Perhaps the only thing moe suprising than the comeback of the New York Yankees this year is the comeback of pitcher Catfish Hunter.
Hunter began having problems at the end of the 1976 season, his second with the Yankees after 10 with Kansas City-Oakland. he developed tendinitis in his pitching arm and finished the year with a 17.15 record, breaking a string of five consecutive seasons as a 20.game winner.
His ailments continued throughout 1977, when he sat out a good portion of the season and contributed little to New York's championship with a 9-9 record.
And when he developed yet another arm injury at the start of the 1978 season, which placed him on the disabled list once again, it looked like his brilliant career was over.
But since coming off the injured list July 17, after receiving treatment on his shoulder, Hunter has won nine games and lost only two to run his record to 11-5.
"If it hadn't been for the doctor manipulating my shoulder. I'd be somewhere in North Carolina right now," Hunter said.
Hunter's latest victory came Thursday night in Toronto, when he pitched six strong innings to lead the Yankees to a 7-1 victory over the Blue Jays. The win kept New York two games in front of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East. The Red Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers Thursday night, 5-1.
Hunter, one of the premier control pitchers when he is healthy, limited the Jays to four hits and one walk while striking out five. Toronto's only run came in the first, on a leadoff home run by Rich Bosetti.
Hunter left after six innings and Rich Gossage came on to record his 24th save.
"I pulled a groin muscle about three weeks ago," Hunter said, "and I felt it coming back . So I thought I'd better get out."
The Yankees collected 10 hits, including six extra-base hits, off four Toronto pitchers.
Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson each drove in two runs. Munson hit a sacrifice fly to drive in one run in the three-run fifth inning and Jackson drove in the final two runs of the inning with a double. Munson picked up his second RBI in the seventh with a single.
Willie Randolph, Lou Piniella and Chris Chambliss drove in the other New York runs in the seventh.
The Yankees' "magic number" is now eight, but New York Manager Bob Lemon said he is still not confident with his team's narrow lead over Boston in the American League East.
"I'll be confident when we sink it," he said. "There's nine games left and we've only got a two-game lead. I've seen a six-game lead blown with 12 games left. I remember those things."
The Red Sox, who know about blowing leads, received a six-hitter from Dennis Eckersley, who won his 18th game.
Butch Hobson drove in two runs with a single in a three-run first inning and Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk and George Scott each contributed an RBI. Rick Burleson had four hits for Boston.
The Tigers, who found out before the game that Manager Ralph Houk is retiring at the end of the season, scored their only run in the seventh on Jason Thompson's 25th homer.