In the late 1970s, it was generally conceded that Dave Parker was the best hitter in baseball. He won consecutive batting titles and led the Pittsburgh Pirates to the world championship in 1979.
Would you believe that, at 34, Parker is having his best season, except for average?
Parker hit a dramatic two-out, three-run home run at Cincinnati Friday night to give the Reds a 4-3 victory over Houston and keep them alive in the West.
The big right fielder showed signs of returning to form last season, his first with the Reds. But his 1984 figures--16 home runs, 94 runs batted in and a .285 average--are far below this season’s achievements.
As the leader of the Reds’ battle to stay in contention, Parker has tied career highs in home runs (30) and RBIs (117) with 10 more games left. His .313 average is the fourth highest in the league.
In 1978, when Parker hit .334 and had 30 home runs and 117 RBIs, he was the Most Valuable Player. He may be in line to repeat.
Parker has been a major cog in the Reds’ resurgence from a 70-92 season in 1984. Another important factor has been Manager Pete Rose. It was Rose who kept the rally alive in Friday night’s game and gave Parker another chance to swing the bat.
Houston rookie Jeff Heathcock held the Reds to four hits and an unearned run and was ahead, 3-1, going into the eighth inning. With one out, Eddie Milner singled. Jeff Calhoun replaced Heathcock and got Tony Perez on a liner to short, but Rose singled to keep the rally alive. Parker hit the first pitch by the left-handed Calhoun for the home run, his 17th game-winning hit.
“It’s no surprise what we have done,” Parker recently told the Associated Press. “We knew we were just as good as any club in the division. If we don’t make it this season, we have a bright future.
“In a way, this is like the 1979 (Pittsburgh) club. There’s a family-type atmosphere here. The players respect each other’s abilities, and they needle each other. It’s paying off because we’ve become productive.”
Parker is one of the Reds’ clubhouse leaders, a role of which he is proud.
“The leadership I never received credit for in Pittsburgh is here,” he said. “I lead by example. I think I’ve played a major part in the change of attitude here.”
All season, Parker has been giving credit to Rose. When the Reds fell 9 1/2 back of the Dodgers in mid-September, Rose rallied the Reds, who won six in a row and pulled within 4 1/2.
“That reflects the character of the man (Rose),” Parker said. “He plays with all he’s got. He wouldn’t let the team die.”
Pittsburgh 8, New York 7--When the Mets began the first of six games in 10 days with the Pirates last weekend, Manager Dave Johnson of the Mets thought that it was the time for his team to make a move.
They trailed the St. Louis Cardinals in the tight battle for first place in the East by only one game. While they were playing six with Pittsburgh, the Cardinals were playing six with Montreal, a team that had beaten the Cardinals in 9 of 12 games this season.
“We can’t afford to lose any games to the Pirates,” Johnson told his Mets.
But in this game at Pittsburgh, Joe Orsulak had two hits in a six-run third inning that carried the Pirates to victory. It was the third time in four games that the Pirates have beaten the Mets.
With the Cardinals rained out at Montreal, the Mets fell 4 1/2 behind and have only eight games remaining.
The Mets had a 5-2 lead before the Pirates erupted in the third. They scored twice in the eighth and put the first two batters on base in the ninth before Jose DeLeon came in to choke off the rally.
DeLeon, who has a 2-18 record, retired Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry and Tom Paciorek to earn his second save.
“That was a tough one,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t afford to lose it. We need a lot of help now.
“I thought we were going to win it when we put the first two on in the ninth.”
Former Dodgers R.J. Reynolds and Sid Bream had hits in the six-run inning, but the big blow was Orsulak’s second hit of the inning--a two-out infield single that, with the runners on the move, scored the last two runs.
Chicago 9, Philadelphia 7--Their battle is only for fourth place in the East, but the rivalry between the Cubs and the Phillies is getting heated.
In this game at Chicago, the Cubs moved into fourth by a half-game, but they did it over the angry protest of Phillie Manager John Felske.
With the score tied, 6-6, two on and two out in the seventh, Leon Durham hit a foul fly to right. A fan apparently reached out and knocked the ball away from right fielder Glenn Wilson.
Over the protest of Felske, first base umpire Steve Rippley ruled it to be no play. Given an extra swing, Durham hit a game-winning home run. The umpire ruled Wilson couldn’t have caught the ball anyhow.
Durham’s 20th home run spoiled a big day for Wilson, who hit two home runs and drove in five runs.
Rick Sutcliffe, making his first appearance since July 28, threw 50 pitches, some of them not too good. He went 2 innings, giving up three hits, two walks and four runs.
San Diego 10, Atlanta 1--Everybody gets well against the hapless Braves. In this game at Atlanta, Eric Show hit his first home run of the season, a three-run blast in the second inning, and pitched an eight-hitter.
The Padres built an 8-0 lead in the first four innings. Show lost his shutout in the ninth when Rick Cerone singled in the run.