Tag:Eric Gagne
Posted on: April 1, 2008 6:26 pm
 

Pass the Maalox and somebody finish the game

Morning has barely broken on the new season, and already it's Maalox time for managers.

With two openers yet to be completed, there already have been seven blown saves on opening day. That ties an opening day record, according to baseball-reference.com. Since saves became an official statistic in 1969, only one other time has there been as many as seven blown saves on opening day, and that was in 1994.

Contributing to this historic occasion already are Oakland's Huston Street (March 25 against Boston in Japan), Boston's Kyle Snyder (same game against the A's), Washington's Jon Rauch (Sunday night against the Braves) Cleveland's Rafael Perez, Detroit's Jason Grilli, Kansas City's Brett Tomko and Milwaukee's Eric Gagne (all Monday).

And that's not even counting the Cubs' Kerry Wood, who blew up the 0-0 game in Wrigley Field against Milwaukee on Monday by surrendering three top-of-the-ninth runs. And it's not counting Atlanta's Peter Moylan, who served up Sunday night's bottom-of-the-ninth homer to Washington's Ryan Zimmerman to deal the Braves, who had been tied 2-2, a heartbreaking 3-2 loss.

The three most eyebrow-raising blown games within that group were authored by Gagne, Street and Wood -- for different reasons.

Let's start with Wood, because while that didn't go down as a blown save, it certainly ruined a what should have been a memorable opener featuring the Cubs' newest folk hero, Kosuke Fukudome. For the sake of both the Cubs and manager Lou Piniella, the days of Wood raising the club's hopes and then tossing a banana peel under them must be finished. The Cubs think they're finished. Wood pitched very well in relief late last season and had a very good spring. His final spring test was pitching on consecutive days and working three times in a five-day stretch, both of which he aced.

The biggest question with Wood is whether he stays healthy, and for now, that was answered during the spring. The club believes he will be very successful as a closer. Piniella indicated this spring that set-up man Carlos Marmol would be used as a closer in the event Wood didn't work. But that weakens the club in the seventh and eighth innings.

It's always a mistake to place too much emphasis on one game -- especially if it's opening day, which usually gets an inordinate amount of attention (and, when the cold, raw conditions that were in Chicago make it difficult for a pitcher to grip a baseball). But let's just say this: Wood had better convert his next few save opportunities, or it's going to be panic time in Chicago.

Is it time to panic in Milwaukee with Gagne? I had a long talk with manager Ned Yost about that late this spring as the Brewers were keeping Gagne hidden away on the back fields. And in the couple of 'A' games he did pitch, he looked nothing like his old Cy Young-winning self.

Gagne went 2-0 with 16 saves and a 2.16 ERA in 34 games for Texas last summer before Boston traded for him for the stretch run. Working as a set-up man (and eventually mop-up man) for Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, Gagne was 2-2 with an alarming 6.75 ERA and no saves in 20 games.

Yost said this spring that he is going with Gagne's Texas stats last summer and completely discounting the Boston performance because: A) As a closer, Gagne is a different breed; B) He wasn't closing in Boston, and, C) Therefore, he didn't have the adrenalin and situations he needed.

That works in theory. But here's the reason why I'm concerned if I'm Milwaukee (which is paying him $10 million in 2008): No, Gagne wasn't closing in Boston. But while he regularly was getting lit up and booed out of Fenway Park, you would think a self-preservation mechanism would have kicked in that would have given Gagne the adrenalin he needed. He never could find it. Nor has he been able to find his old fastball. Where he once jacked it up to 98, 99 m.p.h. in his heyday in Los Angeles, now Gagne's fastball tops out at 92, 93. And there's all kinds of suspicion as to why. You can start by finding his name in the Mitchell Report.

Street probably won't be under as intense a spotlight as Gagne and Wood this season simply because Oakland isn't expected to be in contention. But scouts who saw him in the Cactus League this spring were buzzing about how poorly he threw. There's no indentifiable reason yet but, at this point, it seems clear that something could be up with Street. A hidden injury? A simple slow start? Stay tuned.

And, stay tuned Tuesday night. Mariano Rivera (Yankees) and Jeremy Accardo (Toronto), and Jason Isringhausen (St. Louis) and Manny Corpas (Colorado), you're up.

Two more openers yet to be competed. And an opening day blown saves record clearly within reach.

Posted on: March 31, 2008 9:54 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2008 11:52 am
 

Westward ho

LOS ANGELES -- Get ready for a season of memories as the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants celebrate their 50th seasons of serving as the trailblazers in baseball's westward expansion. And if the opening day pre-game ceremony staged by the Dodgers serves as any kind of preview, it's going to be some kind of fun.

Sandy Koufax, Carl Erskine and Don Newcombe each threw out ceremonial first pitches Monday after the emotional introductions of nearly 40 former Dodgers. Most of the former players all came onto the field in full uniform and stood where their old positions were. There was Maury Wills at shortstop, Duke Snider in Ccenter field, Ron Cey at third, Steve Garvey at first ... it was the brainchild of Dr. Charles Steinberg, the new Dodgers vice-president of marketing and communications, and it was trademark Dr. C all the way. He staged similar impressive celebrations in Baltimore and Boston.

"It was really cool," new Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "The Dodgers and the Yankees have the histories to be able to do something like that because of their histories of championships.

"I just wish Don Zimmer would have been here. That would have closed the circle for me."

Zimmer, now a special coach for Tampa Bay, was Torre's bench coach for several seasons with the Yankees. Torre said that rarely a day went by when Zim wouldn't mention Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese or some Dodgers-related anecdote in the dugout.

Though Torre grew up in New York, he said that the Dodgers and Giants leaving after the 1957 season affected him in a way far different from other New Yorkers. His brother, Frank, had just broken into the majors with the Milwaukee Braves, and the departures of the Giants and Dodgers meant that Joe would have to take a train to see his brother play. He no longer would be able to see Frank play in New York once the city lost its National League teams.

Being that it was his first game in a Dodgers uniform, Torre said he felt like a bit of an outsider.

"You sort of feel like a duck out of water because you're not a part of Dodgers history," he said. "It was the same way with the Yankees. I'd see Catfish Hunter, Whitey (Ford), Yogi (Berra) and you felt like you weren't a part of it. It wasn't until after six or seven years that you felt like you were a part of it."

The World Series titles Torre managed the Yankees to in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 just might have been a bit beneficial in making him feel a part of it, too.

Monday, Torre caught the first pitch from Newcombe. He was hoping to catch Koufax's, but it was difficult to say whether it was more because of his friendship with Koufax or more because he has a Los Angeles-themed line he was going to use.

"I was going to tell him it was easier catching him here than trying to hit him here," Torre said, chuckling.

Likes: The new Nationals Park looked beautiful on television the other night, didn't it? Can't wait to get there and see it -- hopefully this year sometime. ... As one media-type cracked here Monday, it should be fairly easy to get to D.C. to see it -- just schedule it in the next time Congress hauls in a few ballplayers for more testimony. ... The Cubs' Kosuke Fukudome, 3-for-3 with a homer in his debut. Nice. ... Life just feels different on opening day, doesn't it? ... Love seeing kids like the Dodgers' Blake Dewitt play well in their first major-league game. ... Pretty great Cleveland-White Sox game Monday. ... Four No. 1 seeds in Saturday's Final Four, I've already got a request in for pizza and I ain't going far from the television. ... Two Bruce Springsteen concerts coming up in the next seven days. Opening day, Final Four, Springsteen ... this year may be peaking right now.

Dislikes: Both Kerry Wood and Eric Gagne give up three runs in the ninth inning Monday? Mamma mia. ... The Field Formerly Known as Jacobs having a new name in Cleveland. ... Rainout in Yankee Stadium and raw weather in Chicago. Shouldn't it be nice everywhere on opening day?

Rock-n-Roll Lyric of the Day:

"All the leaves are brown
"And the sky is gray
"I've been for a walk
"On a winters day
"I'd be safe and warm
"If I was in L.A.
"California dreamin'
"On such a winters day"

-- The Mamas and the Papas, California Dreamin'

 


Posted on: March 16, 2008 7:25 pm
 

Bonjour, Mr. Gagne

MARYVALE, Ariz. -- Brewers manager Ned Yost has learned to say "good morning" in French to Quebec native Eric Gagne, but other than that, Yost mostly is hands-off. And truth be told, is paying closer attention to folks other than his new closer.

Mostly, Gagne has been honing his skills on the back fields while preparing for the season. He's worked in only two "A" games so far, and three "B" games.

"He's a different animal," Yost says. "He's been in the game for quite awhile. He knows what it takes to be successful. The main thing that kicks in with guys like him is adrenalin, and you're not going to see that with Gagne until the season starts."

Yost is completely dismissing Gagne's struggles in Boston last summer when he went 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA and practically was booed out of town.

Instead, he points to the 16 saves and 2.16 ERA earlier in the year in Texas.

"Two different jobs," Yost says.

Gagne also is a different animal in that he essentially missed two seasons, 2005 and 2006, with injuries, then did well in Texas for part of last season and then was terrible in Boston. Plus, he was named in the Mitchell Report as a suspected steroids user.

So how can a manager be completely confident that Gagne will become Mr. Dependable Closer? Blind faith?

"Absolutely he's ready to go, and it's not even blind faith," Yost says. "It's solid faith."

Gagne says he is throwing "awesome. I'm feeling good. No pain. No stiffness. I'm throwing free and easy."

He's got no restrictions physically, and he's thrown all of his pitches -- including his nasty change-up -- in each of his past two outings. Before that, he says, he only threw his fastball while working on arm strength and location.

"That's why I like 'B' games," he says.

Meantime, the man who signed a one-year, $10 million deal is very happy in his new home.

"They're young here," Gagne says. "They've got a lot of energy.

"It's pretty cool."

Likes: Prince Fielder mimicking batting stances from other players -- both Brewers and non-Brewers -- in the Milwaukee clubhouse, and outfielder Mike Cameron nearly doubled over in laughter. ... Justin Upton ready to start in right field for Arizona at 20. ... Barry Zito winning a Cactus League game despite surrendering seven runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. The ball flies in the thin desert air. ... Monti's Steakhouse in Tempe. ... Chatting with former Oakland skipper Ken Macha in Tempe the other day. Macha, entering his second season after being fired by Oakland, is itching to get back into uniform. ... Butler in the NCAA tournament, but not playing South Alabama in Alabama. Come on, the Bulldogs deserve better.

Dislikes: The Mets' Carlos Delgado needing stitches after getting speared by a broken bat. Forget, for a minute, base coaches now being forced to wear helmets. Talk to anybody in uniform over the past few years, and one of the greatest fears is a jagged, broken bat doing some serious damage, and possibly killing someone. Thank goodness Delgado got out of it with only four stitches. ... Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur getting beaned in the lip by St. Louis pitcher Todd Wellemeyer. If the situation was reversed, why do I have the feeling that Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa would be starting World War III, and going on about how it's never an accident when a pitch sails near somebody's head? ... Arizona coach Kirk Gibson turns 51 in May? When did he turn 50?

Sunblock day? We avoided the predicted thunderstorms -- at least, in the Phoenix area -- and got a mix of sun and clouds. But the temperature dropped toward the 50s. More long pants and jacket day than sunblock day.

Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"This old heart of mine been broke a thousand times
"Each time you break away I feel you're gone to stay
"Lonely nights that come, memories that flow
"Bringin' ya back again, hurting me more and more"

-- The Isley Brothers, This Old Heart of Mine

Posted on: February 18, 2008 6:48 pm
 

Now THIS is a special instructor

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Reclusive Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax has an aura about him that I've seen from very few others. Muhammad Ali, certainly, when he made an appearance at the Los Angeles Angels' camp last spring in Tempe, Ariz. Other than that, I'd have to think a long time to come up with someone else.

What's interesting when Koufax appears at Dodgertown, as he usually does a few times each spring, is that the players react almost like fans themselves. And that's partly how it was Monday morning when Koufax showed up for a special tutoring session with a couple of Dodgers pitchers.

"I didn't know anything about this stuff until this morning," manager Joe Torre said. "It's a treat."

Koufax, tanned and trim in a lime green golf shirt and khaki shorts, spent 30 minutes or so working with reliever Scott Proctor and non-roster invitee Chan Ho Park on some back mounds just off the Dodgers clubhouse and administrative buildings.

"Park and Proctor both asked about it when they saw him here," Torre said. "He's aggreable to helping out when he can, but he's got a schedule."

Koufax has a good relationship with Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and appears to have a comfort factor with Torre. The two have known each other since the 1960s, when Koufax was at the top of his game and Torre was breaking into the majors. Both men are from Brooklyn, which gave them something in common, and each played in the National League, which sometimes put them on the same turf.

"I remember a Saturday in Milwaukee when he was pitching against us," Torre said. "I was 20, 21, and went up to hit and he struck me out three times in a row.

"The fourth time I said, 'I'm not going to let him strike me out this time' and I popped up. All you wanted to do against him was not strike out. He put that in your head.

"That night, we happened to be in the same restaurant, and that was the first time we talked socially."

Koufax sent Torre a telegram when the manager won his first World Series with the Yankees in 1996, and when Torre was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, he said Koufax was one of the first people who called.

"He's been a very special friend," Torre said.

After that '96 World Series win, appearing in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York, Torre remembered it was raining so hard that his leather jacket was ruined and he looked like "a drowned dog."

"I get home and the phone rings, and it's Sandy," Torre said. "He didn't even say hello. He just said, 'I bet you're glad you said yes to that, huh?'"

Torre said that he expects Koufax to drop by to visit, help coach or offer tips a handful of times this spring.

Likes: I like Andy Pettitte, I really do. But he needs some time to pass and he needs the season to start. That's going to do him a whole lot more good than Monday's press conference. ... Don Mattingly in Dodgers camp and, hopefully, for now, the troubles with his estranged wife in his rear-view mirror. Mattingly, thought to be Torre's eventual successor as DOdgers manager, will be a special assignments coach this year. He was going to be Dodgers hitting coach but personal issues -- which came to a head when Kim Mattingly was arrested for public intoxication and refusing to leave his property -- interrupted that. ... Tommy Lasorda back as Dodgers manager for a week in March when the other half of the club is playing exhibition games in China. ... Who knew there was a Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter?

Dislikes: Eric Gagne's tepid "apology" to his Mitchell Report appearance. ... Disappointed in Shelby Lynne's new disc Just a Little Lovin' covering some of the songs of the legendary Dusty Springfield. My first mistake probably was in not simply cutting to the chase and picking up a Springfield disc insteada. Lynne's effort is intentionally stripped down, but there's no grit. No soul. It's like the music of Dusty Springfield for Lovers of Elevator Music.

Sunblock day? Odd mix of morning rain and mugginess yielding to a hot Florida sun meant you'd better have the sunblock within reach. Zoomed up into the upper 80s today despite the stiff breeze.


Rock-n-Roll lyric of the day:

"There ought to be a law
"With no bail
"Smash a guitar
"And you go to jail
"With no chance
"For early parole
"You don't get out until you get some soul"


-- John Hiatt, Perfectly Good Guitar

 
 
 
 
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