It’s been a tough week for some of the glamor names in the relief pitching business. Aaron Heilman, just two seasons removed from being one of the game’s premier set-up men, was booed lustily at Shea yesterday during an inauspicious mop-up assignment. Joba Chamberlain bounced back from blowing a save against the Indians and found himself critiqued by that conscience of all-things-Yankee, Goose Gossage. Jason Isringhausen pulled himself from the Cards’ closer role. Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon blew a pair of saves in a row (the second with an assist from Julio Lugo). But there’s probably no prominent reliever in the game with as big a black cloud hovering overhead than Milwaukee’s Eric Gagne.
A trio of Brewer relievers combined (just barely) to protect a lead for Jeff Suppan earlier today, but Gagne wasn’t summoned. “He still wears his uniform casually enough to suggest amiable slovenliness; he still has the grizzly visage of his suddenly-seem-brief peak seasons; he still has the rumbling delivery and sweat-salted cap,” writes The MLB Source’s Jeff Kallman, however “that™s about the only thing that today™s Gagne shares with the Cy Young Award winner who once brought Dodger Stadium to its feet and to somewhere beyond the top of its voices.”
Gagne has been eroded in portions between a series of debilitating shoulder and elbow injuries, including a second Tommy John surgery and a followup to first liberate and then remove a suffocated nerve, and a Mitchell Report revelation that he had at least acquired human growth hormone. (Was he, too, looking for injury relief?) He™s been chipped from a plateau from which he could see the top of Isringhausen™s and almost everyone else™s scalps.
No closer in baseball who wasn™t named Gagne could cause every last Yankee in the opposing dugout, including The Mariano himself, to study his every look, his every grip, his every movement, his every element of turn, kick, delivery, follow-through, and intent.
That™s precisely what Gagne did one night in Dodger Stadium, in an assignment that began with inducing Alex Rodriguez to kill an eighth-inning rally and climaxed when he punched out Bernie Williams, in the roaring at-bat that began with Vin Scully himself prompted to turn off his mike, after uttering the sentence noted three paragraphs earlier, and just let the viewers sink into the depth of the din, right up to the moment he strangled Williams for strike three.
Gagne™s most jarring 2008 statistic: He has a 21.60 ERA to show for his blown saves and losses, but in eleven other gigs the other guys couldn™t pry runs out of him even at gunpoint.
Gagne™s probably accepted that the days he brought a city to a dead halt are gone forever. He™s probably hoping that the days won™t be dying in which he can throw a baseball with success of any kind at all. Isringhausen in his own right has only the second of those to worry about.