Eric Gagne's remarkable saves streak — a record, as far as we know — for the Los Angeles Dodgers puts him not only in the National League Cy Young Award discussion but should land him a spot on Most Valuable Player ballots as well.
Gagne converted his 55th consecutive save Tuesday, breaking Tom Gordon's record from 1998-99 (Rolaids has tracked blown saves only since 1988). Gagne stretched the streak to 56 on Friday with his 48th save this season.
Diamondbacks closer Matt Mantei, who had converted a career-best 14 straight save chances before a blown save Thursday, called Gagne's saves streak “ridiculous.”
“I thought I was pitching pretty well with 14,” Mantei said. “A bloop base hit here or there and you can blow a save, and it hasn't happened to him. He's filthy.”
Said San Diego's Rod Beck, who saved 41 straight from 1993-95: “You've got to have some luck to do that, but then you look at his numbers, the strikeouts, the walks. That's not luck. That's Dennis Eckersley (stuff). That's better than Dennis Eckersley (stuff).”
The Cy Young Award is for the season's most outstanding pitcher, and Gagne deserves to be considered. The NL's top winner, Atlanta's Russ Ortiz, has a 3.76 ERA — 18th among league starters. His record is nearly as much a function of the Braves’ offense as his pitching.
Gagne teammate Kevin Brown, Montreal's Livan Hernandez, Chicago's Mark Prior or San Francisco's Jason Schmidt can vault into serious Cy Young contention by finishing the year with a run of wins. Atlanta closer John Smoltz (44-for-47 in saves, 0.89 ERA) has been in many ways as impressive as Gagne but has been on the disabled list since Aug. 27.
Put Gagne's saves aside for a minute. He has a 1.40 ERA, a .133 batting average allowed, an average of 15.54 strikeouts per nine innings and a 7.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Even considering he pitches just an inning or two at a time, the numbers are phenomenal.
“I don't have the words to describe what this guy has done since he became our closer,” Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. “If we're fortunate enough to get to the month of October and he continues to do the job he's been doing, there's no doubt as to who should be the Cy Young Award winner.”
While one cannot make a case for Gagne vs. Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols for MVP, Gagne should be one of the 10 names voters submit on their ballots. Los Angeles went into the weekend three games out of the wild card lead; had, say, Gagne blown three saves and the Dodgers lost two of those games, they would be five out.
Considering that 53 of L.A.'s 72 victories came by three runs or fewer, Gagne's presence has been valuable indeed.
At first glance, Florida's last-minute deal for Baltimore's Jeff Conine seemed like a bold, decisive move. Star Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell suffered a broken left hand last Sunday, giving the team just a few hours to acquire a player and have him eligible for the postseason.
Conine, an original Marlin who also played on the 1997 World Series champions, will play left field, with rookie Miguel Cabrera moving from left to third.
Before the deal could go down, Conine had to restructure his contract. And that required a series of calls from him — aboard the Orioles’ charter jet — to his agent via wife in Florida.
“It was about as last minute as it gets,” said the agent, Michael Watkins. “I had Jeff and Cindy on one line and (Marlins GM Larry) Beinfest on the other at 11:58 (p.m.). It was more than a furious pace.”
The Marlins didn't want to pay Conine the $4.25 million he was owed next season, so he agreed to take $3 million instead as long as Florida guaranteed him a 2005 contract, also for $3 million, instead of an option.
Sounds good, except the additional payroll may force the Marlins to trade underrated first baseman Derrek Lee to open a position for Conine when Lowell returns.
Not only that, but the two Class A pitchers Florida gave up — Denny Bautista and Don Levinski — are considered solid prospects.
With the Cubs and White Sox in the playoff chase, Chicago feels like the baseball capital of the U.S. It was for sure on Tuesday.
While the Cubs and Cardinals played a day-night doubleheader at Wrigley Field, the White Sox hosted the Red Sox.
Totals for the day:
• 33 innings (15 in Game 1 of the doubleheader).
• 95,223 total paid attendance.
• 72 different players taking part in the three games.
• Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella: “I know we've got some holes, and I know we've got to fill them, but I tell you what, we're starting to put together a nice nucleus of players here for the future.”
• Pitcher Gary Knotts, who returned to Detroit as a September call-up after being demoted earlier in the season: “I was hoping maybe I was their problem, and that maybe they could turn it around.”
• Seattle pitching coach Bryan Price, on pitcher Freddy Garcia: “We're going to have to work a bit on growing up. That's the same conversation we had in 2000 — and in every year in between.”
• Piniella again: “Hideki Matsui winning the Rookie of the Year Award would be like Manny Ramirez going to Japan next year and winning Rookie of the Year there. It would be like Warren Moon playing five years in the Canadian Football League, then enrolling at the University of Washington and winning the Heisman Trophy. Of course, when I was managing in Seattle, and we had Kazuhiro Sasaki and then Ichiro Suzuki, I felt exactly the opposite.”
• Cleveland outfielder Jody Gerut is making a late run for AL Rookie of the Year honors — thanks to Detroit. After Thursday's Indians-Tigers game, Gerut had 37 percent of his home runs (seven of 19) and 39 percent of his RBIs (27 of 69) against Detroit.
• The postseason could include eight players who opened this year with Cincinnati: Philadephia's Kelly Stinnett, Oakland's Jose Guillen, Atlanta's Kent Mercker, Boston's Scott Williamson, Scott Sullivan of the Chicago White Sox and Gabe White, Felix Heredia and Aaron Boone of the Yankees.
San Diego has four Golden Spikes Award winners (given to the country's top amateur player) in uniform: shortstop Khalil Greene (Clemson 2002), outfielder Mark Kotsay (Cal State Fullerton 1996), Phil Nevin (Cal State Fullerton 1992) and hitting coach Dave Magadan (Alabama 1983).
• The Cubs are working on a deal to increase their allowance of night games at Wrigley Field from 18 to 30, perhaps phased in incrementally.
• Oakland: As usual this time of year.
• Aubrey Huff: Tampa Bay outfielder/DH had a 13-game hitting streak end Friday; he still leads the AL in doubles.
• Colorado: Tough schedule down the stretch could have Rockies threatening franchise record of 90 losses.
• Danys Baez: Cleveland closer has 5.06 ERA and three blown saves in five chances since Aug. 1.