When the New York Mets faded in the stretch last season and were beaten out in the National League East, part of the blame was laid on pitcher Ron Darling.
After a brilliant first half of the season in which he posted a 10-3 record, Darling won only two of eight decisions after the middle of July, and the Mets finished 6 1/2 games behind the Chicago Cubs.
The 25-year-old right-hander was off to an even better start this season. In the middle of July, he was 10-2. When his next five starts resulted in three defeats and two no-decisions, the Mets were wondering if history was going to repeat.
Instead, Darling appears ready to play a prominent role in the Mets' stretch drive.
Darling, with help from Jesse Orosco and a stalwart defense, won his second in a row Saturday night at New York as the Mets ended the San Diego Padres' five-game winning streak with a 5-1 victory.
Darling, who pitched seven shutout innings last Monday to beat Montreal and end his skid, had a 3-1 lead going into the eighth but loaded the bases with none out.
Orosco came in. The first batter Orosco faced, Graig Nettles, hit a pop fly into short left, but shortstop Rafael Santana made a fine over-the-shoulder catch. Then first baseman Keith Hernandez turned Terry Kennedy's hot smash into an inning-ending double play, and the Mets were home free. Santana's return throw to first on the play was in the dirt, but Orosco dug it out.
Ray Knight led the Mets' attack on Dave Dravecky (11-8). He went 4 for 4 and drove in three runs. Until Knight broke lose, the Padres had yielded only two earned runs in the last five games. Knight had been in a deep slump, 0 for 19, going into the game.
Met Manager Dave Johnson said the key play was Hernandez turning Kennedy's smash into the double play. "The ball came up on Keith with a lot of topspin," Johnson told the Associated Press. "He made a great throw to second, and Jesse came over to short-hop the throw from second and get us out of the jam."
The defeat deprived the Padres of a chance to cut deeper into the lead of the Dodgers in the West. They still trail Los Angeles by 6 1/2 games. Dravecky, who was working on a three-game winning streak, departed after giving up three runs and eight hits in six innings.
St. Louis 7, Atlanta 0--After a delay of more than two hours in the top of the fifth inning at Atlanta, the game was finally called for good with the Cardinals batting in the top of the sixth.
Bob Forsch, although he pitched only four innings, was awarded the victory by the official scorer. Under ordinary circumstances, a starting pitcher must go five innings to earn credit for the victory.
Although they were in command all the way, the Cardinals almost failed to get the victory. There was a delay of 2 hours 4 minutes in the top of the fifth. When they did finally resume play, only one more inning was completed before it was rained out.
The rain-shortened win enabled the Cardinals to remain a game ahead of New York in the tight race in the East.
Terry Pendleton and Ozzie Smith each drove in two runs to lead the Cardinal assault on Len Barker and Rick Camp.
The Cardinals learned before the game that their top slugger, Jack Clark, may be out for two weeks because of a pulled muscle under his rib cage.
Chicago 4, Cincinnati 0--A few minutes after Steve Trout came off the disabled list, the Cubs sent him into action at Cincinnati. Although he didn't get the victory, Trout, who had been out for a month with an elbow injury, gave up only three hits in four innings. George Frazier (7-5) went three innings, and Lee Smith finished up to earn his 28th save.
"It was our first shutout since June 28," said Manager Jim Frey, whose pitching staff has been wiped out by injury. "We got three tremendous efforts tonight. We didn't want Steve going more than four. He came out of it feeling fine."
Hard-luck Mario Soto (10-15) was the loser. Soto gave up only four hits and an unearned run in seven innings. But trailing, 1-0, the Reds elected to bat for him in the bottom of the seventh.
Philadelphia 9, San Francisco 2--Glenn Wilson, who had trouble adjusting to the National League last season after going to the Phillies from Detroit, has made himself at home in his second season.
Wilson drove in three runs in this game at Philadelphia and has 78 runs batted in on his way to a possible 100 for the season. He will need 22 in the next 41 games to make it.
Tom Foley also drove in three runs to make it easy for Charles Hudson to improve his record to 7-11. Hudson went the distance and gave up 11 hits, including Rob Deer's pinch home run in the ninth.