Rollie Fingers of San Diego (2-4) was the league's leading reliever the last two years but this season is an altogether different story. Last week he gave up five runs on four hits, and his ERA soared to 4.26. Dave Winfield is convinced he is the best player in the league and he is doing his best to prove it. The right-fielder hit .423 to move into the league batting lead with a .338 average for the season. He had five hits in one game for the first time in his career. Three of those came off Phil Niekro of Atlanta (2-5). Phil's knuckleball refused to knuckle, and instead of gaining his 15th win he suffered his 13th defeat. He lost again, to Houston, tying Walter Johnson's 1914 record of four wild pitches in one inning, and finishing with six for the day.
Although they played .500 ball, the Dodgers (3-3) dropped 2� games further back. Much of the blame for the decline of L.A. can be charged to the bullpen, which has saved just 16 games and has a horrendous 4.63 ERA. Three pitchers—Doug Rau, Andy Messersmith and Lerrin LaGrow—were on the disabled list and two others—Terry Forster and Bobby Welch—probably should be. With the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 11th and two men on, Manny Mota came in as a pinch hitter against San Francisco. He drilled the ball into left to score the winning run. That was his 143rd career pinch hit, one fewer than Smoky Burgess' major league record.
HOU 65-47 CIN 60-52 SF 52-58 SD 50-62 LA 47-62 ATL 45-66
The morning after his Expos (6-2) lost three straight to the Pirates to fall out of the lead for the first time in a month and a half, Manager Dick Williams canceled batting practice and called a meeting of his players. "I told them to concentrate on execution. That's what got us here," he said. After the manager and his coaches left, the players remained in the clubhouse for a rap session. "We just wanted to get our enthusiasm back, to come together as a team," said Outfielder Warren Cromartie. The Expos took the field and scored four runs in the first inning to beat the Pirates 5-3 and regain first place. The entire team seemed inspired. Ellis Valentine hit two home runs to beat St. Louis 5-1, Rudy May pitched a three-hit, eight-strikeout shutout in his first start of the season, Rodney Scott slugged a two-run homer in the 12th inning to win the first of two games from Chicago, and Andre Dawson drove in four runs on four hits to help beat New York 10-6. Ellis Valentine hit .375 during the week, drove in six runs, scored six, stole two bases and went from first to home on a stolen base and an error. "Our next meeting will be before the playoffs," said Cromartie.
The Pirates (5-3) didn't need a meeting. They were whooping it up in the clubhouse as usual and having fun playing baseball. They split two-game series with the Mets and the Cardinals and then took three from the Phillies. John Candelaria shut out the Phils on five hits despite suffering a back injury in an automobile accident early in the week, and Shortstop Tim Foli stroked his 1,000th base hit. "After I hit it, Pete Rose got the ball and gave it to me," said Foli. "I was almost embarrassed to take it from him." With good reason. Later in the game, Rose lashed his 2,426th career single, tying Honus Wagner's alltime National League record.
The Phillies (4-5) continued to be plagued with injuries. Garry Maddox bruised his ankle, Bob Boone bruised his hand, Randy Lerch hurt his thumb and Dickie Noles was hit on his left elbow by a batting-practice line drive off the bat of Greg Luzinski. "I've never seen so many ice bags in one clubhouse," said Luzinski. After losing a doubleheader to the Pirates, Manager Danny Ozark said, "The sky hasn't fallen on us yet. There are still 54 games left. We may win all 54." After losing again the next day, the Phillies were shooting for 53.
The Cardinals (3-5) don't travel well. Well into the most important road trip of the season, a 14-day journey in which they would play every other NL East team, they encountered engine trouble, rain delays, a customs delay and striking airline-service personnel. By the time the Redbirds had gone from Philadelphia to Montreal to Pittsburgh to Chicago—all in one week—they were exhausted and looking forward to getting back to their nest.
The Cubs (2-5) also had a disastrous road trip. They lost five straight—to New York, Philadelphia and Montreal—and were glad to go home to Wrigley Field, where Dave Kingman got his second home run of the week to bring his total to 37 and Bruce Sutter picked up his 24th and 25th saves.
Things were finally looking up for the Mets (4-4). Kevin Kobel and Ed Glynn combined for a two-hit shutout of the Cubs. Neil Allen protected two one-run leads in three days, first in a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia, then a 3-2 win over Montreal. The second save gave Craig Swan a career-high 10th win and enabled the Mets to beat the Expos for the first time this year.