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07/23/08 10:35 PM ET
Gossage, Williams are forever linked
Hall of Famers reminisce about decision to pitch to Gibson
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Rich "Goose" Gossage and Dick Williams can joke about it now, but it was no laughing matter during Game 5 of the World Series played between the Padres and the Tigers at Tiger Stadium on Oct. 14, 1984. Four years before Kirk Gibson hobbled off the bench in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium to hit his still heralded pinch-hit homer off Dennis Eckersley to win Game 1 for the Dodgers over the A's, the left-handed power hitter demolished Gossage and the Padres to end that Series. "Hey, look it," recently said Gibson, then the Tigers' right-fielder and now the Diamondbacks' bench coach, "I was fortunate to get the home run off of Goose and the home run off of Eckersley in the World Series. I had the utmost respect for those guys. I loved competing against them. To this day I talk to them. We're friends." On that long ago October day, Williams was the manager and Gossage the closer on the 1984 San Diego team, and both will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. When Williams was elected by the Veterans Committee on Dec. 4, the closer called his one-time manager with heartfelt congratulations. "I picked up the phone and this is what he said: 'This is the guy, who should have walked Kirk Gibson,'" Williams' wife, Norma said. "I just said, 'Oh, hi, Goose!'" The game and the series were coming apart in the eighth inning with the Padres trailing, 5-4, runners at second and third, two out and Gibson, who had already homered in the game, coming to the plate. Williams wagged four fingers from the dugout toward catcher Terry Kennedy, signaling an intentional walk. Gossage balked. "He doesn't want to do it," Kennedy barked to Williams, who immediately launched out of the dugout to the mound where a heated confrontation ensued. "Dick, as you know, was a very tough guy," Gossage said. "And no nonsense. So Dick calls timeout, runs out to the mound and asks, 'What the heck is going on out here? You don't want to walk him? You want to go after him? Then go ahead and go after him.'" Gibson confirmed that version of the events. "I saw Goose's reaction and I knew he didn't want to walk me," Gibson said. "I looked over at [manager] Sparky [Anderson] and I said, 'He ain't gonna walk me.' I motioned and said 10 bucks that I was gonna take him deep." Williams had barely settled back in the dugout when two pitches later Gibson launched a three-run homer into the right-field upper deck in the old ballyard. Final score, 8-4. Said Williams: "It wasn't a hard home run, it just broke three seats." Gibson said that he was sitting on a trademark Gossage fastball after taking ball one and then crushed it. "I don't know if it hit the seats," he said. "It might have hit the back wall." Adding a little perspective to Goose's mission, Gibson had been 1-for-9 with seven strikeouts in his career against Gossage coming into that at-bat. Earlier in the game, after Gibson had belted Mark Thurmond for a two-run, first-inning homer, Tim Lollar, a left-handed pitcher on the squad, goaded Gossage in the bullpen about pitching to Gibson. "I own him," Gossage recalled saying. "As I said it, it was like, 'Oh, I better take that back. Don't say that.' I just kind of got it out of my mind immediately. And then later on in the game, here's Gibson up." Gibson didn't deny that ownership. "He had such success against me that I really didn't want it in my head as I came up," he said. "He challenged me. So I tried to visualize a positive affirmation that I was going to get him. Fortunately on the second pitch I did." Gossage was beside himself in the clubhouse after the Tigers closed out that World Series in five games. When reporters gathered around his locker, he issued a rare apology to his manager, who took umbrage then, but now tells Goose not to worry about it. "Heck, we wouldn't have gotten to that point without him," Williams said about a closer who won 10 games and saved 25 more during the regular season and finished off the Cubs in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Gossage, though, said it took awhile to shake the angst of that defeat. "I was sitting in front of my locker, and I said to myself, 'I can't believe this guy just hit a home run off me,'" Gossage recalled. "If I faced him 50 times I'd probably strike him out 30 times. So I'm sitting in front of my locker and I'm just kind of numb, shaking my head. And I looked over at Lollar, who had baited me. He's got his hat and his uniform pulled over his head. "I didn't want to scream it, because it was a very solemn clubhouse, but I pointed at him and said, 'That's your home run. That's not my home run. That's your fault.' That's the way it happened. I always had somebody to blame."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.