by Scott Kindberg
February 20, 2007
Gossage Recalls Epic '78 Season in Pinstripes
editor's note: The following column is the result of a press conference Monday afternoon with former New York Yankees great Rich "Goose" Gossage, who was in Jamestown for the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame Banquet Monday night.
The 1978 season, Rich "Goose" Gossage thought, wasn't supposed to start like this.
He'd been a New York Yankee for barely more than a week and he'd already given up three walk-off home runs, his confidence was shot and the fans wanted his head.
"They hated my guts," Gossage said.
It got so bad in those first few days that the car that carried the pitchers from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium to the mound was pelted by all kinds of garbage when the fans knew their new free-agent reliever was inside.
"We had to run the windshield wipers on to see where the hell we were going," Gossage said. "Things were hitting the car - beers, Cokes, hot dogs - because I was in it."
It didn't get any better once he arrived at the mound, where he was greeted by all-star catcher and team captain, Thurman Munson.
"Munson looked at me and said, 'How are you going to lose this one?' "Gossage recalled. "I couldn't believe my catcher was saying this."
But Munson was only articulating what everyone else seemed to be thinking at the time.
"It got worse and worse and worse," said Gossage, who would pitch 22 years in the major leagues and save 310 games. "The harder I tried , the worse it got. I reached bottom in Toronto one afternoon."
Playing at the Old Exibition Stadium on a brutally cold and windy day on April 19, 1978, the Yankees were tied with the Blue Jays at the bottom of the ninth inning. With no outs and a runner at second base, Toronto attemped a sacrifice bunt to put the potential winning run at third.
"I picked the bunt up, threw it, got under it a little bit, it got into the wind and it took off like 20 rows up," he said. "End of ballgame."
Despondent, Gossage walked off the field, into the dugout and, ultimately, into the clubhouse.
"I remember just collapsing in my locker backwards," he said. "I broke everything. That was the lowest time of my career. Ever. The game had never brought me to my knees and I was sitting there crying, bawling like a kid. I didn't know where to go from there. It was the first time in my career where I felt like quitting. I'd lost a ballgame every way you can possibly think and this was the final straw."
So while the rest of his teammates showered and headed to the bus to take them back to the team hotel, Gossage, still lodged in his locker, didn't move.
Then a hand - belonging to Catfish Hunter - appeared from the wall of clothing in front of the beleaguered reliever.
"My clothes are sitting on top of me and I see this hand reach through and I see it's Cat's," Gossage said.
"He goes, 'C'mon, you're going to dinner with us. Get your (butt) in that shower. We're taking you to dinner tonight."
Joining Gossage and Hunter were, among others, Munson, Reggie Jackson and Graig Nettles.
"They said, 'You'll be alright and we're behind you 100 per cent,' "Gossage said. "Those guys were so awesome. They'd been through it. You go through the hard times, but this was ridiculous, off-the-charts and over the top."
Gradually, however, Gossage began to pitch better. And even though the Yankees struggled to gain ground on the streaking Boston for most of the summer - the Red Sox led by 14 games in August - the best was yet to come for the team known throughout the sports world as the "Bronx Zoo."
On Oct. 2, 1978, the Yankees, tied with Boston after 162 games, traveled to Fenway Park for one-game play-off with the winner advancing to the American League Championship Series.
"We flew into Boston and, man, if there's one place you don't want to play one game it's Fenway Park, because no lead is safe lead with that Green Monster," Gossage said.
By the seventh inning, the Yankees were leading 4-2 - highlighted by Bucky Dent's improbable three-run homer in the top half of that frame - when Gossage was summoned from the bullpen by manager Bob Lemon.
"I'll tell you I've never been that nervous, before or since then," Gossage said. "I thought I was going to collapse. I didn't know how I was going to put one foot in front of the other because I couldn't walk. My legs were like Jello."
Jackson belted a solo home run in the top of the eighth inning, giving Gossage a margin of error.
As it turned out, the mammoth blast to center field was the deciding hit of the game.
In the bottom of the eighth, Gossage gave up two runs, cutting the Yankee's lead to 5-4, and adding even more angst to the fire-balling right-hander's psyche.
In the bottom of the ninth, Boston's Rick Burleson walked and Jerry Remy hit a line-drive single that Yankees' right-fielder Lou Piniella, battling a brilliant sun, managed to stab out of the air, keeping Burleson at second.
Gossage got Jim Rice, the American League's Most Valuable Player, to fly out to Piniella for the second out, which brought Red Sox icon Carl Yastrzemski to the plate.
"I went to bed (the night before) thinking I"m going to be facing Yaz for the final out," Gossage said. "I had just envisioned it. He's probably the guy you'd least want to face in that situation because of who he is."
To prolong the drama, the sellout Fenway crow gave their hero a standing ovation as he walked to the plate.
"I'm sitting out there and I've got time to talk to myself and answer myself," Gossage said. "I said, 'Well, here's what you went to bed thinking. Why are you so nervous? This is what you live for. What's the worst thing that can happen to me? I can be home tomorrow elk hunting in Colorado in the mountains,'"
After that personal pep talk, Gossage said, he felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.
"Yaz got into the box, I took a deep breath for the first time all day, and my legs stopped quivering and shaking," Gossage said.
He let the first pitch go, but it was down in the strike zone for a ball.
"Then the next pitch was pretty much right down the middle," Gossage said, "and then it kind of tailed in on Yaz and he popped it up."
Nettles, the Yankees third baseman made the catch for the final out.
"I remember walking into the clubhouse after the game and it was sheer pandemonium," Gossage said.
The vistors' clubhouse at Fenway is small under the best circumstances, but with the crush of media there was even less room. That prompted Gossage to head for the trainer's room, which is off limits to everyone but the players.
"I'm sitting (there) just to get some ice on my shoulder and to kind of gather my thoughts and think about just what happened," Gossage said. "Munson came in, sat down beside me and said, "Where'd you get that? "That pitch had had another foot on anything you've thrown all day."
"I said, 'Well, I finally relaxed.'"
"What took you so damn long?"
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