Gagne Lost for Season After Back Surgery

The Dodgers were counting on the return of Eric Gagne, the best closer in the long history of the Dodgers and the all-time club lead in saves with 160 (career) and single season (55), to kick-start the club after the All-Star break. But as has been the case over the past two seasons, they will have to rely on Plan B.

Gagne isn't coming back this year, and he might never be back in a Dodger uniform again after learning he has to undergo season-ending back surgery to repair a herniated disk.

Gagne, 30, is scheduled to be operated on today at St. Vincent's Medical Center by Dr. Robert Watkins. The 90- minute procedure was deemed necessary after epidural and nerve block injections failed to stop the pain Gagne woke up with July 4.

A long-range prognosis for the remarkable pitcher will not be known until after the surgery, but sources say that the Dodgers will certainty not pick up the $12-million option on his contract for 2007. They would then owe him a $1 million buyout at the end of the season and he would become a free agent.

And remember, his agent is Steve Boras.

Gagne's career has been limited to just 16 games over the past two seasons. He has undergone two surgeries on his right elbow over the past 10 months and has been on the disabled list since early June after suffering an injured ulnar nerve.

The Dodgers came into spring training hoping Gagne would be healthy but he had to undergo additional surgery in April to remove a nerve in the right elbow, and missed the first two months of the season.

His 2006 debut lasted just two games before he returned to the disabled list in early June with the nerve problem.

In his only two appearances this year, Gagne threw a scoreless inning against Philadelphia and then earned his first save in almost a year with a scoreless ninth in an 8-5 victory against the New York Mets on June 6.

Takashi Saito and Danys Baez will be the Dodger closers for the rest of the season and one of the most popular Dodger players in years, whose theme "Welcome to the Jungle" that played as he ran to the mound for each of his appearances at Dodger Stadium, kept fans from leaving early.

He had earned 100 saves by his second season as a closer won the Cy Young Award in 2003 after converting a club-record 55 saves.

After signing a two-year, $19-million contract before the 2005 season, he was overcome with the injury epidemic that has hampered the team and limited him to just nine saves.

Now his career -- at least as a Dodger -- may be over.

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