No saving praise for Gagne

ON BASEBALL

July 11, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

It had to be a strange sight - reliever Eric Gagne getting two standing ovations after blowing a save against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night - but the fans at Dodger Stadium were showing their appreciation for one of the most impressive pitching accomplishments in the history of baseball.

Gagne's record string of 84 successful save opportunities stretched back to Aug. 26, 2002 and was 30 saves longer than the previous record, set by Tom Gordon. During the streak, Gagne registered an 0.82 ERA, gave up just 43 hits and struck out 141 batters, but never got overly impressed with himself.

"I don't think it's that big a deal," he said. "My focus is on wins. That may sound boring, but that's the way it is. It was good for me, because it was good for the team. I don't really analyze it."

The last time he let a lead get away the opponent also was the Diamondbacks, but those were the defending world champion Arizona Diamondbacks, not the last-place Diamondbacks who showed up at Dodger Stadium with a new manager on Monday.

"I think it speaks to the character of the players on the team," said Arizona rookie Chad Tracy, who delivered the game-tying hit. "We're 15, 16 games back and we're facing Gagne, [but] we're still not throwing the towel in."

Gagne embraced the streak and enjoyed the way Dodgers fans got into it over the years, but he let it go with a smile - which was a little easier because the Dodgers came back to win the game in extra innings.

"Everybody says you have to be real lucky," he said. "I was real lucky for a long time. It just came to an end. I made some great pitches. They beat me."

Red-hot Redbirds

The St. Louis Cardinals were in fifth place in the National League Central on May 27, but they have been baseball's best team since then and they suddenly are jousting with the Yankees for the best record in the major leagues.

They entered yesterday on a 28-10 run and their seven-game winning streak had put some serious distance between them and the second-place Cubs. Who would have imagined that when they were struggling through May? Probably no one, but the Cardinals would rather enjoy than over-analyze the situation right now.

"I think it's a trap that's going to take away from what we've done. And I'm not going to begin falling into it," catcher Mike Matheny said. "Everybody wants to talk about leads and games over .500. We're playing good baseball. Anything that takes us away from that focus is going to be a negative. I think that's what we've got to be concerned about as a group."

What about Bob?

The dismissal of Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly last weekend did not exactly rock the baseball world. The Diamondbacks are a mess and there was the perception that he had gotten maximum managerial mileage out of the club's world title in 2001.

That said, he was doomed from Day One of spring training. The Diamondbacks starting rotation took two big hits when the club traded right-handed ace Curt Schilling and lost starter Miguel Batista to free agency.

The club attempted to offset the loss of pitching with the acquisition of big-swinging Richie Sexson from the Milwaukee Brewers, but ran aground when Sexson was lost to the most serious of 19 injuries that have cost the team time on the disabled list.

"The bottom line is this," owner Jerry Colangelo said, "sometimes coaches and managers have to play with the hand dealt them. And in no way, shape or form is this change a reflection on Bob Brenly. Nor are we putting any blame on Bob Brenly for the state of affairs of our baseball team."

Glad to get that cleared up. Brenly was just being rewarded for his solid performance with an extended vacation.

The Houston 500

Give Major League Baseball credit for getting it right with tomorrow's Home Run Derby, inviting all four of the game's active 500-homer guys to compete.

Sammy Sosa, who spent some time on the disabled list, and Rafael Palmeiro, who has struggled at the plate lately, wouldn't have been obvious choices otherwise, but they will add a lot to the workout day festivities.

There originally was some question whether Barry Bonds will take part (he will), but Sosa - ever the willing showman - didn't hesitate to accept the invitation to participate in the derby for the fifth time. He won it in 2000.

"The whole world's watching you," he said. "To have a chance to put on a show for the fans, I will do that."

Uncomfortable truce

The lingering feud between Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza will be set aside - at least temporarily - for at least an inning or two on Tuesday night when the two are likely to be joined as battery-mates in the All-Star Game.

No doubt, baseball officials would like to orchestrate a hatchet-burying ceremony, but it probably won't be all warm and fuzzy when they are working together.

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