Sport: A Bolt of Blue Lightning

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With ten or so more starts remaining, Blue has a chance of becoming the first lefthander to win 30 games in a season since Lefty Grove posted a 31-4 record in 1931. It would take a herculean effort, but considering Blue's record, anything seems possible. As of last week he not only had the best won-lost record in the majors (21-4), but he also led the league in strikeouts (240), completed games (19), shutouts (8) and earned-run average (1.62). For a veteran moundsman, such marks would be merely amazing. For a fledgling in his first full season in the big leagues, it is, as Oakland Pitching Coach Bill Posedel says, downright "scary."

No Herky-Jerky

Speedy southpaws, a notably skittish breed, are traditionally either late bloomers or early dropouts. Lefty Grove was 27 before he hit his stride, Rube Waddell 25 before he found the strike zone, and Warren Spahn 25 before he won his first major-league game.

And the lore of lefthanders is filled with tales of young fireballers like the Dodgers' Karl Spooner or Cleveland's Herb Score who, through injury or accident, ended their careers in one quick flameout. "Vida's one of those kids who come along once in a lifetime," says Posedel. "He throws awful hard, and the only thing you don't know is if his arm is ready for it." Says A's Manager Dick Williams: "I'd like to keep him in a glass case between starts."

Blue seems made of sterner stuff. A muscle-rippling 6 ft., 190 lbs., he has none of the herky-jerky, elbow-popping moves that invariably send fastballers to the showers—or the osteopath. Rather he has a kind of loose, flowing grace that allows him to snap off a high, hard one with seemingly effortless ease. After dipping into a deep windup, he cocks his right knee to his shoulder, rears back until the ball is almost touching the ground behind him and then, in a whipping overhand motion, smokes it across the plate. "Vida has three things going for him," says Oakland Catcher Dave Duncan. "First, he's overpowering. Second, his ball moves. Third, he's sneaky. He has that nice, easy motion, so you think you can hit him. But you can't pick up the ball until it's too late."

Blue himself admits to no tricks. "My repertory consists of three basic pitches: fastball, curve and changeup. I throw them all the same, lefthanded." You couldn't prove it by such heavy-hitting

Orioles as First Baseman Boog Powell ("His fastball starts at the knees, takes off and goes by you chest-high"), Rightfielder Frank Robinson ("It tails away from you and sometimes it doesn't"), Third Baseman Brooks Robinson ("It's in and out, up and down") and Outfielder Merv Rettenmund ("It's straight but hard"). What Blue's victims do agree on is that five feet or so from the plate his fastball picks up speed and "pops" or "explodes" past them.

Blue himself confesses that half the time he uncorks a fast pitch he has only a vague idea of where it is going. Even so, his control is so good that he averages one strikeout per inning and has pitched six entire games this season without giving up a single walk.

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