Another Gag Job

Upon arriving in Boston via a trade with the Rangers July 31, Eric Gagne—a closer ever since 2002—said he'd have no trouble adjusting to a set-up role in front of Jonathan Papelbon.

"I'm just going to close the eighth inning," Gagne said.

Well, he closed the game in the eighth inning Tuesday. But it surely wasn't what the Sox envisioned 52 days ago.

Gagne's struggles continued when he allowed three runs—all after retiring the first two batters of the inning without incident—in the eighth inning as the Blue Jays came back to stun the Sox, 4-3, in Toronto. The loss, coupled with the Yankees' win over the Orioles, reduced the Sox' lead in the AL East to 2 ½ games—their smallest margin since Apr. 25.

The Jays' comeback began when Gagne walked Frank Thomas on four pitches. Aaron Hill singled on the next pitch. Gagne got ahead of Matt Stairs 0-2 but threw eight of his nine next pitches out of the strike zone in walking Stairs and Gregg Zaun. The latter free pass brought home pinch-runner Curtis Thigpen with the tying run. Russ Adams followed with a two-run double on a full count pitch and Gagne got out of the inning only because Zaun was thrown out at home.

"I have to go out there and stop thinking," Gagne told reporters in Toronto. "I don't know what to tell you. I walked people and that's it."

Terry Francona told reporters in Toronto he didn't consider pulling Gagne once the inning began to unravel. "There's a lot of reasons to keep him out there and pitch and have success," Francona said.

One likely being the struggles of Papelbon last Friday, when he relieved Hideki Okajima with none out in the eighth and a two-run lead against the Yankees and gave up the advantage by surrendering three hits in a span of five pitches. Papelbon has recorded more than three outs in just three of his 35 saves—including two in a five-day span from Aug. 17-21.

That those saves occurred after the arrival of Gagne—who was supposed to take the pressure of Papelbon and ensure he'd remain a one-inning pitcher—is another symbol of just how ineffective Gagne has been. In 15 games, he's 1-2 with a 9.00 ERA. He's been scored upon seven times, has given up three or more runs three times and has more blown saves (three) than holds (two). Gagne has allowed 23 hits and seven walks in 14 innings and has pitched a 1-2-3 inning just once. He also missed more than two weeks with shoulder soreness.

Gagne said he was willing to waive his no-trade clause to complete the trade with the Sox in order to get a chance to win the World Series. But at this point, he may not even make the postseason roster. Presuming the Sox go with four starters, set-up men Papelbon, Okajima, Mike Timlin and Manny Delcarmen and long reliever Julian Tavarez, Gagne will be battling with Kyle Snyder and Bryan Corey for the final spot on the staff.

Not quite what Gagne or the Sox envisioned July 31. "I think the bullpen is already a strength of the club, but acquiring a pitcher the caliber of Eric Gagne only makes it stronger and helps give us what we hope will be a truly dominant bullpen for the remainder of the year," Theo Epstein said July 31.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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