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"If any one of the three teams hits a hot streak, it could be curtains for the other two," said Jerry Reuss' fellow Dodger pitcher, Burt Hooton. The teams are Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Houston, all of which have been do-si-doing in and out of first place. "And," said Hooton, " San Francisco is knocking at the door." In fact, the Giants (5-2) were the ones who hit a hot streak last week—four straight wins, including two pitched by Vida Blue, who hadn't had a victory since June 13. Looking like the Blue of yore, he beat first-place Houston and then allowed Atlanta just one run while striking out six. "He was throwing breaking balls at 90 mph," marveled Giant Centerfielder Bill North. Jackie Clark continued on his tear, getting his major league-leading 18th game-winning RBI and hitting his third career grand slam.
"Going into the year, we felt our pitching would be outstanding," said Cincinnati's Johnny Bench. "Now we're getting pitching from guys you never heard of." Like Joe Price, who retired the first 12 San Diego batters and held the Padres to three hits for his first complete major league game—before 50 friends and relatives from nearby Lakeside, Calif. "They helped me relax," said the rookie lefty. The Reds (4-2) have beaten the Padres (1-5) 12 times this year. Then it was on to L.A. for the Reds. The Dodgers (2-4) had just lost three straight to Atlanta and been shut out for only the third time in 1980. But Reuss rolled and Dusty Baker sparkled in the field and at the plate, getting two homers for a 3-1 win. The next day another rookie came to the rescue for the Reds, Second Baseman Ron Oester, who hit a bloop double in the top of the ninth to score the winning run.
Manager Bill Virdon of the Astros (2-4) lamented, "We haven't been able to put anything together for six weeks." But then came a strong three-hitter by Nolan Ryan against San Diego, and the Astros won their next game as well. Victory came at 1:26 a.m. in the 20th inning, thanks to a three-base error by the Padres' Jerry Mumphrey. Having consumed six hours and 17 minutes, the game was the longest in either club's history.
They have various names—bench warmers, the splinter set, subs, scrubs. In Atlanta (5-2), Jerry Royster, sometime second baseman, brushed off the splinters and hit a two-run single that beat the Giants 3-1. "I know my role," said Royster. "If I play tomorrow, I'd be totally surprised." He did and was. It was Manager Bobby Cox who found himself benched—for three games, by League President Chub Feeney, for spitting in an umpire's face. The Braves won all three games that Cox missed, but lost once more when he returned.
HOUS 62-53 CIN 63-54 LA 62-54 SF 58-59 ATL 54-62 SD 50-67
"You've got to stop being so bleeping cool. Get that through your bleeping heads," yelled Manager Dallas Green between games of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh. His Phils (5-3) had just lost 7-1 to the world champions. Amused writers pressed their ears to the door of the clubhouse to hear the scathing attack. But the Phils didn't go out and win one for the bleeper. They scored just one run in the second game—a Bake McBride homer—lost 4-1 and left town. "Just because we didn't win doesn't mean it didn't sink in," said Pete Rose of the bawling out. The next day the Phillies' game in Chicago was called in the 10th because of darkness, and when it resumed the following day, there had been plenty of time to digest Green's message. Mike Schmidt, whose bat had been cool, regained his stroke, hitting three homers and driving in seven as the Phils won two of three. And then it was off to New York, where the Mets (3-4) had been waiting for revenge. Earlier in the year, Manager Green, never a reticent sort, had remarked that all you needed to beat the Mets was two runs. But these were the new Mets, who had just won two from those same Pirates. Came the test, though, and the Mets let fly balls drop, threw to the wrong bases and failed to cover the right ones. They scored a grand total of one run in the first two games and lost the third 11-6. They also watched Rose become the fifth player in major league history to get 3,500 hits.
By the weekend the Pirates (5-2) and Expos (2-4) were tied for first place and the teams were in Pittsburgh for a mini-showdown. Montreal Manager Dick Williams tried to fire up his team, which has lost nine of its 11 games with the Pirates, by saying Manager Chuck Tanner had snubbed them in picking players for the All-Star Game. "We play scared against them," confessed Shortstop Chris Speier. "I guess it's the pressure." Too true. The Expos failed to score after loading the bases in the first inning of the first game and got just three runs in two defeats to fall into second place by two.
For the week, Expo starters had an ERA of 6.28 and the relievers 5.85. "I was trying for the cycle," said Expo utility man Tommy Hutton after a game in St. Louis. Unfortunately, he was pitching that night. "I gave up a homer, a double, a single; I walked a guy, I struck out a guy, a guy flied out and a guy grounded out," said Hutton. "What more could you do in one inning of pitching?"