It has been, largely thanks to Gossage's ability to psych himself up for big games. "I'm like Reggie," he says, gritting his teeth. "I get a rush, a natural high. The last time we were in Kansas City [July 25-27], I said to myself, 'They've been beating us; now it's time somebody made them pay.' " Gossage was that somebody, going 4? innings to defeat the Royals 5-4. "The night in Baltimore when we felt we had to win because we'd lost four straight to them, I pitched like, hey, this was it." He struck out five men in 2? innings, saving Tommy John's 4-3 win.
Lest we forget, Gossage has always been at his best in close races. In 1978 he saved the playoff game with Boston, the league-championship clincher over the Royals and the Series finale against the Dodgers. The Red Sox game was a watershed, Gossage says, because it was the one in which he began to relish pitching under supreme pressure. "I was facing Carl Yastrzemski for the final out when it occurred to me that the worst thing that could happen was that I'd be in the Colorado mountains the next day. A real calm came over me."
Gossage has reached baseball's heights despite a boyhood that resembled a Rocky Mountain low. His father, Jack, a Colorado coal miner and landscaper, died when Gossage was in high school, and his mother was disabled by a hip injury. "But I was always taken care of," Gossage says. "Even if my family didn't have enough money for food, they'd buy me baseball spikes." The investment began to pay off when the White Sox signed him in 1970. In addition to giving him an $8,000 bonus, scout Bill Kimball decided Gossage's name then, Rick, wasn't "major league" enough and renamed him Rich. His other nickname came about when White Sox teammate Tom Bradley shortened Gossage to Goss and then extended Goss to Goose.
Yankee Shortstop Bucky Dent, who roomed with Gossage when they played Class-A ball together in Appleton, Wis. in 1970, says Gossage has remained much the same as he was then: round-faced, friendly, beer-drinking. "The two of us and Terry Foster, who's now with the Dodgers, roomed together," says Dent. "We had one car, a '63 Chevy, I think, one blanket and one sheet. We'd sleep huddled together in front of an air-conditioner. We were young kids then, so there wasn't much to do except play ball and drink beer. Rich didn't mind a bit." Nor has he been changed by a distinguished nine-year major league career: he is put off when old friends, intimidated by his celebrity and six-year, $2.75 million contract, are afraid to approach him. "He's the same guy," says Dent, "except looser." That's good news for the Yankee faithful. They all go home happy when the Goose is loose.