10 moments that define Goose Gossage's career

July 5th, 2022

With a violent motion and menacing scowl accentuated by a distinctive mustache, Rich “Goose” Gossage intimidated Major League hitters for 22 years, each of his high-octane deliveries helping to usher in the age of the modern closer.

Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, Gossage unapologetically instilled fear while becoming one of the sport’s best relievers. Boasting a fastball that could touch the triple digits, Gossage retired among the top five all-time leaders in games (1,002), saves (310), relief innings (1,556 2/3) and relief strikeouts (1,340).

“My wife wouldn’t know me out there,” Gossage once said. “If she ever came to the mound and talked to me, she’d divorce me. I don’t like anybody with a bat in his hands, because he’s trying to hurt me with that thing.”

Here are 10 moments that defined Gossage’s career.

1. Fireman

Gallons of newsprint have been spilled chronicling the epic 1978 one-game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox, played on Oct. 2 at Boston’s Fenway Park. Bucky Dent’s three-run homer and a Thurman Munson RBI double gave New York a 4-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning, and Gossage relieved Ron Guidry with one out and a man on in the home half of the frame.

Gossage pitched out of that jam, then watched Reggie Jackson homer in the eighth -- significant, since Gossage surrendered run-scoring hits to Carl Yastrzemski and Fred Lynn in the eighth. In the ninth, with the potential winning run on base, a hyperventilating Gossage asked himself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen to you? I’ll be back in Colorado tomorrow hunting elk.”

That relaxed his nerves, and Gossage’s second pitch to Yastrzemski induced a pop-out to third baseman Graig Nettles. Later, Munson told Gossage: “Those last two pitches had another foot on anything else you threw all day.” The eight-out performance marked Gossage’s league-leading 27th save of the season, then a career high.

2. We are the champions

Gossage recorded the final out to clinch a division title, league championship or World Series title seven times during his career, including sealing the 1978 Fall Classic for the Yankees against the Dodgers. Relieving Catfish Hunter in the eighth inning of Game 6 at Dodger Stadium, Gossage retired the final six men, including getting Ron Cey to foul out to Munson to seal the Bombers’ 22nd title.

That marked Gossage’s only championship, though he notably recorded saves in all three Yankees victories of the 1981 AL Division Series against the Brewers, hurling 6 2/3 scoreless innings. Gossage was also the final pitcher in the 1981 ALCS against the Athletics.

3. Saves leader

Boasting a fastball that registered 103 mph during the 1978 All-Star Game, Gossage led the American League in saves three times -- in 1975 with the White Sox (26), then again in 1978 (27) and 1980 (33) with the Yankees. Gossage enjoyed 10 seasons of 20 or more saves.

His 1980 performance, which featured a 2.27 ERA over 58 appearances, saw him place third in voting for the AL Cy Young Award and the AL MVP. A nine-time All-Star, Gossage had eight selections as a reliever, which stood as a Major League record until Mariano Rivera eclipsed the mark in 2008.

4. Pennant winner

Between Gossage’s eight outs in the ’78 one-game playoff and his two-inning performance to seal the deciding game of the World Series, Gossage shone in the American League Championship Series against the Royals.

Summoned in the ninth inning of Game 4 to protect a 2-1 lead with a runner on second base, Gossage iced Kansas City by striking out Clint Hurdle, then retiring Darrell Porter and Pete LaCock on fly balls. (The Royals would get revenge years later when Gossage surrendered George Brett’s homer in the ‘Pine Tar Game.’)

5. To the Series

Gossage helped the Padres reach their first World Series in 1984, saving Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs.

San Diego scored four runs in the seventh inning to build a 6-3 lead, with Gossage pitching around two hits and a hit batsman over the final two innings. Gossage induced a Jody Davis fielder’s choice grounder that stamped San Diego’s trip to the Fall Classic.

6. Big money

After beginning his career with the White Sox from 1972-76, Gossage spent the ’77 season with the Pirates before testing free agency. The Yankees were the defending World Series champions, and despite having Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle in the closer’s role, principal owner George M. Steinbrenner believed that Gossage’s arrival would create a super bullpen.

Coming off a year in Pittsburgh that featured 26 saves and a 1.26 ERA, Gossage agreed to a six-year, $2.75 million pact with New York. Gossage and Steinbrenner clashed in wars of words during their time together, prompting Gossage to declare in 1983 that he wouldn’t re-sign. Instead, Gossage inked a five-year, $9.95 million deal with the Padres, the largest ever given to a pitcher at the time.

As for Lyle, he was traded to the Rangers after ’78, prompting Nettles to quip that his former teammate had gone “from Cy Young to sayonara.”

7. Throwing smoke

Gossage’s mound approach was old country hardball -- here it comes, try to hit it. His performance against the Mariners on Sept. 3, 1978 serves as a perfect example. Gossage replaced Lyle in the top of the ninth inning, the Yanks clinging to a 4-3 lead with runners at second and third and none out.

Gossage needed just 11 pitches to strike out the next three batters: Tom Paciorek, Bob Robertson and Julio Cruz.

8. 300 club

While with the Cubs on Aug. 6, 1988, Gossage became the second Major Leaguer to record 300 saves, joining future Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers (341). Gossage reached the milestone by preserving a 7-4 lead over the Phillies, entering with two men on base and two outs in the ninth. Gossage induced Phil Bradley to pop out to second baseman Ryne Sandberg.

9. Mr. 1,000

In 1994, Gossage became the third pitcher in Major League history to appear in 1,000 games, joining Hoyt Wilhelm (1,070) and Kent Tekulve (1,050). Pitching for the Mariners, Gossage reached the mark on Aug. 4 of that season, retiring the Angels’ Tim Salmon for the last out of the seventh inning.

Gossage became the pitcher of record as Seattle scored three runs in the eighth inning, boosting the right-hander to his 124th and final Major League win. Gossage’s 310 saves ranked fifth all-time at the time of his retirement.

10. Never give in

Gossage’s machismo cost him during Game 5 of the 1984 World Series. Gossage was on the mound in the eighth inning at Tiger Stadium when Padres manager Dick Williams visited, instructing the hurler to walk Kirk Gibson intentionally. The free pass would have set up a bases-loaded, one-out situation with Lance Parrish due up.

Gossage refused to issue the walk, preferring to face Gibson, who launched Gossage’s second pitch into the right-field seats for a three-run homer. Detroit’s lead swelled to 8-4, and the Tigers finished off San Diego in the ninth to claim the World Series title.