If there is anything simpler to understand than a hammer hitting a nail squarely on the head, it is pitcher Rich (Goose) Gossage being called in from the bullpen to wrok in relief for the New York Yankees.
Gossage, who stands 6 ft. 3 in. tall and weighs 217 pounds, simply rears back and unleashes a fastball that starts to rise sharply at the hitter's belt buckle , making full or even partial contact with the bat almost impossible.
The Goose, plus slugger Reggie Jackson, are probably the two biggest reasons the Yankees are currently battling the Kansas City Royals in a best-of-five series for the American LEague playoff title.
Give Gossage high marks for almost always being ahead of the hitters; for retiring 28 consecutive batters between Aug. 29 and Sept. 10; and, at one point, maintaining an 0.83 eraned-run average through 40 games. During the regular season, the Goose protected a Yankee lead in 31 of 33 possible save situatons.
"When you've got a pitcher who can do things like that two or three times a week, there is never any hesitation about going to your bullpen," said rookie Yankee manager Dick Howser. "In fact, if it has been a game where your starting pitcher has been just getting by, you begin to look forward to that point late in the game, when you can put in a call for the Goose."
Although Gossage looks as though he could work in relief every day or at least every other day, he can't, nor does he ever encourage-that kind of thinking.
"When the Goose and I were pretty much the Chicago White Sox bullpen back in the mid-1970s, we discovered something that all relief pitchers learn sooner or late," explained Terry Forster, now with the Dodgers. "We found that if we pitched no more than two innings on say Tuesday, then rested a day, we could come back on Thursday and give the manager another strong two or maybe even three innings," Forster continued. "Actually it was no burden and we looked forward to it.
"We developed problems with our consistency and getting people out after games in which we pitched four or five innings of relief, then were brought back after only a couple of days rest. When you're used that way it's easy to get tired, lose you rhythm, misplace your best stuff, and be fouled up for a couple of weeks."
Forster claims that the Yankees tried to pitch Goose a few times that way in the past couple of years and briefly messed him up. But then he talked to thme about how it was affecting his ability to get people out and they agreed not to do it anymore.
Some basebal scouts, after putting a speed-gun on Gossage's 90-95 mp.p.h. fastball, feel that one of his best weapons is intimidation. They like the way he goes right to work on even the best hitters, throwing them strikes, daring them to hit the ball, and almost never walking anyone when the game is on the line.
"The time the Goose shows up best is in a close game when there is a runner on third base, only one out, and a powr hitter's coming up," Howser said. "In this situation, a long fly ball or even a medium fly ball, if the runner on third is fast enough, gets the run home.
"So what you want out there if you're a manager is a relief pitcher who can strike people out and not let the runners advance," Dick continued. "Well, Gossage has been doing that for us all year. Naturally we don't want to overwork him, but in a short stretch of games, like the playoffs of World Series , we might use him a little more often if we thought it was necessary."
In 1978, if you remember, Goose saved the division championship playoff game between New York and Boston by shutting out the Red Sox in the late innings. And there are still a lot of people who think the Yankees would have beaten Baltimore in 1979 if Goose hadn't injured his thumb in a clubhouse fight.
Gossage, who throws with a three-quarter overhand motion, never lets the hitter see the ball unitl the very moment of its release. By then the batter is in the position of having to track the ball by sound or radar or something. and usually he guesses wrong.
"Whenever I work with Gossage I just signal for his power stuff and let the hitters do the worrying," said Yankee catcher Rick Cerone. "We never try to get cute until we've got a lead, and them maybe the Goose will waste a couple outside. But mostly we go with his fastball, because it rides up so well on the batters and because it is so tough to hit."