Rookie Sandy Kutcher drove in three runs with a home run and a single Friday at San Francisco, and Mike LaCoss pitched a five-hitter as the Giants beat the floundering St. Louis Cardinals, 6-1.
It was the eighth loss in a row for the Cardinals, the best team in the National League a year ago, and enabled the Giants, almost the worst team in 1985, to increase their lead in the West to 1 1/2 games.
Kutcher, from Palmdale, was brought up to play center field less than a month ago because of injuries to several players. He is another reason for the turnaround by the Giants, who have had rookies come through at almost every position. Kutcher has slugged home runs in two straight games, has hit safely in 14 of the 16 games he has played and has been outstanding in the outfield. Last season, at Phoenix in the Pacific Coast League, he batted .237.
With the halfway point of the season just a game away, the Giants are 44-36. A year ago, they were 31-49, after winning two in a row, and were 15 1/2 games out of first place.
While rookies have performed well, the veteran LaCoss is also a major reason the Giants are legitimate pennant contenders. After five consecutive poor seasons, LaCoss, 30, was a pitcher without a team last spring.
He begged Manager Roger Craig for a chance. Craig, a rather soft-hearted former pitcher, not only invited LaCoss to spring training, he taught the 6-4 right-hander how to throw a split-fingered fastball. The results have been astounding.
In pitching the second complete game in his last three starts, LaCoss improved his record to 8-3 and his earned-run average to 2.61. Not since 1980, his third season with the Cincinnati Reds, has LaCoss won eight games. His total in his previous five seasons was only 23 victories.
"I was a pitcher and I had been in the same situation," Craig said. "I think he has proved he is a damn good pitcher. He has done everything we've asked. In 14 starts, he has had only one bad outing. You can't ask for more."
New York 2, Houston 1--It was a fitting matchup for the Fourth of July at New York: The two pitchers with the most explosive fastballs in the game, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden, were on the firing line.
Gooden wound up with the victory, hurling a five-hitter to improve his record to 10-3. But for five innings, it was a dream matchup. Ryan, 39, struck out six and gave up just three hits in five innings. Because the all-time strikeout leader has just returned to action after recovering from a strained elbow, the Astros are allowing him only 125 pitches each start.
When Ryan reached his limit, it was a 1-1 game and he had increased his strikeout total to 4,160.
In his first two seasons, it appeared that Gooden might one day supplant Ryan as the strikeout king. In 495 innings, he had 544 strikeouts. But in his third season, Gooden has not been close to that pace. With four strikeouts Friday, he has 98 in 132 innings this season.
"I used three pitches today," said Gooden, whose major league career record is 51-16. "I threw six changeups and got (Kevin) Bass on one of them. The second complete game in a row meant something to me."
Cincinnati 4, Philadelphia 1--Tom Browning, a 20-game winner as a Red rookie last season, has had his problems this year. His pitching was better in this game at Philadelphia, but his luck wasn't.
Browning (6-7) was only seven outs away from a no-hitter when Von Hayes hit a grounder toward first base. The ball took a bad hop over Pete Rose's head and ended Browning's no-hit hopes. He didn't even make it through the eighth inning, needing help from Ron Robinson.
San Diego 2, Chicago 1--Pinch-hitter Bruce Bochy hit a home run with two out in the ninth inning at San Diego. It was Bochy's fifth home run of the season and the second time he has hit a game-winning pinch home run.
Bochy, batting for Rich Gossage, hit a 3-and-1 pitch by Ray Fontenot. Gossage pitched two innings in relief of Lance McCullers.
In his first start after making 58 relief appearances since being brought up last August, McCullers gave up just two hits in 6 innings. He left with a 1-0 lead, but Gossage gave up a game-tying home run to Gary Matthews in the eighth.
Montreal 11, Atlanta 5--The Braves' Rick Mahler, going after his seventh win in a row, was pounded for 8 hits and 7 runs in 3 innings at Atlanta.
Floyd Youmans, given all the hitting support, staggered to his fifth win in a row for the Expos. He lasted 8 innings, giving up 5 hits and walking 7.
Mike Fitzgerald drove in four runs for the Expos.