So Gossage tossed a pitch outside. Keith stepped in the bucket and whiffed on it. Gossage tossed another pitch outside. Keith missed it again. He made no adjustment. This happened again and again and again—10 times in all—before that frightening alter ego overcame Gossage. And so the Goose, one of the most fearsome fastball pitchers of all time, wound up in that unmistakable chaotic motion of his, first showing his hulking back to the plate and then, in a sudden, violent windmill of arms and legs, unleashing something only slightly less than his most terrifying fastball at his fifth-grader.
"Something happened between winding up and letting it go," he recalls now. "It just happened."
He drilled his son. Nailed him flush on the left thigh, a direct hit that would turn the kid's leg "black, blue, green, purple, yellow—all the colors of those real nasty ones," Gossage says.
The boy hobbled to his feet. "Dad," he screamed, "you're an asshole!"
Keith laughs about it now, about how he could hardly walk for a couple of days. His father laughs too. "I used to joke about how I'd drill my own mother if she were up there," Goose says. "I guess maybe I would. I mean, I hit my own kid."
He was born to throw a baseball. Just before this season went dark, he became only the third pitcher in history to appear in 1,000 games. Four nights later he saved a win against Texas, the 310th save of his career. "He's a Hall of Famer," Piniella says. "The nicest guy in the world, but he still gets that mean look when I come out to the mound. He just wants the ball."
He has lasted this long, he says, because of genetics, good mechanics, dedication and mental toughness. "You've got to be a——to last in this game," he says.
It helps, too, that two years ago his kinesiologist in Denver recommended that he quit drinking beer. "Yeah, right," he had said then. "Did my wife tell you to say that?" He hasn't had a drink since. When he goes to a bar with Piniella, he orders club soda. "I know for a fact it's kept me in the game," he says.
No one scored off him in his last eight appearances before the strike. Nothing but Goose eggs. He allowed only three hits over 10⅓ innings in those appearances. Since then he has done his only throwing on the front lawn of his house, every few days emptying a bag of baseballs into a net that's 60 feet, six inches away.
Who knows when the strike will be over? Maybe he gets to pitch again. Maybe he doesn't. Either way, he'll be ready.