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Pitching consistency a key for White Sox

Since Manager Tony LaRussa predicted months ago that the Chicago White Sox would win this year in the American League West, it somehow didn't seem necessary to come back for a second helping.

Instead the normal questions a reporter would ask the manager of a leading contender at this point in the season were directed to veteran catcher Carlton (Pudge) Fisk.

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Why Fisk? Well, Pudge has spent 11 years in the American League, most of them as an All-Star, including this season when he has again been voted the starting catcher. Secondly, he knows the game inside out, and has a mind that is far from one-dimensional. Finally, who would know more than the catcher does about Chicago's pitching - the key to any pennant race?

''Pitching could be our strength or it could be our weakness, if you know what I mean,'' Fisk grinned. ''To me this is a better staff than Boston had in 1975 when it won the pennant and, even though I was injured, I still caught a lot of Red Sox games that year.

''So far the White Sox, except for a few spots when nobody pitched well, have gotten enough consistency to win it,'' Pudge added. ''If our starters continue to do well and the bullpen holds up, we'll be right there at the end of the season with the California Angels and the Kansas City Royals.

''If Oakland were getting the pitching this year that it got last season, then I'd say the A's also have a chance. But it looks as though Billy Martin has too many arm problems on his staff right now for them to turn it around. Anyway, I think it will be a close race all year, and that maybe 90 victories will win it.''

Asked about starter Lamarr Hoyt, who won his first nine games this season but has struggled a bit since for a 10-7 overall mark, Fisk replied: ''The guy had talent when he was working out of our bullpen and now he's got maturity. He's also got a terrific fastball. Sure the hitters know it's coming. What they don't know is whether Hoyt is going to sink it, sail it, or cut it.

''Actually the thing I like best about this club has been its ability to come back and win in the late innings after being behind early,'' Pudge continued. ''I mean we've got some tough contact hitters all up and down our lineup, as well as guys like Greg Luzinski, Steve Kemp, and myself, who have power. We've also become believers in our own ability as a team - and don't think that isn't important, because you don't ever win without it.

''Naturally we'd prefer to get a lead early, hold it, and win all our games that way. I've even heard people criticize us for coming from behind and winning the way we do. But some clubs just happen to be built that way, and we're one of those clubs.''

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Even though the White Sox often scores runs in bunches, some American League scouts are still reluctant to rank them ahead of either California or Kansas City because of their defense. For example, there isn't enough gold in the Chicago infield to strike even one Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring.

For weeks prior to the June 15 trade deadline, Chicago's front office was working overtime in an unsuccesfull attempt to get third baseman Darrell Evans from the San Francisco Giants. The position is currently being played by 37 -year-old Aurelio Rodriguez, with Vance Law in a sort of backup role.

But that could change quickly if the White Sox decide to bring up Lorenzo Gray, who had a 40-game hitting streak earlier this season with Edmonton in the Pacific Coast League. What might delay Gray's arrival is that he was only recently shifted from the outfield to third base.

However, Fisk is confident that even with its defensive shortcomings, Chicago has enough team balance to win.

''Maybe, like people say, we're not a great defensive team,'' Pudge explained. ''But the key to winning isn't how many spectacular plays a team makes, it's whether or not it makes the routine plays consistently, and we do that.''

Somehow the conversation got around to how some ballplayers perform better on the road than they do at home, and the reasons for this.

''I think most married players feel so guilty about being away from their families for such long periods when the team is on the road that they overcompensate for this when they get home,'' Pudge said. ''You sort of invent things to keep you busy with your family and you never leave for the ballpark until the last minute.

''But players have so much more time when they're traveling that they will often come out to the park early and take extra batting practice or work on other parts of their game,'' he explained. ''What I think you get is a sharper player physically, because he's been practicing; and a more relaxed player mentally, because suddenly he doesn't have any family distractions to break his concentration.''

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