Stop me if you've heard this one, but there was this Mexican pitcher with a poetic name. Spoke no English. Got to the majors and started working right away in short relief. Had five different pitches he threw from three different angles. And they couldn't touch him. Folks were shouting things like "¬°Ole!" and "¬°Caramba!" Exciting? You wouldn't believe it.
No, this wasn't Fernando Valenzuela introducing himself to the U.S. in September of 1980. This was 24-year-old Salome Barojas—pronounce it sal-o-may ba-row-haas—late of the Mexico City Reds, lately of the Chicago White Sox, baffling Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles alike with his fastball, curve, change-up, slider and, especially, sinker. Barojas pitched five times in Chicago's first eight games—all wins—allowed two hits in 9‚Öì innings, struck out four, walked one and got the maximum five saves. "I'd venture to say that's never happened before in the history of baseball," said Chicago G.M. Roland Hemond.
Maybe so, maybe not, but you can certainly venture to say that the White Sox have never started 8-0 before. And they did it against a tough schedule. Affected more by the weather than any team in baseball, they played doubleheaders in both their home and road openers. No matter. Dipping in and out of the prepared script, they wowed 'em in New York April 11, beating the Yankees 7-6 in 11 innings as singles-hitter Billy Almon humiliated Goose Gossage with a 430-foot triple. They took the nightcap 2-0 on a Britt Burns-Barojas shutout. In the second game of Saturday's Comiskey Park doubleheader, Burns and Barojas combined for a 10-6 win. Earlier in the week the White Sox swept Boston at Fenway Park 3-2, 5-4 and 8-4. On Sunday the South Siders beat the Orioles 6-4 as Centerfielder Ron Leflore, who can't field, started a double play with a shoestring catch, and Designated Hitter Greg Luzinski, who can't run, chugged home from first on Tom Paciorek's double. "White Sox, White Sox—Ooo, ah!" chanted the faithful in Comiskey Park, where 34,322 had gathered.
By trading for First Baseman Paciorek and Leftfielder Steve Kemp, both of whom have hit safely every game, Chicago created a nine-man lineup that doesn't have any holes. Paciorek (.469) has put himself among the league leaders by hitting to all fields with his righthanded Rod Carew stroke. "His concentration is the best in the league right now," says the club's esteemed batting coach, Charley Lau. The bench may be best, too. Reserve Shortstop Vance Law saved a run in the Saturday nightcap with a diving stab of an infield single. "Twenty-five guys," he says. Actually, Pitcher Juan Agosto hasn't played yet, but who's counting?
April 25, 1982
In the hearts of Chicago's sizable (500,000) Mexican community, Barojas is clearly numero uno. Understand, of course, there are differences between him and Valenzuela. The Dodger is lefthanded, Barojas righthanded. Salome doesn't throw the scroogie—yet. And if Fernando is mucho cute-o, the more compact (5'9", 160-pound) Barojas is mucho guapo (handsome).
Hemond and Chicago's Spanish-speaking manager, Tony LaRussa, discovered Barojas on a scouting trip during the 1981 strike and were impressed by his composure and sinker. "Even his fastball drops like a spitter," says Pitching Coach Ron Schueler, "and I swear he isn't loading them up." Barojas made the team with a stellar spring that included a 1.17 ERA. He was thrown into the opener when Burns's arm tightened up after six innings. Barojas gave up a pinch single to Bobby Murcer but wiped him out on a double-play ball; none of the other eight hitters got on. The next day he retired Boston's Tony Perez on a weak grounder with the tying run on third. On Wednesday he faced eight Red Sox hitters and got nine outs, benefit of another double-play ball. That's 18 batters, 19 outs in three appearances. "¬øUna entrada ma√±ana? [An inning tomorrow?]" he asked Schueler. Nope: Jerry Koosman's nifty 3‚Öî-inning stint saved an 8-4 win on getaway day. But on Saturday Barojas pitched two innings of one-hit ball for Burns. Too bad: An unearned run scored when Leflore dropped a sinking liner. On Sunday Barojas came in with none out and one on in the ninth and retired the side. And he says he'll be better when the weather warms. As if the White Sox weren't generating enough heat already.