All eyes are on Gagne

first_img“I’m here to close,” Gagne declared. Just to make sure there was no uncertainty. Doubt over. Gagne in a game means excitement, means victory will soon be finalized. Means something special in anticipation and deliverance. So eyes naturally looked to the Dodgers bullpen. Waited for the right baseball moment, for the gate to open, for Gagne to emerge. For the electricity to return to Chavez Ravine. “Everybody in the park, the whole city, is excited,” said Dodgers manager Grady Little. “We’re just happy that he’s back.” Briefly, it appeared it could be a Gagne night. The Dodgers broke out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning, and the game was set up in a save situation. But Russell Martin led off the fourth with a home run, and a mistaken crowd actually cheered, even it if meant the extra run might keep Gagne out of the game. J.D. Drew followed with a three-run home run, and the Dodgers were coasting with a 7-0 lead. There would be no need for Gagne to make his return on this night. Make no mistake, however, the Dodgers need Gagne. Without him, old veterans and young kids have blended together to put the Dodgers on the cusp of the division lead. With him, they are probably several games ahead. Their relievers have failed to close eight of 19 save opportunities. Gagne hasn’t blown that many saves in four years. During his career, he’s closed 160 out of 166 save situations. That’s a staggering .964 percentage. Little got his first look at Gagne while managing the Boston in 2002 and the Red Sox came to Dodger Stadium for a three-game series. The Dodgers swept all three games, with Gagne getting a pair of saves. “The games were over in the eighth inning,” Little said. Little saw how Gagne electrified Dodger Stadium. How the 6-foot Canadian seized control of the game, soaked up his moment, baffled hitter after hitter. Gagne arrived Thursday eager to re-enter his stage, to reclaim his place on the team like it was his birthright. “I’m anxious, excited,” Gagne said. “Like your first day at school. It feels good. “I just want to get on the mound and get that first one out of the way early.” But he wasn’t so eager to get into the game that he was willing to pitch the ninth, regardless of the score. His is a very specific task. The additions of Danys Baez and Takashi Saito have helped bring the Dodgers to this point, but Gagne made it clear he is back to resume his previous role. No need to work him back gently, to get in innings or be placed in situations when the game is not on the line. Gagne wants the ball in the ninth, wants it now. “I feel ready,” he said. “That’s why I went to Triple-A. I went down there to get out all my nervousness, all my doubt, all that stuff. We worked on my pitch count. Right now I’m ready to close.” Baez and Saito give Little the luxury, however, of going the cautious route should he choose. Little said he will play it day-by-day, but Gagne may not see many games on consecutive nights. “My arm feels great,” Gagne said. “I’m bouncing back pretty good. I can pitch pretty much two, three days in a row. “My stuff is pretty much the way it was before. My changeup’s good. I finally feel free throwing the ball and not thinking about my elbow. It’s the best I’ve felt in a year and a half or so.” Still, there is just this little matter of proving it on the mound, demonstrating that the ligament and nerve damage is finally behind him. That the new Gagne very much resembles the old Gagne. His stuff at Triple-A Las Vegas was reportedly very good, but his fastball no longer approached 100 mph. “He won’t be throwing 97, 98 mph anymore,” Little said. “That’ll take time, but you never know.” It will take a little more time for him to make his 2006 debut. In the bottom of the eighth, with the Dodgers still leading 7-0, the crowd of 38,643 began a chant. “We want Gagne.” In the top of the ninth, the Phillies staged a mini-rally. “We want Gagne.” Then he rose to warm up, and the crowd rushed around the bullpen and cheers erupted. But the Philadelphia rally died, the crowd almost booing when Tim Hamulack got the final out. Eyes were still on the gate, the waiting left for another night. Steve Dilbeck’s column appears in the Daily News four times a week. [email protected] (818) 713-3607160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Waiting for the gate to open. Waiting for the blaring rock music. For the goose bumps to rise through the crowd. Waiting for the face of the Dodgers to make his 2006 debut. It’s been a nice season thus far for the Boys in Blue, a modestly surprising one. They returned home Thursday night one-half game back of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West. Returned having won 10 of their last 13 games. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2Yet something has been missing throughout this turnaround, something associated with the Dodgers back when they were averaging 90 wins during the 2002-04 seasons. The scruffy goatee. The jaw-dropping stuff. The amazing consistency. The attitude. Eric Gagne was missing. But two elbow surgeries later, Gagne rejoined the Dodgers Thursday. Rejoined them leaving no doubt why he was back at Dodger Stadium. last_img