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Padre Veterans Not Giving Up Just Yet

August 31, 1985|Dave Distel

Going, going, gone.

Not a home run, but the Padres' chances of repeating as champions of the National League.

At this point, the Padres' hopes would have to be classified as modern-day impossible dreams. It would take a major miracle in Mission Valley.

Right? Maybe not.

I dared whisper such heresy in the presence of one Richard Michael (Goose) Gossage, and he gave me a look that made me feel like I was crowding the plate with my feet mired in cement. Not too comfortable.

However, Gossage was perturbed more by comments he had seen attributed to his teammates in newspaper stories. It doesn't bother him a bit that the media and fans might be feeling it is all over for the Padres1985. It does concern him when he reads that occupants of the Padres' clubhouse suggest the task at hand--catching the Dodgers--is too monumental.

"From what's written in the paper," he said, "there might be guys right here who think we're done. I hope Jack McKeon notices who they are--and gets rid of them. We don't need that BS. We've got to keep battling. Guys who feel like cashing it in should go play somewhere else."

Goose Gossage wants teammates who will fight a tank with a knife or grizzly with a fork. He wants guys who will walk into a dark alley on the waterfront wearing a three-piece suit with $100 bills falling out of the pockets. He wants men who will stagger battered and bloodied to their feet and give the other guy one more chance to give up.

"You just don't give up until you're mathematically eliminated," he said. "You play for any length of time in this game and you know things happen in this game for no rhyme or reason. There's no game more unpredictable."

As Gossage talked, the Padres were well out of shooting range of the villainous Dodgers. Obviously, the Padres will need a September to remember to close such a gap.

"Listen," Gossage said, "I'd be worried if we were 15 games out. Then I'd be skeptical. We've just got to chip away, pick up a game here and a game there. If we do that, we can get into a position where we're right there at the end."

Gossage, of course, was a member of that 1978 New York Yankee team which made an incredible comeback to catch Boston and eventually beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Graig Nettles was a teammate, then and now.

"If anyone needs a positive lecture on not giving up," Gossage said, "all he has to do is go talk to Nettles. The man won't quit."

Guys like Gossage and Nettles and Steve Garvey represent a nucleus of veterans who have spent virtually their entire careers in the midst of pennant races. They have tasted frustration, to be sure, but they have also experienced glory.

Very few of the Padres, in fact, have been in a pennant race. After all, there was no pennant race in 1984. It was a pennant runaway. Not one of the 162 regular season games could have been deemed crucial.

It is different now. If the Padres are to become a party to a race for the pennant, every game now is crucial. The gap is substantial, but it's not quite like trying to pole vault over the Grand Canyon. Not yet.

"With the Yankees in 1978, we were 14 1/2 back in the middle of July," Nettles said. "By the middle of September, we were three games up. We made up 17 1/2 games in two months."

Nettles' message? It can be done.

"A lot of it is a matter of luck," he said. "We can make up 7 1/2 games in 10 days if we're lucky. It depends on how the team in front of you does. You have no control over that. It just seemed that year that we won every time the Red Sox lost."

Naturally, the Dodgers would have to be much more helpful than they would care to be.

"We can't worry about the Dodgers," said Garvey. "We've got to concentrate on our jobs. If we don't win, anything else is irrelevant."

Garvey tends to look at these things with historical perspective, drawing hope from funny twists in the past. This is an unpredictable game.

"In a matter of days," he said, "you can go from riding the crest of a wave to a washout."

Gossage calls it a game of mountains and valleys.

"Think back to how quickly we lost it," he said. "The Dodgers hit a peak at the same time we hit a valley. A lot of it is timing."

Luck and timing. Peaks and valleys. The Dodgers themselves experienced just such phenomena in 1982, Garvey's last year with Los Angeles.

"During an August run," he recalled, "we made up 10 games in 12 days. Then we dropped six games within a 15-day turnaround and lost the pennant on the last day of the season."

Those Dodgers did not win the pennant, but they positioned themselves so they had a chance. That is what these Padres must do.

Garvey came out of the batting cage and offered one more postscript: "Plus, we have a team that can do it. We have to play consistently and put together streaks. If we didn't have the capability to do that, it wouldn't be a realistic scenario."

And so maybe it is not yet over, at least in the minds of three veterans who have traveled this path so often.

How can the veterans convey their convictions to teammates who might be thinking the gap too great and the time too short?

"The younger guys," Nettles said, "can read the way we talk in the newspapers and hear the way we talk in the clubhouse."

And, Gossage would likely add, either pay attention or look elsewhere for a place to hang their heads.

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