Major league pennant races are a lot like Kentucky Derbies. That is, what happens down the stretch is a lot more significant than who the leader is coming out of the first turn.
Baseball is still a 162-game season. Consequently, those who a week ago were conceding the American League East to the Detroit Tigers, whose 35-5 start had the same glow as a jewel from Tiffany's, aren't so sure now.
This isn't meant to downplay what the Tigers have already accomplished. Detroit's 17-0 road record, finally interrupted by three straight losses in Seattle, speaks for itself. But while almost no one was looking, the Toronto Blue Jays have moved within striking distance of the Tigers and there are still June, July, August, September, and a small piece of October in which to get the job done.
What Toronto has is balance, several good clutch hitters, and a four-man starting rotation that is among the best in baseball. That would be Dave Stieb, Jim Clancy, Luis Leal, and Doyle Alexander. The Blue Jays have also gotten seven game-winning hits already this season from outfielder George Bell. Give manager Bobby Cox plenty of credit, too, for the way he's used all 25 men on his roster.
Both Detroit and Toronto, of course, also have to be concerned with the defending world champion Baltimore Orioles, whose pitching staff and one-two RBI punch of shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. and first baseman Eddie Murray can never be ignored. Another plus for the Orioles has been the clutch hitting of third baseman Wayne Gross, who was acquired from Oakland for pitcher Tim Stoddard.
When Cal Ripken Sr. (Baltimore's third base coach) was asked about the team's chances of catching the Tigers, he replied: ''If we can win two of every three games we play, which we have been doing lately, it probably won't make any difference what the Tigers do the rest of the season. On that basis, the Orioles should be able to catch them and beat them.'' Boros fired by A's
Whenever a manager is fired, one of three reasons is usually given for his departure: (1) He was too hard on his players; (2) He was too soft on his players; or (3) He had lost the ability to communicate with those around him. However, none of the above probably applies to Steve Boros of the Oakland A's, the first major league manager to be canned this year, but certainly not the last.
Boros's days became numbered when Oakland president Roy Eisenhardt decided that Steve wasn't getting enough out of his pitching staff. Eisenhardt moved quickly once Boros announced that he had decided to experiment with a three-man pitching rotation.
Boros, a University of Michigan graduate with a degree in English literature, will be missed by writers who liked his straight answers to straight questions. However, he will remain with Oakland as a scout and minor league trouble-shooter.
Jackie Moore, who has been an A's coach since 1981 and whose major league experience as a player consisted of 21 games as a catcher with Detroit, will manage the team at least through the remainder of the season. A lot of people think that Oakland second baseman Joe Morgan will be managing the A's by 1985. Elsewhere in the majors
* Frank Tanana of the Texas Rangers, once one of baseball's hardest throwing pitchers, credits his three complete game victories recently to a new split-finger fastball. Tanana is coming off a stretch in which he has allowed only two earned runs in 27 innings.
* Atlanta manager Joe Torre says he is the one to blame for the release of pitcher Phil Niekro, whose knuckleball has done so much for the New York Yankees. ''The decision to drop Niekro was mostly mine and now I'm having second thoughts about it,'' Torre told reporters.