Rangers ace Jon Matlack tied Mike Caldwell of the Brewers for the most wins in the major leagues yesterday, cruising to his 18th victory against just three defeats with a dominating 4-0 shutout of the Tigers before a Navy Night crowd at Tiger Stadium. For Matlack, who was traded to the Rangers in December after seven seasons with the Mets, the win was not only the 100th of his major league career, but helped lift Texas to a 4-game lead over second-place Kansas City in the tight AL West pennant race.
“I hit some rough spots last year,” Matlack said, referring to his 7-15 won-lost record with the Mets in 1977, “so it feels good to turn it around and help a team make a run at a division title.”
Help also came last night in the form of slugging left fielder Richie Zisk, another freshman member of the team, who spent last season with the White Sox after seven seasons with the Pirates; his 2-run home run in the first inning off Detroit spot starter Kip Young gave Texas a quick 2-0 lead. It was Zisk’s 19th HR of the year, and the first a slumping Rangers squad had hit since July 30th, when Johnny Grubb connected off Wilbur Wood in the second game of a twinbill against Chicago.
After Young averted further first-inning damage by enticing Grubb to loft an infield fly for the third out, Matlack ran into some trouble of his own to open the home half of the frame, serving up a double to Johnny Wockenfuss and a two-out walk to Jason Thompson. But Matlack settled down and retired Alan Trammell on a fly out to center to end the threat and escape the inning unscathed. From there, the former NL Rookie of the Year was invincible, retiring nine straight Tigers before Rusty Staub singled to lead off the fifth.
Meanwhile, the Rangers would pad their two-run advantage in the third, when lead-off hitter Bump Wills singled, stole second for his 58th theft of the season, and scored one batter later on an Al Oliver base hit to right. Texas would strike again in the fourth, making it a 4-0 contest with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Wills, which sent Toby Harrah home from third to round out the game’s scoring.
Detroit gave the home crowd something to cheer about when they put two runners on in the sixth and in the ninth, both times with two out, but Matlack worked his way out of each jam to keep his lead and shutout intact. In each instance, Matlack was assisted by a pair of sparkling defensive plays from his fielders: by right fielder Grubb in the sixth, when he leapt at the wall to grab a high drive off the bat of Staub, and by third baseman Harrah in the ninth to end the game, when he snared a hard shot down the line to deny pinch-hitter Mickey Stanley a sure double and two RBI.
For Matlack, it was his second shutout in a row, and his fourth of the SP78 campaign, dropping his season ERA to an impressive 2.11. He finished the game with a six-hitter, striking out three and walking one, and went the distance for his 16th complete game. On the flip side of the mound, rookie righthander Young—who hadn’t pitched in eight days—saw his record drop to 8-3 with the loss, after serving up nine hits and all four Tiger runs in six innings of work.
The Rangers are now tied with the Yankees for most wins in the AL, with 67, while the loss stopped Detroit’s modest win streak at two games. “If we can start hitting again, and Matty keeps pitching the way he’s pitching, we’ll have a chance at this thing,” said Texas manager Billy Hunter after the game, referencing his team’s lackluster .191 batting average for August and their shot at the division flag. “With seven games coming up this month against the Royals, it could get interesting.”
Both teams have the day off tomorrow before each opens the weekend with a three-game series on the road: Texas travels to Cleveland to face the Indians at Municipal Stadium, while Detroit heads west to Comiskey Park to take on the last-place White Sox.
To see a full recap of the game with notes, another photo, and an opportunity to make comments, click here.