07/16/2003 12:48 AM ET
Dodgers' Gagne less than perfect
Nearly automatic closer has rough All-Star appearance
CHICAGO -- Dodgers right-hander Eric Gagne has been perfect this season, and nearly perfect since taking over as closer at the start of last season, so when he was less than perfect on Tuesday night, it was news. Big news.
Gagne allowed three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning -- including a game-winning, two-run home run by Rangers rookie Hank Blalock -- to give the American League a thrilling 7-6 victory in the 74th All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field.
After the game, every notepad, tape recorder, microphone and camera crowded his locker to capture his uncharacteristic failure. Gagne, who has 31 saves in 31 chances this season and has not blown a save since last Aug. 26, looked everyone in the eye and answered. It falls under the job description for that rare player in sports whose every mistake means a loss.
"It's over," Gagne said. "There isn't anything I can do. It could've been anybody out there. That's what a closer's got to deal with."
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
To make matters worse, this time it counts. Gagne's blown save handed the home-field advantage for the World Series to the AL.
"I hope I'll be the one in there (in the World Series), and I'll be with the Dodgers in there," said Gagne, who made his second All-Star Game appearance. "Then I can get my stuff back and go out there and redeem myself."
Tuesday's situation was simple. Gagne challenged Blalock with a fastball and lost. One run was already in, on a Vernon Wells RBI double, and Gagne fell behind Blalock, 3-1.
"It's an All-Star Game," Gagne said. "You don't want to go out there and walk people. You want to challenge people, and that's what I tried to do. I mean, I tried to pitch my game and I got hit."
"I was trying to hit a single," Blalock said. "That's all I was trying to do. Fortunately, I worked myself into a good count where I could get something to hit."
The media mob scene around Gagne was something not to familiar to the Dodgers' other representative, catcher Paul Lo Duca. Like many observers going into the game, Lo Duca figured that an NL lead in the late innings was safe with Houston's Billy Wagner, Gagne and Atlanta's John Smoltz there to protect it.
The game never made it to Smoltz.
"I thought he (Gagne) had good stuff, but he threw a lot of balls in the middle of the plate," said Lo Duca, who was in the game when Gagne was pitching. "He told me he couldn't get comfortable.
"I think that's probably the most runs he will give up the rest of the year. That's one of those things."
Wagner gave up a home run to right-center field to the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi in the seventh.
Gagne worked Boston's Nomar Garciapara into a grounder to open the AL eighth. All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Garret Anderson of Anaheim, who had knocked a two-run homer and a double earlier in the game, doubled to right-center with one out. Gagne got Carl Everett to ground to first to move pinch runner Melvin Mora to third.
Then Blalock made the night truly an unusual one. Gagne had 83 saves in 87
opportunities since becoming a closer for Los Angeles at the beginning of last
"I've never seen Gagne get hit like that," said NL manager Dusty Baker.
Not many people have.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.