For Gagne, the reception in Beantown has been icy
BOSTON -- A day later, he stood alone in front of his locker, eyes wide, head shaking.
A day later, Eric Gagne was still amazed by what happened Friday night at Fenway Park.
Not his blown game against the Angels.
But his walk home afterward.
“Pretty incredible,” he said, sighing.
After the loss, he quickly dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and a pulled-low cap. He slipped out to the quaint surrounding streets with old fans and new neighbors for the short stroll to his apartment.
During which he was jeered and heckled.
“I kept my head down and kept walking, what else was I going to do?” he said. “I mean, these people really, really love their team.”
And these people really, really dislike him.
Since being traded a couple of weeks ago from the Texas Rangers, Gagne has pitched as if he’s wearing a softball shirt, and been treated as if he were wearing pinstripes.
Thrown into the middle of the sort of collective sporting desperation he has never felt in this sport -- The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming! -- Gagne has reacted with tight stares and grooved fastballs.
“This isn’t bigger than L.A.,” he said. “But, man, it’s really different.”
And he’s been really different, emerging from a successful 16-save, 2.16-ERA stint with the Rangers to leave more dents in the Red Sox psyche than Bucky.
Seven appearances, six innings, 10 runs, 14 hits, 15.00 ERA.
In only the last eight days, he has blown three leads that led to three losses that culminated in a Friday night meltdown resulting in a cascade of boos and one heaved water bottle.
From Game Over to Batting Practice Begun.
“I remember fans throwing water bottles back when I watched hockey in Montreal,” he said. “That’s the best way to describe these fans, they’re like the old great Canadien hockey fans.”
“I knew what I was getting into,” he said. “I’m just glad the water bottle didn’t hit me.”
Some Dodgers fans were angry this winter when Gagne turned down a $4-million offer to sign with the Rangers for $6 million. They wondered, how could he show such little loyalty after essentially spending two years fixing his injury-racked body on the Dodgers’ dime?
Those fans should be satisfied today because the Dodgers have never really missed Gagne.
They also might be a bit sad because, c’mon, he’s a good guy, and you wouldn’t want to wish his current struggles on anybody.
“People need to let Gagne breathe,” said David Ortiz, the grand-slamming hero of the Red Sox’ 10-5 Saturday night win over the Angels. “Everyone knows he has great stuff. . . let him breathe, let him be comfortable, let it go from there.”
But so far here, he has not had great stuff.
He has had odd stuff, like the constant fastballs he threw Friday night while at least one teammate pleaded with him to use his changeup.
He has had relatively weak stuff, with his fastball barely topping 90 mph.
He has what can best be described as early-Eric-Gagne stuff.
Remember when he was moved from the rotation to the bullpen several years ago? Remember how it was because, as a starter, he frequently lost his focus in the heat of battle?
That’s what it looks like now. He looks lost. He looks confused.
Showing up in Fenway Park after a spending most of the summer in the quiet of the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is like jumping from a warm Jacuzzi into an icy pool.
He looks as if he can barely catch his breath.
“Maybe I’m trying too hard, trying to impress,” he said. “But I’ll be fine. This was my [choice], remember? I wanted to be here. I want to be on a winning team. I’ll figure it out.”
Some are wondering if his elbow surgery has robbed him of so much feeling, he can no longer break off the nasty changeups, so he’s not throwing them. Others wonder if he’s no longer strong enough for more than four good months a season.
If he keeps preventing the Red Sox from stretching their lead on the Yankees, everybody is going to be wondering how in the heck he can walk home.
Terry Francona, Red Sox manager, was almost defiant Saturday in explaining that he would not be giving up on his former Cy Young Award winner.
“We need to work hard to get this guy locked in as opposed to running away from him,” Francona said.
Talking with Gagne on Saturday night, I wondered whether he had lost his memory.
He was once successful in a record 84 consecutive save situations, breaking the previous record by 30.
He once had a 1.20 ERA over a season.
“At one point, you were the best reliever in the history of the game, remember?” I said.
He looked around at a clubhouse filled with strangers. He headed for the door to begin what promised to be another long, long, one-block stroll home.
“Yeah, you know, I do remember,” he said, louder with each syllable, as if to convince himself. “Yeah, I know, that was me.”
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.