Eric Gagne has engineered one of the most remarkable streaks in the history of sports, and although he's done it in public view, in the second-largest city in America, for one of the most storied franchises in baseball, nobody much cares and hardly anyone has noticed.
He has converted 76 consecutive save opportunities.
That's 76 times in a row he has come in, with the game on the line, and gotten the final out or outs in a Dodgers victory. That's 76 straight times, usually with a one- or two-run lead, he has not blown a game. That's 76 for 76 in the clutch, when just a single bad pitch can mean defeat.
He's been perfect since Aug. 28, 2002.
(Note to Editors: Due to deadline considerations, I understand that Eric Gagne might blow a save before this piece is scheduled to appear. If that occurs, please kill this article and instead run my "Let's Celebrate the Life and Work of Max Kellerman" column I submitted last year under medication.)
The previous save record was 54 in a row, by Boston's Tom Gordon in 1998-99. In my opinion -- and my opinion counts for a lot, particularly in this column -- Gagne's 76-and-counting save stretch ranks favorably with Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, Orel Hershiser's 59 consecutive scoreless innings and Cal Ripken's 2,632-game playing streak.
In fact, if you look at the Top Streaks Of All-Time, baseball or otherwise, Gagne still fares well:
1. The crew of the Minnow marooned on "Gilligan's Island" for 98 episodes.
2. Han dynasty ruling China for 426 years (206 BC-AD 220).
3. Giovanni Casanova named European Pickup Artist of the Year nine straight times (1764-72).
4. Eric Gagne's 76 saves in a row.
5. Carmen Electra married to Dennis Rodman for nine consecutive days.
(They play "Welcome to the Jungle" when Gagne enters a game at Dodger Stadium; they should play "Taps.")
Generally, I'm not a numbers guy -- well, I did date an Elias Sports Bureau intern in the summer of '95 -- but Gagne's stats are stunning. In his 2003 Cy Young Award season, he was 55 for 55 in save opportunities, his 1.20 ERA was the lowest ever for a pitcher with at least 75 appearances and his 14.98 strikeouts per nine innings set a major league record.
In his career, he has converted 120 of 124 save opportunities. During his streak, his ERA in those games is 0.79, allowing seven runs in 791/3 innings.
Gagne has a 95 mph fastball, a tantalizingly slow curveball and a brutal change-up, plus he plays hockey and speaks French. Who wants to deal with this guy?
Yet for all his success -- have I mentioned that he has converted 76 consecutive save opportunities? -- Gagne is pretty much unheralded. This is largely due, I believe, to the fact that he plays on the West Coast and therefore accomplishes his feats after much of the country has gone to sleep.
(As a rule, if it's not reported in the New York Times, it never happened. Actually, not to nitpick, but even if it is reported in the New York Times, sometimes it never happened.)
Plus, consecutive saves, even 76 of 'em, don't have a lot of sex appeal in the home run/slam dunk/hockey fight highlights culture of today's Sports Nation.
And who understands the save rule, anyway? Best I can tell, you are credited with a save if (a) you pitch at least one inning protecting a lead of no more than three runs; (b) you come into a game with the tying run somewhere in the vicinity of home plate, or (c) you get the final out before the postgame spare-ribs-and-Buffalo-wings spread goes cold in the clubhouse.
Still, by any definition, Eric Gagne is among the best ever in knowing how to close the deal. I only wish he were good enough to save this column.
Ask The Slouch
Q. ABC's Al Michaels has a "grand slam" by broadcasting a World Series, a Super Bowl, a Stanley Cup final and, now, the NBA championship. What "grand slams" have you accomplished? (Dante Zanone; Tempe, Ariz.)
A. By age 26, I had drank Rolling Rock in a bottle, Rolling Rock in a can, Rolling Rock on tap and Rolling Rock on my wedding night (which, as it turned out, was not a good idea, as it led to a slight conjugal malfunction).
Q. With the Cleveland Indians in rebuilding mode, the only thing they can promote as their claim to fame is the "Largest Scoreboard in North America." Just how big are those scoreboards in South America for 1-0 soccer games? (John David; Cleveland)
A. There's a buck twenty-five North American, cash.
Q. You look like a genius now with your anti-Smarty Jones stance last week. How did you know? (Will James; Joliet, Ill.)
A. Actually, I look more like a guy you hope doesn't approach you in the bus station. But how did I know? I got a tip from Butterscotch.
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