"Yo, E," I'd say. "How come you handled your Canadian self so ignominiously in Chicago this summer?"
"Excuse me," he'd reply. "What is this aboot?" He'd be sitting in some dark and peanut-strewn corner, near a jukebox that only plays The Guess Who, drinking a Dodger-blue girlie drink—like the kind Garth orders in Wayne's World before telling us about the pulsating tongues that grow and give birth to other, smaller tongues.
"Come on Dog," I say. "Explain how you blew your first save in 60 some-odd chances?"
He smiles and motions his giant man-elbow toward the adjoining barstool. He wasn't born a rude, freeway-swerving SoCalian, remember. He's wearing snakeskin boots, a cheap t-shirt with his goateed face plastered on the front, and a trendier version of his game goggles, maybe rimmed with diamonds at the corners. "I was facing the best hitters in baseball," he says. "It's a little harder when Miguel Cairo and Gary Mathews Jr. aren't set to hit, eh?"
"Not so fast," I say. "You're ability doesn't lie. I know that you struck out ten in a row this year. Your curveball's 30 mph slower than your two-seamer. You forced Shawon Dunston into retirement with a change-up/fastball public humiliation. And the All-Star Game was your favorite stage—late inning pressure, drunk and screaming crowd, the camera's snapping your glorious visage—"
He flashes a hirsute smile and pats his chest.
I don't appreciate his easy demeanor. I try to elicit some rough memories. "It's not like the All-Star Game was tied and Bonds was on second with Benito up."
But he sips his drink and orders me one. "All excellent points, you know." Peanut shells are caught in his beard, and I wonder what else is trapped in that unruly mat: sunflower seeds, bees, and maybe one of his daintier teammates, like Cesar Izturas. "But baseball, like hockey, is a game of percentages," he says. "Each save I added to my streak made it less likely to add the next. Just so happens the whole streak ended out of context. Well, it didn't really end at all, no?" His cheeks puff out in that smirk, like all of Pac Bell Park is booing while he closes out a save.
I take a huge gulp of my newly arrived drink, and it stings going down. "Are we in Calgary?" I say, raising my voice. "Am I a Flames fan? No. Giants' afficianados who know their stats know that your head wasn't right in that game. You fell behind hitters. You threw too many fastballs. You made Hank Blaylock look like Reggie Jackson. This wasn't some I've-fallen-and-I-can't-get-up stunt by Tommy Lasorda. No, this had implications." The drink is stiffer than I thought.
"Implications, eh?" He swivels toward me.
"Don't play games with me." I can feel the Dodgerness sloshing my head and stomach, but I take another gulp. The bar is growing dimmer, and the song "American Woman" is blaring. I wonder if he put it on to mock me. "I'm—I'm talking—aboot—homefield advantage," I say. "And sabotage."
"Ahh. Now we're getting at it. But my team is in the playoff hunt, too. It would hurt us as much as the Giants—and you."
He sounds rational, and I struggle through the clouded blue of my thoughts for a response. Never accept a drink from a Dodger, I'm learning. "No—There's no homefield for the wild card. If you could make it through the playoffs on the road, then the World Series wouldn't—won't—matter, as much."
"I know you haven't forgotten aboot game—"
I shriek loudly, like the ghost of Candlestick has passed overhead.
"Oh relax," he says. "But let's go with your accusation. Say my lackadaisical performance was purposefully unfocused. You can even tell yourself I had a few of these blue drinks with my goumba buddy Paulie Lo Ducca in the early innings, just to hurt your Giants, even if it meant also hurting the Dodgers. Tell me, what do you love more than you hate?"
Why is Gagne posing strange abstract questions to me? Am I in some kind of Dodger hell, to be outwitted by a burly meathead who had tortured my beloved team in my waking life? "I don't know—Bob Brenly more than Bob Melvin?"
"No. You love the Giants more than you hate the Dodgers. You wouldn't sacrifice your team's edge just to destroy ours. You're weak. But you come in here and accuse me of just that. So who's more devoted, eh?"
The world seems faded like the powdery colors of Chavez Ravine. "Get out of my head, Gagne! Hate doesn't make you a good fan. Devotion does. And wanting your team to win."
His drink is empty, and a ring of blue bristles in his goatee. "You heard my fellow pitcher Mark Prior the other day. He hates the Cardinals so much he'd rather see them get their brains beaten out by Houston. He said he will never root for them, even if the playoffs are on the line. What do you think that hate is aboot?"
"You've grown fat off you teams success, forgotten the joy of revenge," he says. "Last year you exacted payback on three teams that hurt you. The Braves for '93. Cardinals for '87. And not to mention us—do I need to bring up Mike Piazza and Salomon Torres?"
I'm surprised and stung by his non-hockey knowledge.
"But all you do is sit around and whine about World Series past." He's taking out strange Canadian money from his wallet and slapping it on the bar. "What do you think my team is trying to do, during this last series of the year in San Francisco, eh? Trying to ‘finish strong'?" His diamond-rimmed goggles catch a glint of dim. I'm starting to believe that he really does dislike the Giants, and me. "I will be eternally happy if we keep Bonds from reaching another damn milestone at our expense, with all your stupid yuppy fans screaming into their cell phones and expecting more success."
I know all this isn't real, that Gagne is probably in some mahogany clubhouse right now eating buffalo wings and thinking about curling. But I need to hurt him somehow, to show him I'm not just a pushover band-wagoner. My mind is still reeling from my too-close encounter with Dodger Blue, though, and all I can come up with is, "I hate the Dodgers and I hate you!"
"I know," he says, finally standing to leave. "But not nearly enough."
Tim Denevi is a raving Giants fan who can't decide if he would rather have Mike Aldrete or Marvin Biz-nard pinch-hitting with the game on the line. E-mail him with your opinion on any issue at email@example.com
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