07/14/2004 2:10 AM ET
Gagne gets All-Star job done
Lo Duca joins super closer for ninth inning in Houston
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- The batterymates who have been part of so much relief pitching history as well as some recent All-Star history that wasn't so pleasant entered the 75th All-Star Game together Tuesday night in the ninth inning.
The scene wasn't exactly riddled with tension.
This wasn't a save situation for super closer Eric Gagne, but he still had a goal for his appearance at Minute Maid Park that he passed along to Dodgers teammate and National League catcher Paul Lo Duca.
"We were laughing about it out there," Lo Duca said. "He told me, 'I've got to try and lower my ERA."
No, not the 1.85 ERA he carried into the game as the National League's top closer and defending Cy Young Award winner. That one's just fine.
It's that unsightly 18.00 ERA in three All-Star Games -- ballooned by last year's famous blown save, his only one of the year.
Said Gagne with a smile: "Yep, I had to get that thing down. I've got to go to arbitration next year."
Naturally, Gagne's financial future won't be riding on his All-Star Game performance last year. But at least he got his ERA in three Midsummer Classics down to 12.00 with a scoreless ninth in the AL's 9-4 win over the NL.
Not too far removed from his record-shattering streak of 84 consecutive saves, Gagne was happy to pitch under any circumstances in the All-Star Game.
"It's just fun to go out there and be a part of it," Gagne said. "Any time you have a chance to be part of the All-Star Game, it's amazing. Of course you want to pitch in this game, and when you pitch good, it's a bonus."
Last year's All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago wasn't his best outing, obviously. He gave up a two-run homer to the Rangers' Hank Blalock in the bottom of the eighth, blowing the save opportunity and taking the loss in the AL's 7-6 victory.
The main reason that blown save has had such a long shelf life is that it was the only one -- fortunately, it didn't count against him -- in his remarkable streak that lasted from Aug. 26, 2002 all the way until July 5, when it ended at 84 with a blown save against Arizona at Dodger Stadium.
Gagne got some measure of revenge, of the exhibition variety at least, on Blalock when he got the Texas star to pop out on the first pitch Tuesday night.
Now, that had to be sweet.
"Of course it was," Gagne said with a wry smile. "No, you know, he's a great hitter. He just missed that first pitch."
Gagne walked Boston's David Ortiz but recorded strikeouts against his other two batters Tuesday night.
Obviously, Gagne wasn't taking the situation overly seriously, just the same as he didn't take last year's All-Star Game experience to heart too much.
"It didn't carry over," said Lo Duca, who was catching for Gagne in last year's game as well. "He didn't blow another save after that. It seemed like those were the only runs he gave up the whole second half. That stuff doesn't wear on him. He's got a great short-term memory, and that's what you need to have in his role."
For Lo Duca, who was named to the All-Star team as an injury replacement for Cincinnati's Sean Casey, it was a long eight innings of wondering if he'd get the chance to get in the ballgame.
But he knew if his Dodgers teammate was getting in, he was getting in. Only this time, he didn't get a chance to improve on his .500 batting average after going 1-for-2 in his Midsummer Classic debut in 2003.
"I knew I was going to catch, but I didn't know if I was going to get a chance to hit and I wish I would have," Lo Duca said. "But that stuff happens. I'll have my time later on maybe. I hope I can get back here and maybe start."
|In a repeat of June 18 in L.A., Paul Lo Duca catches Eric Gagne's strike three on New York's Hideki Matsui, this time at the All-Star Game. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.