Just a few days out of the cellar and Player-Manager Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds is already talking pennant.
With Dave Parker back in his hitting groove, and no standout team in the National League West, it may be no pipe dream.
After Buddy Bell hit a two-run home run in the ninth inning at New York Tuesday night to send the game into extra innings, Parker doubled to open the 10th and scored the run that gave the Reds a 5-4 victory over the Mets. It left the Reds 6 1/2 games out of first.
On Monday night, Parker hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning to lead the Reds to a 7-4 victory over the runaway leaders of the East. Parker found his swing after going just 2 for 16 in a four-game series at Philadelphia over the weekend and suffering a hyper-extended knee.
Although there are four teams ahead of the Reds in the West, Rose is convinced the Reds are very much a part of the race.
"I might be wrong," Rose told the Associated Press, "but I think a couple of teams in our division already have played through some real good periods, whereas, we haven't. We've had our bad baseball."
In recent weeks the Reds have been playing the best baseball in the West. Beginning with a win over Met ace Dwight Gooden May 11, the Reds are 31-24.
"I'm not concerned about having four teams in front of us," he added. "I look for the race in the West to get even tighter. It may not even take 90 games to win. I'm not saying there aren't any good teams, there's just good balance.
"After the All-Star Game we have more home games than anybody in baseball (44 of their last 77). We weren't very good at home at first, but we've won 10 of the last 14."
Ron Darling held the Reds to five hits and an unearned run through seven innings, but left when Eddie Milner homered to open the eighth.
Jesse Orosco stopped the Reds in the eighth, but in the ninth, with the Mets leading, 4-2, Davey Concepcion singled and Bell hit his fifth home run.
With Roger McDowell pitching in the 10th, Parker doubled, went to third on an infield out and scored on a single by Tony Perez.
Houston 4, Montreal 1--More than a decade ago, when Nolan Ryan was striking out more than 300 batters a season, he always wanted to pitch every fourth day.
Now 39, Ryan still finds he pitches better with only three days off. In this game at Montreal, just his third since spending a month on the disabled list with a strained elbow, Ryan was an impressive winner.
Ryan held the Expos to five hits in seven innings and, using his famous fastball, struck out nine. Ryan has 23 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched in his three recent starts. Ryan didn't go the distance because the Astros, trailing Jay Tibbs and the Expos, 1-0, batted for him in the middle of a four-run rally that improved his record to 5-6. Rookie Ty Gainey singled in the go-ahead run and Dennis Walling followed with a two-run home run.
Philadelphia 8, Atlanta 2--The Phillies are convinced they have already found the successor to Steve Carlton. He is 22-year-old Bruce Ruffin.
In his third start at Philadelphia, Ruffin (2-0) pitched an eight-hitter, went the distance and allowed only two unearned runs.
"He reminds me of the way Steve Carlton used to act," catcher John Russell said, 'Give me the ball and let's go.' "
Ruffin was 8-4 with Reading of the Double-A Eastern League when the Phillies released Carlton.
Mike Schmidt ended an 0-for-22 slump with a two-run homer, his 17th home run of the season and 475th of his career, tying Hall of Famer Stan Musial and Willie Stargell on the all-time home run list.
Chicago 4, San Francisco 1--Dennis Eckersley pitched a six-hitter for his first complete game in more than a year in this game at San Francisco and the Giants fell into a tie with Houston for first place in the West.
Shawon Dunston drove in two runs with his ninth home run and a single to lead the Cubs' attack on former teammate Mike Krukow (10-5).
Eckersley (3-5) last went the distance on June 16, 1985. He struck out six and didn't walk a batter. The only Giant run came in the third when Jose Uribe singled, was bunted to second and scored on Randy Kutcher's single.
Jerry Mumphrey hit his second homer for the Cubs in the sixth and Dunston completed the scoring with his homer in the seventh.
San Diego 4, Pittsburgh 2--Tony Gwynn emerged from an 0-for-12 slump at an opportune time in San Diego. With the Pirates leading, 2-1, and two Padres on in the eighth, Gwynn greeted left-handed relief pitcher Larry McWilliams with his eighth home run.
Before falling apart in the eighth, Rick Reuschel (4-10) was holding a 2-0 lead and had retired 17 of the previous 18 batters he faced.
But he failed to retire any of the three batters he faced in the eighth, giving up two hits and a walk.