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Eric Gagné
A photo of Eric Gagné.
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Éric Serge Gagné (IPA: [gɑɲe]) (born January 7, 1976 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada) is a relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent in 1995, Gagné began his career as a starting pitcher. After he struggled in that role, the Dodgers converted Gagné from a starter to a reliever, where for three years (2002–2004) he was statistically the most outstanding closer in the game, winning the Cy Young Award in 2003. During that period, he set a major league record of 84 straight converted save chances. His nickname during that time was "Game Over", after a popular shirt with his face and that phrase was made.[citation needed]

Following this success, Gagné played sparingly in 2005 and 2006 due to injury, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005 and suffering a serious back injury in 2006. Gagné signed with the Texas Rangers for the 2007 season and enjoyed success again as a closer. After being traded to the Boston Red Sox on July 31, 2007, Gagné ultimately became a member of the 2007 World Champion Red Sox team. In December 2007, days after signing a contract for 2008 with the Milwaukee Brewers, he was linked to baseball's steroids scandal after he was named in the Mitchell Report.

Early lifeEdit

Gagné, from a French Canadian family, grew up in the small town of Mascouche, near Montreal, Quebec.[1] As a boy, he played baseball and ice hockey[2] at Montreal's Polyvalente Édouard-Montpetit High School. His Little League teams were coached by his father, Richard.[1] He eventually became a star with Canada's Junior World Championship teams.[3] Gagné graduated from Polyvalente Edouard Montpetit High School in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the same high school that Russell Martin attended.

CareerEdit

Early careerEdit

Gagné was a 30th-round draft choice of the Chicago White Sox in 1994 (845th overall), but the following year he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent. Gagné, who spoke only French, went to study at Seminole Junior College in Seminole, Oklahoma.[2] He taught himself English and became the star pitcher for Seminole's baseball team.[2]

He then went on to pitch in the minor leagues but missed the entire 1997 season due to Tommy John surgery. He joined the Los Angeles Dodgers team for a part of the 1999 season; in his first year in the major leagues, he appeared in only five games as a starting pitcher. Over his first three seasons he met with only mediocre success, winning eleven games while losing fourteen in 48 games, 38 of them starts. [4]

Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League stardomEdit

At the start of the 2002 season, he was converted from a starting pitcher to a relief pitcher, and soon became the National League's leading reliever, earning 52 saves for the season. Gagné had an assortment of pitches he used as a reliever but his most effective were his fastball and change-up. Gagné would set up hitters with his 98 mph fastball and eventually strike them out with his 78 mph "vulcan" change-up.

In 2003, as a closer, Gagné was called upon 55 times to save a baseball game and converted every one of them en route to becoming both the first pitcher to record 50 saves in more than one season and also the fastest pitcher to ever reach the 100-save plateau. His 55 saves in 2003 also equaled the National League record set the previous season by John Smoltz. Between August 26, 2002 and July 5, 2004, he converted 84 consecutive save chances, a major league record. [5] More than half (55%) of the batters he retired during the 2003 season came by strikeout.

In addition to his 55 saves, Gagné finished the 2003 season with a 1.20 earned run average and had 137 strikeouts and 20 walks in 82 1/3 innings pitched. This translated into an incredible 1.66 strikeouts per inning pitched. For his performance, he won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award and became the first relief pitcher in 11 years to win the Cy Young Award. He and Ferguson Jenkins are the only two Canadian pitchers to win the most prestigious pitching award in baseball. Ironically, he is the only pitcher to win the award while having a losing season (his record was 2-3). Despite this, he lost his arbitration case over the winter; he had asked for a 14-fold raise from $550,000 to $8 million but had to settle for just $5 million.[6]

On July 15, 2004 — just ten days after his saves streak ended — Gagné collected his 130th save as a Dodger in a 5-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona, surpassing Jeff Shaw for the most career saves in team history. Gagné threw three shutout innings during his first appearance in the playoffs that year, but the Dodgers lost the division series 3-1 to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Prior to the 2007 season, Gagné had converted 161 saves out of 168 save opportunities for a conversion rate of 96.6%, the highest in Major League Baseball history for a pitcher with at least 100 saves.[4]

InjuriesEdit

Gagné battled injuries of several kinds in early 2005, pitching in only 14 games, though still very well (2.70 ERA, 8 saves in 8 opportunities). On June 21, 2005, it was announced that Gagné would undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery to repair a sprained ligament in his right elbow. Recovery would take a year or more; furthermore, a return to major league pitching after a second Tommy John operation (Gagné's first was in 1997) is still unprecedented. However, as surgeons began to perform the operation, they discovered instead a nerve entrapped by scar tissue and were able to release it with a less invasive procedure. Gagné was still unable to play for the remainder of the 2005 season.

Gagné expressed hope that an accelerated recovery would allow him to pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March 2006, but he eventually decided that it was not worth the risk, and to focus on preparing to pitch in the regular season.

After some encouraging outings in early spring training, pain in Gagné's pitching elbow forced him to undergo a second surgery, this time to remove entirely the nerve that doctors had previously attempted to stabilize. More recovery time ensued, but Gagné finally pitched in his first regular-season game of 2006 on June 3. He made two appearances for the Dodgers, pitching two scoreless innings and earning one save, but pain from the nerve in his elbow recurred, and he returned to the disabled list on June 12. A further (and apparently unrelated) setback occurred on July 4, when Gagné awoke with intense pain in his back. An examination revealed two herniated discs, and Gagné underwent a season-ending back surgery on July 8.[7]

Texas RangersEdit

The Dodgers declined to extend Gagné's $12 million contract after the season, making him a free agent.[8] On December 12, 2006 Gagné signed a one year deal with the Texas Rangers worth $6 million, with a possible $5 million in performance bonuses. Gagné had a poor spring training, allowing five earned runs in only three innings of work. For the third consecutive year, Gagné was placed on the disabled list to start the season to let him recover from his injuries.[9] Gagné started to make his recovery by tossing in three minor league games, two of them on consecutive days, allowing a home run and having one loss.[10] In his last minor league game, Gagné retired all three of the batters he faced, and he was activated on April 13.[11]

In his first week back, Gagné pitched three innings, earning one save. But in the middle of his second save situation, Gagné left the game after complaining of leg pain. He said that it would take about a week to recover from the injury, but the Rangers, not taking the risk, placed Gagné on the disabled list with a hip injury.[12] He was reactivated on May 8 and returned to the closer role.[13] During his time with Texas, he was 2-0 with 16 saves and an ERA of 2.16; opposing hitters batted only .192 against him.

Boston Red SoxEdit

On July 31, 2007, Gagné was traded to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Kason Gabbard and minor league outfielders David Murphy and Engel Beltre.[8] Gagné was expected to serve as a setup man for current closer Jonathan Papelbon. Theo Epstein was quoted as saying that "I think the bullpen is already a strength of the club, but acquiring a pitcher the caliber of Eric Gagné only makes it stronger and helps give us what we hope will be a truly dominant bullpen for the remainder of the year."[14]

However, Gagné struggled in his new role with the Red Sox. In his first 15 appearances, Gagné allowed 14 earned runs in 14 innings (a 9.00 ERA) with three blown saves and an opponent batting average of over .350.[14]

Gagné seemed to improve down the stretch and was eventually added to the playoff roster. In the playoffs, he was most often used in games in which the Red Sox were winning by a wide margin, including his only World Series appearance in which he pitched a perfect ninth inning in a 13-1 Game 1 victory. The only exception to this was his appearance in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Brought into a tie game in the top of the 11th inning, Gagné took the loss after allowing the first two runs of a 7-run 11th inning that was started by former Red Sox outfielder and fan favorite Trot Nixon.

In Boston, Gagné wore the number 83, as starting pitcher Curt Schilling already wore Gagné's usual number 38.

Milwaukee BrewersEdit

On December 9, 2007, Gagné reached a preliminary agreement with the Milwaukee Brewers. On December 10, he inked the one year deal to become their new closer. The one year deal has a base salary of $10 million, with incentives worth up to an extra $1 million.[15]

On May 11, Brewers manager Ned Yost announced Gagné would be removed from the closer's role for a while, after 3 blown saves in 6 attempts. But after a couple days Gagné said he was ready to go, and a couple days later got his 10th save.

Gagné went back to wearing the number 38 after wearing 83 in Boston.

Use of HGHEdit

On December 13, 2007, Gagné was listed in the Mitchell Report — former Senator George Mitchell's report on steroid use in baseball. Gagné was identified as a user of HGH (Human Growth Hormone).[16] Allegedly, Gagné received the drugs from steroids dealer Kirk Radomski. At first, Radomski said that Gagné obtained them from Dodgers teammate Paul Lo Duca, but then Radomski said in the report that he mailed two shipments of HGH directly to Gagné in 2004. Receipts of FedEx and USPS shipments indicate that Radomski received at least one payment from Gagné and two from Dodgers teammate Lo Duca on behalf of Gagné. Gagné declined to meet with Senator Mitchell to respond to the charges before the report was released.

Personal lifeEdit

Gagné and his wife Valerie have two daughters, Faye (born 2000) and Bluu (born 2005), and a son, Maddox (born 2004).[17]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

Preceded by:
John Smoltz
National League Saves Champion
2003
Succeeded by:
Armando Benitez & Jason Isringhausen
Preceded by:
Randy Johnson
National League Cy Young Award
2003
Succeeded by:
Roger Clemens
Preceded by:
John Smoltz
National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year
2003 & 2004
Succeeded by:
Chad Cordero
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