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"He's happy in his role as a starter," says his catcher, Carlton Fisk, "and that makes him more solid. A starter knows when he's going to work, so his approach is more structured. LaMarr can zero in his thought and concentration. When you do that, you can correct one mistake at a time. It all adds up to better control, the most important difference in his pitching this year."
Hoyt has always had an exceptional memory. "I remember everything I've ever pitched to anybody," he says matter-of-factly. "I faced Randy Bass twice in the minors and remembered that he liked it low and inside," When Bass, now with Texas, pinch-hit last week, Hoyt threw him low-and-away and struck him out.
"When I was in the minors," says Hoyt, "my pitching coach, Hoyt Wilhelm, told me to figure out what I had going for me on a particular night and stay with it. That was excellent advice. When I get a big lead, though, I can also experiment or hold back on pitches. A couple of pitches were working so well against the Rangers that I put them on a shelf around the fifth. I'll be going down to Texas; no reason to let everything out of the bag at once."
Hoyt also has learned to exploit an uncommon sense of touch. "The balls are never perfectly round," he says. "I throw mostly fastballs, but sometimes you have to go with what's given to you. A ball with a high seam is easy to grip: I throw curves. A high mark on the narrow part: slider. A generally uneven ball: sinker. Some people think too much; the game's not that hard."
The White Sox have found the going pretty good even when Hoyt isn't pitching. At week's end, having won 15 of 20 games in May, they were 16 percentage points ahead of California in the AL West and clearly much stronger than in 1981, when they contended for the first half and collapsed in the second.
The biggest day-in, day-out difference has been LeFlore, a .246 hitter last year but among the league leaders this season at .318. In spring training LeFlore approached the club's new batting coach, the celebrated Charley Lau, who told him to move back from the plate, change the position of his hands and transfer his body weight. As a result, LeFlore is pulling pitches for the first time in his career.
In the front office much credit is due General Manager Roland Hemond, a onetime 115-pound high school shortstop who is so affable that even agents like him. Hemond signed Lau and strengthened the lineup by trading for Detroit Leftfielder Steve Kemp and Seattle First Baseman Tom Paciorek. Typically, the two were scouted for more than just their on-field talents. Kemp (hitting .285) has modeled the Sox' giveaway jackets for a TV promotion. And wrapped in a black cape, Paciorek (.331) touted Bat Day with a Bela Lugosi routine. "Just theeenk of it," he says with a leer, "thousands of bats flying around Comiskey Park!"
With the addition of Paciorek and Kemp, the White Sox lineup is so deep that .322-hitting Shortstop Bill Almon is batting ninth. So what if Paciorek, Almon and Third Baseman Jim Morrison have defensive shortcomings; Second Baseman Tony Bernazard turns the pivot so deftly that the White Sox lead the league with 52 double plays. Pitching? Hoyt, Koosman, Dennis Lamp (4-0) and the latest Mexican marvel, Ernesto Escarrega, can start or relieve; Britt Burns (5-2) is a Carlton-like lefty; and the team's other Super Mex, Barojas, has 10 saves.
The White Sox have been able to win even while playing badly. The night after Hoyt won No. 8, LeFlore let a fly ball drop in front of him, setting up a four-run Texas inning, and after that Chicago had to scratch. The White Sox finally won 6-5 in the ninth on an infield single by third-string Catcher Marv Foley with men on first and second. When the ball got away from the shortstop, Jim Hairston, a 30-year-old pinch runner who wears tinted glasses, chugged in from second. "It's still May and everybody's contributing," LaRussa chortled.
The Chicago organization comes at you in a variety of ways, too. There are not one but two electronic scoreboards, and not one but two mascots, Ribbie and Roobarb. While the matrix board does cartoons and stats, the Orwellian Diamond Vision flashes instant replays and features, and pans the stands in search of attractive women—the fans holler, the beauties blush.