Houston is hurting. The Astros (2-4) have batted .286 since the All-Star break, compared with a season-long .255, but they have won only 16 of their last 30. The ultimate in frustration came against Philadelphia: the Astros pounded out 10 hits but left seven men on base and lost 1-0. Earlier, Houston had ended an embarrassing streak of 25 games when Pitcher Joaquin Andujar hit an inside-the-park home run to beat Montreal 2-1. It was the first homer by an Astro in the Dome since July 15.
The bottom dropped out for San Diego, which lost six of seven and fell into fifth. But that wasn't the worst of it. Owner Ray Kroc put his foot in his mouth again when he expressed interest in potential free agents Joe Morgan and Graig Nettles of the Yankees. The indiscretion brought an accusation of tampering from New York owner George Steinbrenner. After a meek apology, Kroc disqualified his team from bidding for either player and pledged to spend up to $10 million rebuilding his team.
San Francisco lost four of six and any pretense of harmony. Outfielder Bill North implied that his teammates were losers, Pitcher Ed Halicki complained that he should be starting instead of relieving, and several writers covering the club strongly suggested that Manager Joe Altobelli should be fired. The Giants fell into fourth behind Los Angeles (5-1), which has won 21 of 29. The latest Dodger heroes were a local boy, Babo Castillo, who made good by winning one game and saving another; veteran Burt Hooton, who two-hit the Cardinals 9-0 with his new one-finger curve; and Gary Thomasson, who took advantage of a rare chance to play in the outfield by homering three times.
The only Atlanta (1-5) hero was Phil Niekro, who threw his 200th career complete game and beat Houston 3-2.
HOUS 70-53 CIN 68-56 LA 57-65 SF 57-66 SD 53-71 ATL 47-76
Rob Wilfong's three-run homer, the first by a Twin in 10 games, gave Minnesota a 5-2 win over New York. Wilfong's loud bat—he hit .417 for the week—was a lonesome one. Roy Smalley has hit .200 since the All-Star break, and Ron Jackson has not had a game-winning RBI all season. All of this might be disastrous for another pennant contender, except that Minnesota plays in baseball's weakest division. The Twins (3-4) have a .500 record since the break, but they have nonetheless gained two games on first-place California. Typifying Minnesota's good luck last week was a pair of wins by Jerry Koosman, who beat the A's 1-0 and the Yankees 5-2 while yielding 10 hits in each game. For the first time in his career Koosman is giving up more hits (200) than innings pitched (192), but his record is 15-10.
The Angels (2-4) began gearing up for September. Nolan Ryan pitched for the first time since injuring his elbow on July 25 and beat the Blue Jays 7-5. Two other ailing pitchers, Chris Knapp and Frank Tanana, are expected to be available soon. Another likely September threat is Kansas City (3-4), whose rookie pitcher, Craig Chamberlain, beat Detroit and Baltimore by 7-1 scores in his first major league starts.
Texas lost six of seven, but drew its harshest criticism for needlessly acquiring a lefthanded first baseman, Willie Montanez, from the Mets. "Can Montanez pitch?" snapped Outfielder Richie Zisk, referring to the three first basemen already on the Texas roster and the pitching staffs 3.98 ERA. Added ex-Ranger Oscar Gamble, now of the Yanks, "If they'd just get a team and let them play, they'd be better off. They have a lot of talent, enough to win the division for sure. But they ought to let the guys get to know each other for three or four years. They ought to let the talent gel."
After defeating the Orioles 7-0, Chicago rookie Steve (Rainbow) Trout was so happy he leaped into the arms of Catcher Milt May. Chicago (3-5) got its other two wins from another rookie, Ross Baumgarten, who beat Toronto and Boston and kept his composure. Lamar Johnson extended his hitting streak to 19 games.