''When you've got it, flaunt it,'' says New York manager Bob Lemon of his penchant for going to the bullpen so quickly in the late innings. ''It,'' of course, is Goose Gossage - and Lemon certainly has flaunted his awesome relief ace so far in postseason play.
After saving all three victories over Milwaukee in the division playoffs and nailing down two of the three wins against Oakland in the League Championship series, Gossage has now saved the first two World Series games as well. Yankee fans are getting used to the idea that they're going to see the big fireballer in the eighth or ninth inning no matter what the score is or how well the starter is doing.
Ron Guidry was mowing the Los Angeles Dodgers down 5-1 in Game 1, but still Lemon brought in Ron Davis (the first half of his one-two bullpen punch) to start the eighth inning. For a while it looked as though his ''Captain Hook'' approach might backfire this time, as Davis walked the first two batters and Gossage came on looking rusty and allowed a hit and a fly ball for two runs. But a great play by third baseman Graig Nettles on Steve Garvey's line smash saved the day, and the Goose settled down to preserve the 5-3 margin.
In Game 2, Lemon moved even more precipitously, yanking a starter (Tommy John) who was working on a three-hit shutout through seven innings. The score was only 1-0, however, and as Lemon has put it on several occasions, when you have a one-run lead and a force like Gossage in the bullpen, it doesn't make sense not to use him.
This time the Goose was more himself, giving up one hit and striking out three Dodgers in two scoreless innings as the Yankees added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth for a 3-0 decision.
On World Series comebacks Because Los Angeles has staged dramatic comebacks to beat both Houston and Montreal in this year's playoffs, people were kidding the Dodgers that now they had the Yankees ''right where they want them.'' The truth is, of course, that recovering from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series is a very tough proposition - so tough, in fact, that it had never happened until the old Brooklyn Dodgers pulled off the feat against another Yankee team in 1955.
Amazingly, however, such comebacks have occurred five more times since then. In 1956, just one year after the Dodgers had broken the precedent, the same teams met in the Series and the Yankees returned the favor. In 1958 the Yankees turned the trick against the old Milwaukee Braves; in 1965 the Los Angeles Dodgers did it against Minnesota; in 1971 Pittsburgh came back against Baltimore; and in 1978, of course, the Yankees recovered after dropping the first two games in Los Angeles.
The standard formula for these comebacks, incidentally, is to rebound in a hurry by winning all three home games. The 1958 Yankees were the only team to vary this procedure, falling behind 3-1 before finally winning out.
One definite no-no, however, is losing the third game, since no team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in these best-of-seven tests.
Watson stands out at the plate Yankee first baseman Bob Watson has been the most productive hitter on either team through the first two games. His three-run first inning homer was the big blow in Game 1, and overall he is now hitting . 571 (4-for-7) with a Series-leading four runs batted in.
Watson, the 17th player to hit a homer in his first World Series at bat, says his success so far is doubly satisfying because (1) this is his initial appearance in the Series in a 13-year big league career spent mostly in Houston, and (2) it comes against the Dodger team that rebuffed him when he was a schoolboy prospect in Los Angeles 20 years ago.