'Doc' still stands out, but no longer in crowd Gooden leaves N.Y. horde behind, not winning ways

Sidelight

August 24, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Life is a lot different for Dwight "Doc" Gooden in Cleveland these days.

He is no longer pitching in the New York media circus and his glory days of 100-mph fastballs and big-breaking 90-mph curveballs are behind him.

Gooden, 33, also may never capture another Cy Young Award like he did in 1985 with the Mets when at 20 he became the youngest to win the award with a 24-4 record and 1.53 ERA.

Gooden now "gets by" with 90- to 94-mph fastballs and a variety of breaking balls. He also studies the game a lot more and looks for any edge he can get.

Yesterday, Gooden (6-6) used all his new attributes to win his third straight game, shutting down the Orioles for 6 1/3 innings on four hits, one unearned run, two strikeouts and two walks in a 4-1 victory.

Afterward, the veteran seemed very relaxed as he strolled through a quiet Indians clubhouse.

After being mobbed by hordes of writers and broadcasters for 13 years with the Mets and Yankees, Gooden is still adjusting to the relative calm in Cleveland, having signed as a free agent on Dec. 8, 1997.

"All those members of the media used to pump me up sometimes," Gooden said. "It will never be the same in Cleveland. Every time I go out to pitch now I feel like I have something to prove to the fans. I hope they've accepted me."

Gooden did not get off to a rousing start in Cleveland, spending the first seven weeks of the season on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis.

"The early injury set me back, but I have to be happy with the way things are going now," he said. "I've tried to improve my work habits and tried to use my head as much as my arm to help me win games. Also, I hope I've had a positive influence on this team as one of the older players."

Another important goal for Gooden this season is to preserve himself for the postseason run.

"I want to be at my peak for the playoffs," he said. "That's why I don't get too upset when I come out of games in the sixth and seventh innings."

Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove said he was tempted to give Gooden an opportunity to make it through the seventh yesterday but decided against it when his pitch count reached 99.

"We're pretty much on a 100-pitch count with him," Hargrove said. "I'm not sure if he loses concentration a little or what when he gets into the seventh. I know he's in good shape."

Although he is no longer throwing rockets and dazzling people with big hooks, the legend of Dwight Gooden very much lives in the Cleveland clubhouse.

Catcher, Sandy Alomar said, "I never faced him in the '80s, but I heard he was nasty with that curveball and 100-mph fastball. He was still throwing 92-93 mph today and had a good slider. He's been a very consistent pitcher for us."

Gooden has a 3.64 ERA to go along with his 6-6 record and Indians pitching coach Mark Wiley sees Gooden getting better and better with each outing.

"He hasn't been the recipient of a lot of runs this year," Wiley said. "You can see that by his pretty good ERA with only a 6-6 record. He's throwing the ball downstairs a lot more now than he did in his glory days in New York and he has four different breaking balls instead of the one big curveball that really broke down. Also, he's been real coachable."

It was Wiley who talked to Gooden last winter and told him how good Cleveland would be for the pitcher.

"I called Doc up and told him we only have three writers traveling with us and he could relax and have some fun here," Wiley said. "I think he is learning to like the more low-key atmosphere."

Pub Date: 8/24/98

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