Is 'Game Over' Really Over?

Sometimes baseball seems to be a heartless business. Eric Gagné, for example, was a long-shot at best to make the major league staff but after getting banged around in his first three starts was sent to the minor league side of Camelback. It was just business, as Don Corleone would say, but deep down you can bet a number of the staff were as unhappy as the fans that the demotion was necessary.

The 34-year-old had allowed six runs and eight hits in 2.2 innings and the 20+ ERA was about five times higher than was necessary to get the veteran another appearance or two.

The official word from general manager Ned Colletti, was "I think for the most part he needs to pitch and he needs to build up his arm strength and a feel for his offspeed stuff. We're not going to have the innings on the big league side to do that."

"He wanted to make sure we still had interest in having him, which we do," Colletti said. "I think he took it fine. He knows where he's at and he feels fine physically, but he has to convert that to success on the mound."

"He said he knew coming in he had a long way to go," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "We're still looking at him. But we have to start lengthening some other guys out, and he understands that part of the scenario. He still has some fire in his belly."

That was a very proper letdown and Gagné took it well, accepting the demotion. He could have exercised a clause in his contract that would have allowed him to become a free agent.

He left a text message that read: "I'm on my way back. I knew it wasn't gonna be easy. But I'm gonna work my butt off and be ready if they need help over the long season."

Gagné, predominately a starter in the minors and in his early appearances with the Dodgers, was reborn almost on the spot in 2002 when he was tentatively handed the closer role, crafting three of the greatest relief seasons in the history of the club.

He was given the job on a trial basis in April of 2002 and recorded a microscopic 0.69 ERA during the month, then he finished the season with with a club-record 52 saves and a 1.97 earned run average. He struck out 114 and walked 16, allowing a .189 average. He was fourth in the Cy Young voting and 10th in VP balloting.

He followed that by his top season, 2003, saving a league-leading 55 games an putting up a 1.20 earned run average. He allowed opponents a .133 batting average, fanned 137 and walked 20.

Awards arrived in his mailbox almost daily. He was the National League Cy Young winner, sixth in the Most Valuable Player balloting, The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year and the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the year.

In 2004 he was brilliant in any comparison except his own the two preceding seasons. He continued to dominate the National League, posting 45 saves, allowing a .181 average and striking out 114 while passing 22. He finished seventh in the Cy Young and 11th in the MVP voting.

Over the three-year stretch he had a 1.79 earned run average, 152 saves, allowed a .168 opponents average, struck out 365 in 247 innings (13.30 per nine innings) while walking only 58. He converted a remarkable 84 straight save chances, including all 55 in 2003.

He suffered a knee injury during spring training and was limited to only 14 games in 2005. He had a good 2.70 earned run average and eight saves, fanning 22 and walking three. It was the beginning of the end in Los Angeles and he was released in 2006 after two games.

Gagné held (and still holds) the top three single season save totals and the career saves total (161). He went on to pitch for Texas, Boston and Milwaukee, with mixed success, then pitched for an independent team in 2009.

Gagné's name appeared in the Mitchell report, and he admitted to having used HGH.

So is "Game Over" really over?

The not-quite-so big guy (he's lost some 30 pounds since his earlier heroics in Los Angeles) turned himself into a spectacular closer after struggling as a starter. He's only 34 and says he still has the fire needed to compete at the highest level. He possesses the knowledge of what it takes to pitch in The Show and it is indeed very possible that he could make it back up in time.

However, he's bucking long odds. The Dodgers have a stable jammed full of young, live arms and one would again have to classify him as a long shot to every hear the cheers as he once enjoyed when he lumbered out of the bullpen in Dodger Stadium.

But everyone that remembers him is pulling for him to do just that.

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