For a while one night last week the invincible combination of Chicago White Sox Pitcher LaMarr Hoyt and Comiskey Park looked as if it might be vulnerable. Hoyt had won his first seven decisions of the year, and he started the game with a 14-0 lifetime mark at his home field, but in the fourth inning he was losing 1-0 to the lowly Texas Rangers. And the White Sox, who had staked Hoyt to 42 runs in his first four starts, were thrashing vainly at the deliveries of Doc Medich.
Hoyt, who had allowed just nine bases on balls in 44 innings this season, seemed to be a little off. He walked one batter and fell behind another in the first. In the second, a player he was determined to handcuff took him downtown. "I read in the paper that it was Jim Sundberg's 31st birthday." Hoyt said later. "Since I wear the same number, I said, 'The one guy I'm not going to let hurt me is Sundberg.' " Unfortunately, Texas Manager Don Zimmer distracted Hoyt by complaining that he wasn't touching the rubber while throwing to Sundberg, and on Hoyt's next pitch to the Texas catcher, a sinker that didn't sink, Sundberg homered to the Bull Ring area of the leftfield stands, which is reserved for kids who are guests of White Sox DH Greg (The Bull) Luzinski.
The White Sox did score twice in the fourth inning, but where was the barrage of runs Hoyt had come to expect? The man who usually gets things going, Centerfielder-leadoff man Ron LeFlore, had struck out and popped up.
But in the fifth LeFlore did his thing. He slashed a hard grounder by the third baseman and wound up on second when the leftfielder slipped on the wet grass. There followed a deluge of White Sox hits and Ranger gaffes. In the end, Hoyt beat Texas 10-2, giving up only five hits. Strictly routine, except that he had set a White Sox record with his 13th straight win over two seasons and had a shot at two other marks. The American League record of 17 is shared by Baltimore's Dave McNally (1968-69) and Cleveland's John Allen (1936-37); the major league record of 24 was set by the Giants' Carl Hubbell (1936-37).
In the tumultuous White Sox clubhouse, a radio broadcast of the game highlights was playing. "We're still scoring!" yelled Pitcher Steve Trout. "That's Hoyt for you." "Sign him up for the Roller Derby," chimed in the venerable lefthander Jerry Koosman. "It's just like when I was with the Phillies and Steve Carlton was pitching," said Luzinski. "You'd get all fired up. You knew that the way he was pitching he'd keep the game close, and sooner or later you'd bust out."
Hoyt was pitching well enough to win much closer games. At week's end his 8-0 record and his 1.53 earned run average were tops in baseball. And, oh, has he been versatile. Hoyt started the season in the bullpen, winning three times in his first five appearances, and became a starter on April 27 when Manager Tony LaRussa decided that rookie Salome Barojas gave him more than enough relief. Before stopping Texas last week, Hoyt whipped Milwaukee 13-2 and 11-2, and Detroit 10-3 and 8-5 in his four starts.
A 6'3" 225-pounder from South Carolina with a laid-back attitude and an occasional weight problem, Hoyt maintains the streak is no big deal. "When I lose, I'll just start another one," he says. Nonetheless, he has taken to letting his ample hair and beard grow. "Everyone's a little superstitious," he says.
Hoyt, 27, was 9-3 in each of the last two seasons, but he threw too much middle relief to accumulate double-figure wins or multitudes of saves, the prize statistics in pitching. "You are the best 26-6 lifetime secret in baseball today," a fan wrote him. "You are so underrated it is crazy. You pitch like Tom Seaver, Don Sutton and Lefty Carlton put together."
But opponents disagree as to exactly what makes Hoyt so successful. "He changes speeds," says Sundberg. "Lots of different pitches," says Texas Outfielder John Grubb.
Both are right. A master of hiding what he intends to throw, the high-kicking Hoyt is effective with his fastball, slider, curve, sinker or changeup. He throws three different hummers, the best one being a "cut fastball" that tails away from righthanded hitters. With all that plus an occasional changeup and—thanks to an off-season conditioning program—no elbow soreness, Hoyt has become a pitcher batters would just as soon not have to hit against.