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Gott Save Us, the Dodgers Are Praying

July 30, 1991|JIM MURRAY

Ever since they got him, I've been hoping pitcher Jim Gott would do big things for the Dodgers. So have the Dodgers.

But I have a different point of view from theirs. It's the name I can't resist, not the game.

Think about it. Jim is a relief pitcher, one of the best. Wicked slider, major league fastball. He's working on his curve again.

But, if he starts to get racked up by the hitters out there, don't we get to say, "Gott im Himmel, Jim, get hold of yourself!"?

When things are going right, do we agree with the poet, "Gott's in his heaven--All's right with the world."?

And, what about the pitcher's mound and/or the plate? Is that "Gott's Little Acre"?

If he gets one out over the plate some night with the bases loaded and the hitter smashes it up against the fence where the outfielder has to make a leaping, sensational catch, do we note, "Gott moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform."?

The possibilities are endless. If he strikes out Tony Gwynn with the game on the line, do we nod and say, "All things are possible to Gott."?

When he picks off Vince Coleman at first, do we point out that "Gott's eye is on the sparrow."?

But if he throws wild, we might amend, "Gott helps those who help themselves."

And if he throws a gopher ball with two on, we might write, "Poems are made by fools like me, but only Gott can make a three."

In German, of course, "Gott mit uns" signifies that heaven is with us. But if this non-Lord, our Gott, allows a four-run inning, does Tommy Lasorda run out there and ask, "Whose side are you on anyway, Gott?"

If he walks the bases loaded, then works 3-and-2 counts but gets the side out anyway, the lead is easy: "Though the mills of Gott grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small."

If a batter gets a homer off him, then watches as he strikes out the next batter swinging, does he think, "There but for the grace of Gott go I."?

But if Jim's team comes up with a three-homer rally in the bottom of the ninth to pull out the game, do we echo Napoleon's claim, "Gott is on the side of the heaviest artillery."?

The batter who can't get a hit off him is a lamb of Gott.

Jim Gott is more than a name. He is that most important of today's players, the reliever.

Relief pitching didn't use to matter in this country. Pitchers were expected to go nine innings. In the longest game ever played, 26 innings, Brooklyn vs. Boston in 1920, both pitchers, Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore, went the distance. That's the way it was in those days. If the pitcher came out, the game was lost. You put a mop-up pitcher in there, usually a sore-armed old-timer. He was just in there to cut the loss, not win the game.

The lively ball that made four- and five-run rallies not only possible but likely ended all that. Today, the starting pitcher just seems to be an opening gambit. Even some no-hit games are pitched by three or more pitchers. "Just give me six good innings," the manager pleads with his starter.

Like every other practitioner of the craft, Gott didn't set out to relieve. A schoolboy star at San Marino High, he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, who left him unprotected. Toronto picked him up in '81. He started 99 games in three years at Toronto, but finished only eight. He started 26 for San Francisco in 1985 but finished only two, then a rotator cuff injury sidelined him in '86.

"I had this pattern where I could get the hitters out the first two or three times, but then I would either lose some velocity on the fastball or they would figure out what was coming by then," Gott recalls.

Pittsburgh made him a relief pitcher in '88.

"I liked that," he remembers. "I got to face the hitters once. I just came right after them."

He posted 34 saves and won six in 67 games. He struck out 76 in 77 1/3 innings and finished 59 games. Then his elbow blew out.

The Dodgers took a chance on his arm recovering when they signed him as free agent last year.

"The Dodgers were a hands-on organization and I liked that," Gott recalls. "Fred Claire said to me, 'We know you can pitch. We have people here who can help you.' And they have."

One of the things the Dodgers wanted him to do is discard his reliance on the slider as his "out" pitch and return to the curve. The Dodgers have long been known for their disdain of the "nickel curve" pitch. The late Fresco Thompson used to sneer at it, calling it "the pitch that broke Babe Ruth's record and put Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame." Not yet it hasn't.

Tommy Lasorda was one who wanted to sit on the right-hand side of Gott.

"I remembered he had those 30 saves with Pittsburgh but the thought that he was one of the finest competitors I had ever seen went though my mind. But we told him we felt the slider was just a supplemental pitch, like a vitamin--a hanging slider is like putting a ball on a tee for a major league hitter--and you don't need vitamins if you eat properly."

A curveball is Tommy's idea of eating properly.

"The only thing I would say is, he's got such good stuff, he should be an even better pitcher," adds Lasorda.

Gott has a 2-3 record this season with one save and 19 games finished. His ERA is 3.2. He will be the set-up pitcher or closer for the team the rest of the season. If he does well, a pennant could be a payoff. In which case, of course, the Dodgers could amen, "Thanks be to Gott."

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