LOS ANGELES - SITTING IN FRONT OF HIS Dodger Stadium locker waiting for August to end and the heat to turn up, Jim Gott, a Dodger by birthright as well as by contract, wasn't dwelling on what his team needs to do to win the National League West Division title. He was dwelling on what they don't need to do.
"`The hardest part now," he said, "the thing we have to guard against, the thing Tommy (Lasorda) keeps talking about, is to make sure none of us try to do too much."He elaborated.
"You get to this stage of the season," he said. "And you try to run faster, to throw it harder, to field it cleaner. And that
can backfire on you. In September, you have to still go out there with a boyish enthusiasm and just play like you're thankful to be there."
That's Gott's philosophy anyway, and the way it's been serving him lately, as the Dodgers try to keep the Atlanta Braves in sight, he should be giving his teammates seminars on the art of playing loose, relaxed and with boyish enthusiasm.
This past week the Dodgers called on Gott three times for relief pitching. On Monday in Chicago he pitched two innings, allowed one hit, no runs and struck out three - and got his third win of the season, against three losses.
In games on Wednesday and Thursday against Pittsburgh, Gott pitched another four innings, two each night. He allowed just one hit, no runs and struck out five. That was the good news for the Dodgers. The bad news was they lost anyway.
The Dodgers slide since the All-Star break has been well documented. Going into Saturday night's game against the Cubs they were 21-27 since the break, compared to their record of 49-31 to start the season, the best mark in baseball at the time.
They held onto their division lead in the NL West until this past Thursday, when they were finally passed by the improbable Braves.
Gott, who has had an off-season home in Provo the past decade and recently bought a home near Park City, has seen these pennant races before. Playing for Toronto, San Francisco and Pittsburgh before getting traded to the Dodger organization two season ago, he's been on teams that have battled to second-place finishes. But he sees better than that for the '91 Dodgers, even if the Braves have caught a case of late-season momentum.
"This is by far the best team I've been on," he said, ticking off the reasons that have been trumpeted since spring, the reasons the Dodgers were an overwhelming consensus preseason choice to win the NL pennant - namely, great pitching . . . a veteran lineup, Hall of Fame backups . . . Lasorda's experience . . . the Great Dodger in the Sky.
Count Gott among those who believe the Dodgers are a chosen race. He grew up in San Marino, about 10 minutes from the stadium at Chavez Ravine. He was raised on, as he said, "the infield of Cey, Lopes, Russell and Garvey."
Even though he was MVP of his L.A. high school league and pitched in the North-South game in 1977 in Dodger Stadium, he was not destined to start his career with the Dodgers, however. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals directly out of high school for $18,500 and "a life of independence."
The St. Louis offer wasn't the best of news that spring in Provo, Utah, where letters of intent Gott had signed with both the baseball and football programs at BYU, turned quickly into doorstops.
A multi-sport standout in high school, Gott, at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, was first recruited by BYU football coach LaVell Edwards as as linebacker. Since Erich Gott, Jim's brother, was already attending BYU on a golf scholardship at the time, accepting the offer was easy. Later, when baseball coach Gary Pullins discovered that Gott was coming to Provo, he signed him up too.
Even though he would never play sports at BYU, Gott still lives there in the off-season. He has worked out regularly with the BYU staff, principally pitching coach Bobby Noel ever since 1977.
Now in his 10th season in the major leagues, Gott's convergence with the Dodgers has come at a time of maturity for both of them.
"I know what this team can do," he said. "This team doesn't have to worry about anybody else. What has to happen is everything has to come together again. If everyone on this team just plays a bit above normal, not career-year type stuff, just a bit above normal . . . well, I want to see it."
"We're struggling a little right now, but that's all," he said. "It's not September yet."