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Eric Gagne Is So Good
2003-04-23 08:53
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

When Eric Gagne comes into pitch at Dodger Stadium, "Welcome to the Jungle" is blasted out of the inadequate single set of speakers behind center field, and an onslaught of blue and white cartoon Gagne heads overruns the scoreboard, in a hallucinatory montage not unlike the visions of Lisa Simpson after drinking tainted water on the "It's a Duff World" ride at Duff Gardens.

The entrance is ridiculous, and would be an embarrassment - if it weren't so wonderful. It captures what worked so well in the Wild Thing scenes with Charlie Sheen from the movie, Major League. Those scenes mocked the hoopla over a relief pitcher's entrance into game while marking a crowd's unmistakably sincere desperation and appreciation for a hero they know will bring victory home.

A home run by Shawn Green will send Dodger fans to their feet, but Eric Gagne is the only Dodger on the field today that breaks Dodger fans out of their shells and allows them to be the rarest of adjectives at a Dodger game - goofy and giddy.

Eric Gagne is so good that even though his entrance into a game borders on parody, it is a grand homage. They shouldn't be playing music from Guns N' Roses - they should be playing music from Braveheart. Or Waiting for Guffman.

Eric Gagne is so good that he should play himself on The Simpsons - and not necessarily in a baseball-themed episode. I see Homer hiring Gagne to be his stunt double.

Eric Gagne is so good that he could put out a disco single and even jaded audiophiles at Tower Records would line up to buy it.

Eric Gagne is so good that he could lift up his shirt on the pitcher's mound, squeeze his bellyfat, practice ventriloquism through his bellybutton, and enthrall audiences from Ontario to Ontario.

It doesn't mean Gagne is perfect. Just last night, in the middle of a fiery Jackson Pollock splattering of pitches that sent a dazed and confused Cincinnati Reds team to bed, Gagne walked raw rookie shortstop Felipe Lopez. But even the salt of the earth needs a dash of pepper once in a while.

Okay, last metaphor for a while. Here is the Gagne story, straight and true. And in fact, he is damn near perfect.

Last season, batters batted .189 against Gagne with an OPS of .535. Remarkable numbers. Atomic numbers.

This season, Gagne has split the atom. Through Tuesday, batters are batting .079 against Gagne with an OPS of .242.

He has faced 43 hitters this season. Three have singles. Three have walked, two intentionally. One has been hit by a pitch. That's all Gagne has allowed.

Gagne has struck out 20 of the 43 - nearly half. And yet, he has thrown only 151 pitches, averaging only 3.51 pitchers per batter. That means that aside from the 60 strikes that specifically account for his 20 strikeouts, Gagne has thrown only 91 other pitches to the 43 batters - an average of 2.11 extra pitches per batter. That figure accounts for all his balls, extra foul balls and those few hits. Amazing.

Since the beginning of 2002, Gagne has allowed runs in consecutive appearances only once: May 27 and May 29 against Milwaukee. He allowed one run in both, but had bigger leads to work with in both games and got saves in both games. Two runs in two games. That is Gagne's biggest slump.

Since the beginning of 2002, Gagne has allowed more than one run in a game only once. He allowed a two-run home run to Aaron Boone in Cincinnati, then hit Adam Dunn with a pitch. Dunn also scored, after Gagne was ejected for the game as if the HBP was retaliatory - even though it put the tying run at the plate. It was a condemnable event - but the only lowpoint in a season spent atop Mount Everest. (Okay, the metaphors are back.)

Tuesday night, Gagne returned to the scene of that crime and made things right again.

Eric Gagne is not out there day after day like Green, the Dodgers' most brilliant hitter but one who bebops frustratingly between blazing and arctic.

But without a doubt, Eric Gagne is the most exciting player on the Dodgers - because greatness is truly exciting. Greatness is liberating. And Gagne is great, every time out. It won't always be this way, but right now, it just is. Eric Gagne is Zeus on the mound, flinging lighting bolts at an awed civilization. Forgive the gushing of praise, but I am too tardy in expressing my appreciation for him.

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