290, most by a National League righthander in this century. San Diego (4-2) reached a new plateau with a flourish. Pounding out a team-record 20 hits, including four by Dave Winfield, the Padres buried the Dodgers 12-3 and assured themselves of the first winning season in their 10-year history. Gaylord Perry, another Cy Young contender, sweetened the celebration by defeating the Giants 5-1 to become the league's first 20-game winner.
LA 93-62 CIN 85-69 SF 85-70 SD 81-75 HOUS 69-85 ATL 69-86
The Red Sox were sounding as defeatist as their fans, who had given up on them. "We can only afford to lose one more game," said Carl Yastrzemski as the week began. The Sox lost two but won five and narrowed the Yankee lead from 3½ games to one. Among the heroes was Yaz, who had five RBIs during an 8-6 victory over Detroit and then proclaimed that he would play three more years—instead of one, as he had earlier announced. Another hero was Dennis Eckersley, who beat the Tigers 5-1 for his 18th victory. It was the ninth time Eckersley had won following a Red Sox loss. Then there was the old magician, Luis Tiant, who threw 142 pitches and stranded 12 Blue Jays in a 3-1 win. What the Sox did worst was scoreboard-watching. Aware that the Yankees had lost the first game of a doubleheader to Toronto and were trailing in the second, Boston folded up and dropped a 12-2 embarrassment to the Tigers. At least one of the Sox wasn't even sure who he had been hitting against. "You've got to give credit to Rozema, or whatever his name is," said Jerry Remy.
New York's problem was pitching. While losing five of eight, the Yankee staff gave up 41 runs. The hitters, who accounted for just 26, weren't much better. Nor were their excuses. Lou Piniella claimed that rain had cost the team valuable batting practice. And several Yankees accused Milwaukee (4-3) 20-game winner Mike Caldwell, who defeated them 2-0, of using spitballs. "He threw about five spitters tonight—all out-pitches," said Gary Thomasson. But Reggie Jackson added, "If he throws a spitter, so what? If not for Ron Guidry, Caldwell's the Cy Young Award winner. I'm swinging pretty good now and he made me look funny." Other Yankees looked pretty funny a couple of nights later in Cleveland. Aware that the Red Sox had blown a game in the ninth to Toronto, New York collapsed in the 10th as Thurman Munson committed a passed ball that allowed Duane Kuiper of the Indians (3-1) to advance to second, and then Kuiper went to third as Goose Gossage served up a wild pitch. Kuiper scored the winning run on a single off the glove of Shortstop Fred Stanley.
More trouble was brewing in Baltimore (3-3) where teammates turned on Pitcher Jim Palmer with a vengeance. Having already stirred their ire by leaving several close games with alleged arm trouble, Palmer walked off the field in disgust one pitch after Outfielder Pat Kelly failed to make a difficult play on a ball that went for a double. The Orioles had been leading 1-0 at the time. Palmer's relief, Don Stanhouse, then allowed the Indians to score twice, sending the Orioles to a 2-1 defeat and depriving Palmer of his 20th win.
Said Player Rep Mark Belanger, "Palmer didn't want to pitch.... I don't want any pitcher on this club to get on a fielder." Palmer later apologized to Kelly and then further subdued his critics by whipping Detroit 6-1, the eighth time he has won 20 or more games. Nonetheless, Palmer's behavior prompted team officials to confirm that he is on the trading block.
Manager Ralph Houk of Detroit (3-5) announced his retirement. Houk managed the Yankees twice for a total of 11 years and the Tigers once for five. He finished in the second division 12 times, but, oddly, was never fired. His replacement will be Les Moss, who managed 19 of the present Tigers in the minors. And in Toronto (1-5) Manager Roy Hartsfield was rehired. Why? Because the Blue Jays are seven wins ahead of their 1977 pace and may not lose 100 games.
NY 93-62 BOS 92-63 MIL 89-67 BALT 86-68 DET 83-72 CLEV 68-84 TOR 59-95