A pall hung over the Houston (2-6) and Cincinnati (4-4) pitching staffs. It was bad enough that the Astros allowed 32 runs and 45 hits while dropping three straight to Atlanta. It was more depressing still that Nolan Ryan's 3,000th career strikeout came in an 8-1 loss to the Reds. Cincy Pitcher Tom Seaver returned home from San Francisco after yielding seven hits and five runs in four innings in an 8-4 loss to the Giants. Amid reports of retirement—Seaver said it was "conceivable"—he was put on the 21-day disabled list with tendinitis in his right shoulder.
While their rivals wilted, the Dodgers (5-3) took the lead for the first time in four weeks. Don Sutton shut out the Giants 4-0 and lowered his earned run average to 2.27. Using a shortened swing, Reggie Smith hit .375 in his last four games and took the batting lead with a .331 average. The Giants (4-4) bade farewell to Willie McCovey, who was ending his outstanding 22-year career. Before leaving, he beat the Dodgers 4-3 with a one-run double and got a run-scoring base hit in a 4-3 win over the Reds. In the latter game, his last at Candlestick Park, a crowd of 39,445 gave him six standing ovations.
Taking three apiece from San Diego and Houston, the Braves (6-1) averaged seven runs a game, climbed from fifth to fourth and gained 3� games on the league leaders. Dale Murphy led the 17-tater attack with four homers and eight RBIs. Hitting as if he were facing his own inept staff, Dave Winfield of San Diego (2-5) batted .452. Despite being rocked for 15 homers and 35 runs in seven games, the Padre pitchers didn't lose their sense of humor. When asked what he was carrying in three large cardboard boxes, reliever Rollie Fingers said, "Home run balls."
LA 46-33 HOUS 44-33 CIN 41-37 ATL 36-40 SF 36-43 SD 34-46
For a first-place team, the Expos (3-5) looked like stumblebums. When he was called to the dugout for an interview, Pitcher Bill Lee caught the cleats of his right shoe in the laces of his left and fell, injuring his right knee. Expo fielders were just about as ungraceful. Third Baseman Larry Parrish cost Montreal one game by hobbling a throw, Shortstop Chris Speier set up a big inning in another defeat by booting a double-play ball, and the Expos committed five errors in a 9-5 loss to the Mets.
Philadelphia (5-3) Pitcher Bob Walk had better support. "Instead of trying to strike everybody out, I threw fastballs and let them hit it into one of those Gold Gloves," he said after setting down St. Louis 8-1. His teammates played errorless ball both in that game and in Walk's 5-2 win over the Mets. But when the Phillies had a chance to catch Montreal, Steve Carlton pitched his worst game of the year and lost 6-1.
There was little joy in Pittsburgh (4-4). The Pirates dropped a doubleheader to the Cubs and got virtually no hitting from anyone but Mike Easier, who didn't come to bat often enough (8 for 20) to really help. The only real high point was Jim Bibby's 5-3 win over the Cubs. It was Bibby's 10th victory in 11 decisions, and his .909 won-lost percentage leads both leagues.
The confusion atop the standings ignited a joyous—if premature—bout of Saturday night fever in New York. The Mets (4-3) edged within one game of .500 by beating the Expos 7-5 before 51,097 Saturday night revelers at Shea Stadium. Said Centerfielder Lee Mazzilli, who homered in four consecutive games and ran his hitting streak to 16 games, "I've said it before and nobody seems to listen. Whether people realize it or not, we're in a pennant race. We're going into the All-Star break and we're still in the thick of things. This is a pennant race." We get the idea, Lee.