NEW YORK -- The long summer had come down to this: First and third, two out, ninth inning, a one-run lead and the storybook ending walking to the plate, prepared and equipped to undo all the Yankees had done in the previous 2 1/2 months.

If Rich Gossage had been seated, he would have squirmed in his seat. Instead, he was standing on the rubber at Fenway Park as Carl Yastrzemski brought peril to the batter's box. Gossage's brain squirmed instead; then it transported him from urban New England to rural Colorado. And the Yankees closer had a heart-to-heart with his wobbly knees.

"I starting asking myself, 'Why are you so nervous? This is supposed to be fun. What's the worst thing that can happen? If you lose, you'll be back home in Colorado tomorrow, hunting elk.'"

The elk didn't see Gossage for another month. The worst never happened. Yaz popped up.

It had been earlier that season when the Yankees were imploding -- changing managers and whatnot -- and the Red Sox were making the competition in the American League East a race in name only, that Goosage brought another relaxation technique to Yankees. The aftermath of any and every game, win or lose, was a quiet serenade provided by a cassette of Willie Nelson's peaceful "Stardust" album.

"I still love that album," Gossage said Wednesday morning. "Then, I played it because I liked it and because it was so calming. And we needed that. Things were blowing up. I know some of the guys would have liked something a little livelier. Oscar [Gamble] used to bust my chops about it. He got sick of it. But I think it gave us a way to get rid of the game."

Gossage always knew how to relax -- Colorado, Willie Nelson, a couple of beers. He dresses for dinner in jeans and T-shirt. His job with the Yankees and eight other teams was the baseball equivalent of a high-wire act, and he handled it, more often than not, with a slow heartbeat and that "What's the worst thing that can happen?" logic.

Anxiety, he once said, "gets in the way of enjoying what you're doing. I'd just as soon take it easy. "

Gossage fully intends to enjoy himself next month when the Baseball Hall of Fame opens its doors to him. Be assured he will find a way to relax before the day he is inducted.

"I'll be all right," he said. "I'll be thinking of something relaxing to get me through it."

For now, anxiety spares Gossage. Anticipation is holding a place for it. Since the day he was elected to the Hall -- in his ninth year of eligibility -- in December, the anticipation has increased exponentially. He has embraced every facet of the experience.

"But really," Gossage said, "I don't know what to expect. Other guys who are in -- Rollie [Fingers], Eck [Dennis Eckersley] and [Bruce] Sutter ... they said it will change my life. And it has already."

Gossage was in New York on Wednesday, making a series of appearances and speaking with various media outlets for AutoTrader.com. He was to conduct an afternoon clinic at Yankee Stadium. Later, he was to have Yankees players sign the hood of a special Chevy Tahoe that is to be auctioned off for charity. He will make similar appearance at five other ballparks, all for the benefit of charity.

It all makes for a busy summer for the Hall of Fame designate. His induction is July 27. Between now and then, there are appearances to make, baseballs and photographs to sign, hands to shake, an acceptance speech to write -- he hasn't started it yet -- and reality to embrace.

"I know it's real," he says. "But once in a while I'll just say, 'Is this really real?' And I really can't grasp it. The whole thing is some weird, out-of-body experience."

He said at times his career, which lasted 1972 to 1994, seemed to have passed in the time occupied by a finger snap.

"It's like a kid at Disneyland who waits in line for three hours to get on his favorite ride and the ride's over in a minute," he said. "Except in my case, the ride lasted for 23 years."

And now there is more come. Some people would call it the best part. But playing was what Gossage enjoyed most. Induction into the Hall of Fame is what happens now "because I can't break a pane of glass now."

The Cooperstown ceremonies will bring Graig Nettles and Mickey Rivers, teammates from his Yankees tenure. Chuck Tanner, the White Sox manager who moved Gossage to the bullpen, had been invited; Dick Allen, too.

"[Allen] taught me how to get hitters out from a hitter's standpoint," Gossage said. "I wish Thurman [Munson] could be there. Catfish [Hunter] too.

"It's going to be crazy. I'll just take it all in. Calm down and enjoy it. It's a pretty cool thing I'm doing. I appreciate it so much."