SEATTLE -- Eric Gagne walked onto a major league mound for the first time in more than 10 months and was greeted by a cheesy scoreboard clip trying to inspire a Mariners rally against him.
It didn't work.
In the scoreboard clip, Kurt Russell was portraying former Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks in the movie Miracle. But in his head, Gagne was replaying the hard rock anthem that used to greet him in the ninth inning when he was the closer in Los Angeles: Guns 'N Roses Welcome to the Jungle.
"I was trying to stop shaking. I was nervous out there," Gagne said of his first save since last June 6, before back surgery ended his season in July. "It's been two frustrating years. Now, I'm back on track."
The bushy haired, bushing bearded Gagne then knocked his hand on the wood shelf of his locker.
"You never know when it's going to end," he said.
He thought it might be over last summer when doctors took out 85 percent of his L-4 and L-5 vertebrae in his lower back. Then came three months without being able to jog, more waiting for a pitching elbow to heal from surgery last April and two weeks of extended spring training with Double-A Frisco that ended when he came off the disabled list Friday morning.
Ian Kinsler hit his third home run in four games and Matt Kata had three hits, including a solo home run in his first major league start in two years. Opening-day starter Kevin Millwood allowed a run in six innings despite battling a bad cold.
But all of that meant far less to Texas than Gagne's return to relevance.
The Rangers took a $6 million, one-year flyer on him -- with as much as $5 million more possible based on how many games the three-time All-Star finishes.
All that is why Friday's ninth inning was as glorious for Gagne as any of the 152 games he saved for L.A. from 2002-04. And key for the Rangers, too.
"Finally, we got a chance to see him close a ball game," relieved manager Ron Washington said. "That's what we brought him here to do, get three outs."
Gagne said he was overanxious while falling behind the first batter he faced, pinch-hitter Ben Broussard. He fell behind 2-0 before Broussard blooped a single off him.
Gagne then threw four consecutive fastballs that hit 93 mph to Ichiro Suzuki. Last year's major league hits leader swung over the fourth one for his eighth strikeout in 22 at-bats, extending his hitless streak to 12 at bats.
Former Dodgers teammate Adrian Beltre, who swore if he ever faced Gagne in a game, he wanted to see a curveball, was next. Beltre told Gagne he know when the closer was about to throw a curve because he could see his fingers spread before the pitch from his position at third base.
Beltre never saw the first-pitch bender coming and froze as the strike went by. The two former Dodgers then laughed at each other. Gagne even had to step off the mound momentarily to get serious again.
"No, I was expecting that," Beltre said, still smiling about his former pal.
Two fastballs later, Beltre grounded into a double play. Game over, just as the L.A. scoreboard used to proclaim.
"I wanted to (mess) him up ... but I'm happy for him," Beltre said. "It would be kind of sad to see that much talent and an arm like that lost to injury."
Gagne punctuated his save with three, short, understated fist pumps. He received hugs from his new teammates, and threw the ball his teammates gave him into the stands.
"I've done that 84 times in a row," Gagne said, referring to his major league record for save conversions that ended in 2004.
|Eric Gagne notches a save for the Rangers not long after being activated from the disabled list. (AP)|
|Players of the Game|
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|Jerry Hairston Jr., CF||4||2||1||0||1||1||1||.375|
|Ian Kinsler, 2B||3||1||2||2||1||1||0||.357|
|Michael Young, SS||4||0||2||1||0||1||2||.238|
|Mark Teixeira, 1B||4||0||0||0||0||0||3||.222|
|Sammy Sosa, DH||4||0||1||0||0||1||0||.156|
|Hank Blalock, 3B||4||0||0||0||0||1||1||.256|
|Nelson Cruz, RF||4||0||0||0||0||1||1||.250|
|Gerald Laird, C||4||0||0||0||0||1||0||.148|
|Matt Kata, LF||4||2||3||1||0||0||0||.500|
|HR - Ian Kinsler (5, Washburn), Matt Kata (1, Putz)|
|RBI - Ian Kinsler 2 (9), Michael Young (9), Matt Kata (1)|
|2-OUT RBI - Ian Kinsler 2 (6), Matt Kata (1)|
|Team LOB - 5|
|DP - Kinsler-Teixeira, Blalock-Kinsler-Teixeira, Blalock-Kinsler-Teixeira|
|Kevin Millwood (W,2-1)||6||7||1||1||2||2||0||3.71|
|Joaquin Benoit (H,2)||1||2||1||1||0||2||0||1.93|
|Akinori Otsuka (H,1)||1||1||0||0||0||1||0||0.00|
|Eric Gagne (S,1)||1||1||0||0||0||1||0||0.00|
|HBP - Johjima (by Kevin Millwood)|
|Pitches-Strikes - Kevin Millwood 82-56, Joaquin Benoit 13-10, Akinori Otsuka 15-8, Eric Gagne 13-9|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Kevin Millwood 3-11, Joaquin Benoit 1-0, Akinori Otsuka 2-0, Eric Gagne 1-0|
|Batters Faced - Kevin Millwood 26, Joaquin Benoit 5, Akinori Otsuka 4, Eric Gagne 3|
|Ichiro Suzuki, CF||4||0||0||0||1||3||2||.182|
|Adrian Beltre, 3B||5||0||1||1||0||0||3||.136|
|Jose Vidro, DH||3||0||1||0||1||1||1||.174|
|Raul Ibanez, LF||4||1||2||0||0||0||2||.227|
|Richie Sexson, 1B||4||0||1||1||0||1||3||.190|
|Jose Guillen, RF||4||0||0||0||0||1||2||.211|
|Kenji Johjima, C||3||0||3||0||0||0||0||.412|
|Yuniesky Betancourt, SS||4||0||1||0||0||0||4||.158|
|Jose Lopez, 2B||3||1||1||0||0||0||1||.211|
|a- Ben Broussard, PH||1||0||1||0||0||0||0||.333|
|Willie Bloomquist, PR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|a-singled for J. Lopez in the 9th|
|2B - Adrian Beltre (2, Benoit), Raul Ibanez (1, Millwood), Richie Sexson (2, Millwood), Kenji Johjima (4, Otsuka)|
|RBI - Adrian Beltre (3), Richie Sexson (8)|
|Team LOB - 9|
|DP - Betancourt-J. Lopez-Sexson|
|E - Adrian Beltre (1, Throwing)|
|Jarrod Washburn (L,0-1)||6||7||4||3||1||4||1||3.75|
|Pitches-Strikes - Jarrod Washburn 85-53, Julio Mateo 28-19, George Sherrill 2-2, J.J. Putz 18-12|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Jarrod Washburn 8-5, George Sherrill 1-0|
|Batters Faced - Jarrod Washburn 25, Julio Mateo 7, George Sherrill 1, J.J. Putz 4|
|Attendance - 25243|
|Game Time - 2:36|
|Temperature - 51|
|Umpires - Home - Ron Kulpa, First Base - Paul Emmel, Second Base - Dale Scott, Third Base - Chris Guccione|