"It's exciting," says Tiger manager Sparky Anderson. "People love to see homers. I heard it as a kid: Home run hitters drive Cadillacs, singles hitters drive Chevys and Fords."
The pennant hopes of the White Sox may hang on a 21-year-old lefthander who was at Double A Birmingham last Saturday. After Wilson Alvarez threw a no-hitter on Sunday against the Orioles in his second major league appearance, Chicago's hopes seemed bright.
Alvarez, who has a moving fastball and excellent control, could be what the White Sox need to overtake the American League West-leading Twins and hold off the A's and the rest of the division. At week's end Chicago had won seven straight games and 19 of 23, to move within one game of Minnesota.
Alvarez was once a top prospect in the Rangers organization, but he was traded with outfielder Sammy Sosa and infielder Scott Fletcher to the White Sox in July 1989 for outfielder Harold Baines and in-fielder Fred Manrique. At the time, some members of the Rangers' front office questioned Alvarez's attitude. A source who knows Alvarez well says, "Wilson was something of a celebrity in his country [Venezuela] when he was 12 or 13 years old. He had pitched 12 no-hitters by age 16. He doesn't make a big deal out of things. People may look at him and think he doesn't give a damn, but he does."
Some Rangers also questioned his ability after his major league debut on July 24, 1989. He started for Texas against Toronto, faced five hitters and retired none. He was sent back to the minors the next day. Four days later he was part of the Baines trade. "That deal would not have been done if Wilson had pitched a good ball game," says former White Sox general manager Larry Himes, who put together the trade.
Alvarez's stock with the White Sox dropped last year, when he went 7-7 with a 6.00 ERA at Triple A Vancouver and was sent back to Birmingham, where he had started six games after joining the Sox organization in '89. This season he dominated the Southern League, going 10-6 with a 1.83 ERA and striking out 165 batters in 152⅓ innings.
On Sunday, Alvarez pitched the sixth no-hitter of the season—and the 15th of the 1990s—to become the youngest player to throw a no-hitter since Oakland's Vida Blue did it in 1970, also at 21. Only Bobo Holloman, who threw a no-hitter for the St. Louis Browns in his first major league start, on May 6, 1953, had a no-hitter in fewer starts than Alvarez. But Alvarez didn't act like a rookie on Sunday. On the bench between innings, and even after striking out Randy Milligan to end the game, he seemed practically emotionless. He barely smiled. "He might have been the calmest guy in the ballpark," says White Sox manager Jeff Torborg.
The shakiest moment of the game came in the seventh inning when Cal Ripken's swinging bunt in front of the plate was fielded by Chicago catcher Ron Karkovice, who grabbed the ball, wheeled and threw to first. The throw was wild and Ripken was safe. Phil Wood, the official scorer, studied the instant replay before making the call. "I kept saying, 'I'll take the error, give me an E,' " said Karkovice.
He got the E. Alvarez got the no-hitter.