The defending NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers went into the All-Star break on a down note as their nemesis, J.R. Richard of Houston, stuck out 12 and gave up only four hits as the Astros beat the Dodgers 5-1 before a crowd of 30,285 at the Astrodome.
The Dodgers, came into the game in second place in the NL West behind San Francisco. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda sent Don Sutton to the mound in an attempt to get his 200th win of his career. Houston was in sixth place with Bill Virdon managing the team.
Houston scored first in the opening frame on doubles by centerfielder Terry Puhl and rightfielder Jose Cruz. They added another run in the third when third baseman Enos Cabell singled home Puhl. The Dodgers scored in the sixth on an RBI double from first baseman Steve Garvey to score shortstop Bill Russell.
The Astros broke the game open in the sixth. First baseman Art Howe singled in a run and Richard singled in two runs after an error by Russell extended the inning.
Richard did walk six Dodgers, but he was able to go the distance. It was Richard's third win of the season over the Dodgers, but he would face them just once more in 1978 and got a no decision. Richard was 15-4 in his career against the Dodgers with a 1.86 ERA and struck out 218 Dodger batters in 208 innings and threw five shutouts against Los Angeles. Richard's career would be cut short in the middle of the 1980 season when he suffered a stroke.
The Dodgers would play well down the stretch and won the NL West by 2 1/2 games over Cincinnati and the Giants fell to third. The Dodgers would beat the Phillies in the NLCS in four games, but lose to the New York Yankees in the World Series in six games. The Astros finished in fifth at 74-88.
Home runs told the difference between the Dodgers and Astros. Both teams played in pitchers parks, but the Dodgers still managed to lead the NL in home runs with 149. The Astros were last with 70. Reggie Smith led the Dodgers with 29 with seven players in double figures. The Astros were led by Bob Watson with 14 home runs and Cruz was the only other player to reach double figures and he had just 10.
Richard would lead the NL in strikeouts with 303, a total he would better in 1979 with 313. Gaylord Perry of San Diego won the Cy Young Award with a 21-6 record and a 2.73 ERA.
In 1979, the Dodgers would be plagued by injuries and drop to third at 79-83 while the Astros finished 1 1/2 games out of first behind Cincinnati.
Thanks in part to winning the pennant in 1977 as well as a close pennant race in 1978, the Dodgers became the first team in major league history to draw over 3 million fans with 3,347,845 fans supposedly going through the turnstiles at Dodger Stadium.
Sources: Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com, Los Angeles Times