From Aug. 7 through the end of last week, the Yankees won 28 of 34 games and moved from third place, five games out, to two ahead in the American League East. During the surge New York got heroics from some expected sources, mainly Centerfielder Mickey Rivers, Third Baseman Graig Nettles and Reliever Sparky Lyle. And when a team goes on a tear, there invariably is a starting pitcher high on the list of streakers. Because the Yanks' staff is loaded with the likes of World Series heroes Catfish Hunter, Don Gullett and Ken Holtzman, it is hardly surprising that New York found a hot arm. The astounding thing is that the limb is attached to the left shoulder of Ron Guidry, a pitcher whose reputation had been as puny as his 5'11", 158-pound body.
With a 5-0 record and a 1.07 ERA during the streak, Guidry (pronounced GID-ree) has been the best Yankee starter. Two of his wins were consecutive complete games in which he did not give up a run or a walk and allowed only one runner as far as third base. The first shutout came on Guidry's 27th birthday—Aug. 28—when he beat Texas 1-0 on two hits. The second was a six-hit 4-0 victory in Minnesota.
In Cleveland last week, Guidry was not as sharp, but his 4-3 10-inning triumph may have been his most impressive performance. He survived a shaky opening inning, in which he gave up his first run in 19 innings and his first walk in 18. During the game, he repeatedly worked out of jams, threw 156 pitches and got by more on grit and guile than on his fastball and control. When a pitcher wins a game like that, it is good evidence that he has arrived as a major-leaguer.
Guidry went to spring training this year with, it seemed, all the qualifications to be a minor-leaguer. He had been 0-1 during a brief stint with New York in 1975 and 0-0 with a 5.63 ERA last season. On top of that, there seemed to be no spot for him in a strong starting rotation. Guidry barely survived the final spring cut and seemed headed for mop-up relief duties. Besides that depressing circumstance and his unimpressive statistics, he had to overcome the fact that he does not look like very much of a pitcher. The Yankee pinstripes, which only serve to accentuate his thinness, make him look like an exclamation point with a mustache.
But with the Yankee mainstays either being cuffed around or ailing, Manager Billy Martin decided to give Guidry occasional starts. At the All-Star break he was 6-5 and had pitched only three complete games, certainly nothing to write home to Lafayette, La. about.
Since then he has been the Yankees' edge in the division race, winning seven of eight decisions while withstanding the pressure of the scramble for first and the tumult of the New York clubhouse. Guidry has taken the lead among Yankee starters with a 2.94 ERA, and his 151 strikeouts in only 177 innings tops all New York pitchers. Although his two best minor league seasons (1973 with Kinston in the Carolina League and 1975 with Syracuse in the International) added up to a record of only 13-11, Guidry is now 13-6 with New York.
Despite his build, Guidry's big pitch is a smoking fastball. "Nobody believes Ron throws as hard as he does," says Nettles. "It's fun to watch teams face him for the first time. They're so surprised by his fastball that they have a hard time handling it." Indeed they do.