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Yankee Reliever Rich Gossage "earned" the strangest save of his career last Sunday when, with New York leading 4-3, Kansas City's George Brett was called out after slugging a 1-0 Gossage pitch into Yankee Stadium's rightfield bleachers with two out in the ninth for an apparent two-run homer.
After the Yankees protested the amount of pine tar on Brett's bat, Plate Umpire Tim McClelland agreed and made the call that disallowed the homer. Brett raged, but to no avail. McClelland's decision was based on rules that say pine tar can't cover more than the lower 18 inches of a bat and that a player is out if the ump believes his bat has been altered to affect the flight of the ball. Brett said he uses tar to improve his grip, because he doesn't wear a batting glove.
New York Coach Don Zimmer and Third Baseman Graig Nettles had noticed Brett's inordinate application of pine tar in Kansas City two weeks ago and told other Yankees about it for use at an opportune moment. But when Catcher Rick Cerone first picked up the bat Sunday, he mistakenly checked it for being loaded with cork. "I tossed the bat down, and then I remembered what I was supposed to be checking for," said Cerone, who grabbed it from the bat boy, noted the tar above the label and pointed it out to McClelland.
You would think the last thing a first-place manager would have to worry about is being fired, even with a disappointing 43-42 record. Or so Philadelphia's Pat Corrales thought. Corrales, who was almost canned six weeks earlier when the Phillies were in third place, had Philadelphia atop the National League East on July 18 when—zap!—he was replaced by Paul Owens, the Phils' general manager since 1972. Owens had made a similar switch in July of that year and went 33-47 after coming down to the dugout to replace Frank Lucchesi.
The man most responsible for Owens' move this time was Hugh Alexander, Philly's chief scout. Alexander had urged Owens to take over as manager on June 6, when the Phillies' first considered a change. Owens declined, partly because he felt his wife, Marcelle, wouldn't be pleased. Alexander settled that by urging Marcelle to give her O.K.
"The biggest job a manager has is to motivate players up to their capacities," said Phillie President Bill Giles after axing Corrales. Giles made up his mind to do so after several Phillies convinced him that Corrales hadn't responded to requests to establish better communications with his players and thereby motivate them more.
Owens said he had "some ideas that I think will straighten out some things. It's evident that there has been a lack of communication. Handling players today is not easy, and it isn't any secret that this is one of the toughest clubs to manage. But perhaps I can reach them."
Through last Sunday, Owens had earned mixed reviews. The Phillies were 2-5 under him but, while beating the Astros 10-3 and the Braves 10-6, displayed an offensive punch they had lacked almost all season. Owens has done some of the same lineup juggling that had caused rumblings during Corrales' regime. One of Owens' most difficult tasks will be to get more productivity out of Second Baseman Joe Morgan, who was hitting .187 at week's end. Unless Morgan perks up, the Phillies will bring up Juan Samuel, who was batting .347 in the Pacific Coast League. Meanwhile, Corrales sat back and awaited paychecks from the Phils, to whom he's under contract until the end of next season.
Angel Leftfielder Brian Downing's string of errorless games ended last Friday night against Detroit at an American League-record 244. That bettered the 1970-72 mark of Detroit's Al Kaline by two games but was 22 short of the major league standard belonging to Don Demeter (1962-65) when he played for Philadelphia and Detroit. Though Downing isn't as swift as Kaline or Demeter, he handled 469 chances before erring—94 more than Kaline and 20 more than Demeter in their streaks.