Now the real pennant race begins. How healthy the Milwaukee Brewers will be for it remained a question after today's 8-5 victory over the California Angels on the last day that the three contenders for the AL East title faced a West Division opponent.
The victory kept the Brewers four games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and 4 1/2 up on the Boston Red Sox. The Brewers' final month concludes with home-and-home series against Baltimore, Boston, New York and Detroit.
Outfielder Gorman Thomas, tied with Reggie Jackson for the American League home run lead, and infielder Jim Gantner were injured today, joining relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, whose status remains a mystery. Club officials say Fingers will return within a week from a torn muscle in his arm, but there are indications he may be out longer.
As for the last month of the season, Brewers Manager Harvey Kuenn said, "I'm looking forward to it. That's the way it ought to be, playing the teams you have to beat to win it. I'm glad we're not playing on the West Coast. Out there, you're looking up at the scoreboard all the time."
Thomas has been troubled with a tender elbow on his throwing arm and obviously was in pain in the second inning after he caught Ron Jackson's deep fly and threw to second to get Reggie Jackson, who had tagged up. But Thomas stayed in the game, and drove in a run with a bloop single during the Brewers' five-run rally in the sixth inning.
Thomas' was the only strong throwing arm in the Brewer outfield.
Second baseman Gantner, who batting average recently slipped below .300 after he spent much of the season in the league's top 10, was hit on the left wrist by a pitch from Geoff Zahn and was taken to a hospital for X-rays. They were negative, but a bad bruise likely will keep Gantner from playing for a few days.
Hitting Gantner to start the bottom of the sixth was the beginning of the end for Zahn (15-7), who had been dueling Milwaukee's Mike Caldwell (14-11).
The Brewers had managed only two hits in five innings, but Paul Molitor followed Gantner with a bouncing single and Robin Yount advanced the runners with a bunt. Rob Picciolo, who ran for Gantner, scored on a wild pitch. Then Thomas blooped a single over second and Don Money hit a fly into the right-field corner that Reggie Jackson lazily played into a triple. Thomas scored on the play when catcher Bob Boone couldn't hold Bobby Grich's relay throw, which would've had Thomas out by six feet.
Outfielder Mark Brouhard, just back from the Brewers' farm team in Vancouver, then homered and, suddenly, the Brewers had a 5-1 lead and Zahn was gone.
Except for Brian Downing's fourth-inning home run, Caldwell had mastered the Angels through six innings, allowing only three hits. But in the seventh, Reggie Jackson hit an opposite-field home run to make it 5-3 and Don Baylor hit a two-run homer in the eighth. But the Brewers had scored three more times in the seventh, and rookie Pete Ladd, fresh from Vancouver, finished off the Angels in the ninth.
Fingers, 36, had pitched only 5 1/3 innings since returning from a sore elbow.
Ladd earned his third save. In 11 appearances, he has given up only four runs in 13 2/3 innings. Fingers has 29 saves in 50 appearances.