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Gagne's saves streak looks safe at 84

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- For almost two years, it was "Game Over" every time Eric Gagne trotted in from the bullpen with the Los Angeles Dodgers ahead.

And when he struck out Scott Hairston to start the ninth inning Monday night, it seemed as if save No. 85 in a row was just a few pitches away.

But three batters later, his incredible streak was over. The Arizona Diamondbacks rallied for two runs to tie it, before the Dodgers scored in the 10th to win 6-5.

"Everybody says you have to be real lucky. I was real lucky for a long time. It just came to an end," Gagne said. "I made some great pitches. They beat me."

The burly Canadian right-hander with the straggly goatee was successful 84 consecutive times -- 30 more than previous record-holder Tom Gordon and more than the combined total of Rod Beck and Trevor Hoffman, tied for third on the all-time list at 41.

Actually, his last blown save occurred last July -- in the All-Star game when Texas' Hank Blalock hit a two-run homer in the eighth that lifted the AL over the NL 7-6.

That blown save meant something -- it gave the AL the home-field edge in the World Series. But since it did not happen in a regular-season game, it did not officially stop Gagne's streak.

Over the weekend, Gagne was picked for his third All-Star team.

Gagne's success conjured up notions of some hallowed streaks, such as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting string in 1941 and Orel Hershiser's 59 consecutive scoreless innings in 1988.

"What he accomplished, it's unbelievable," teammate Shawn Green said. "It's one of those records that will be with all the other huge records of baseball."

After Hairston struck out, Shea Hillenbrand singled to center on a 0-2 pitch and pinch-hitter Luis Gonzalez pulled a 2-2 changeup down the right-field line for an RBI double.

Rookie Chad Tracy, facing Gagne for the first time, grounded an 0-2 pitch through the right side to drive in the tying run.

After Gagne's streak ended, the Dodger Stadium crowd of 32,929 sat in stunned silence before giving him a standing ovation.

When the inning ended, manager Jim Tracy and several teammates hugged Gagne in the dugout and the fans continued their ovation until the closer came out for a curtain call, waving his cap.

"The fans are so proud of what I've been doing," Gagne said. "They come out every single game and they're really into it, so I just tried to give back to them because they've been really good to me."

"It's all about winning. We won the game," he said.

Gagne converted every save opportunity he had between Aug. 28, 2002, and Monday night. On 38 occasions, he protected a one-run lead.

"No one is going to ever even come close again," Atlanta closer John Smoltz said. "I think it's the best pitching record out there."

In what has become a Dodger Stadium tradition, Gagne jogged from the bullpen to the mound with "Welcome to the Jungle" blaring on the speakers, "Game Over" flashing on the message board and the fans on their feet.

The streak ended on the night Gagne had a chance to break Jeff Shaw's club record of 129 career saves.

"I would think that everybody would want to be the one that broke the streak," Chad Tracy said. "I wouldn't think that any big league hitter would be intimidated. I mean, you know about the success he's had. I know that he likes to throw that changeup, and it's tough to stay back on when you see 97 (mph). But if you're intimidated, you're done already."

Gagne has blown only five saves since Jim Tracy made him his closer two seasons ago. Three have been against the Diamondbacks.

"It's ironic. His last blown save was against the same ballclub," Jim Tracy said. "From what I've seen in the last two years, the only candidate who can redo it is the guy who just did it."

Gagne survived a few close calls during the streak, which began two days after a blown save at Dodger Stadium against the Diamondbacks when he surrendered a ninth-inning RBI double by David Dellucci.

Last Aug. 28, exactly one year after the streak began, Gagne was bailed out by center fielder David Roberts' great catch on the center-field incline at Houston.

Three weeks later against Arizona, Gagne was saved when pinch-runner Craig Counsell was thrown out at the plate on a perfect relay from Green to Alex Cora to catcher Paul Lo Duca.

Gagne had an 0.82 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 87 2-3 innings during his streak. He had 52 saves in 56 chances in 2002, 55 straight saves last year and 21 this year.

Lo Duca watched from the dugout Monday night because of a sore hip.

"They got a couple of tweeners, but that's what's been so amazing -- that that hasn't happened in 84 straight appearances," he said. "It's unbelievable."


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