Dodgers Dugout: The 25 greatest Dodgers, No. 25: Eric Gagné

Los Angeles Dodgers' Eric Gagne during photo day at the team's spring training facility.
Eric Gagne in 2010.
(Mark Duncan / Associated Press)
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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell. Today, we begin the countdown of the top 25 Dodgers of all time as selected by the readers of this newsletter.

Readers voted in droves, submitting 15,212 ballots by email, Twitter and Facebook. Voters were asked for their top 10 Dodgers in order from 1 to 10, with first place receiving 12 points, second place nine points, third place eight, all the way down to one point for 10th place.

The last time we did this was in 2018, and there were some changes in the rankings.

So, without further ado:

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No. 25, ERIC GAGNE (2,235 points)
2018 rank: 39th

Eric Gagné‘s reputation has grown over the years. In 2018 he finished behind Kenley Jansen. This time, he easily outdistanced Jansen and is the top-rated closer in the countdown.

In 1999, Gagné was the top pitching prospect in the Dodgers organization as a starting pitcher. He looked like he would be a solid No. 2 or 3 man in the rotation for many years. However, he struggled in the majors, going 4-6 with a 5.15 ERA in 19 starts in 2000 and 6-7 with a 4.75 ERA in 24 starts in 2001. He gave up a hit an inning and his strikeout rate was 7.7 per nine innings. A far cry from what he eventually would do.

Jeff Shaw retired before the 2002 season, leaving the Dodgers without a closer. Manager Jim Tracy had an idea: What about Gagné? People often forget what a controversial move it was at the time. Take one of your top starting pitcher prospects and make him the closer?


Then Gagné immediately became the best closer in the game. He dominated in spring training. He started the season with 10 consecutive saves. He was named to the All-Star team. He finished the year with 52 saves.

And he captured the imagination of Dodgers fans, because he was the first closer the team ever had who could come in and just dominate batters, blowing the ball by them. He struck out 114 in 82-1/3 innings.

When Gagné was in his prime, no one left the game early because they wanted to see him close it out. If the Dodgers had a narrow lead, people would stand as soon as the eighth inning ended, anticipating his arrival. As soon as Guns ‘N Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” started playing, the stadium would erupt in cheers and whistles. Very few Dodgers in history received that type of reception every time. Gagné became known as “Game Over,” with Game Over T-shirts worn throughout the stadium.


In 2003, Gagné finished with a 1.20 ERA, 55 saves (no blown saves), 137 strikeouts and only 20 walks in 82-1/3 innings. He gave up only 37 hits. He was named the NL Cy Young winner. It is still the greatest season by a closer in history. From 2002-04, Gagné had 84 consecutive saves, still the record.

On July 5, 2004, Gagné was called upon to preserve a 5-3 lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium and failed to do so. Streak over.

After striking out Scott Hairston to start the ninth inning, Gagne gave up a single to Shea Hillenbrand.

Gagné then gave up a run-scoring double to Luis Gonzalez, followed by a single to Chad Tracy that scored Gonzalez to tie the score. No save for Gagné. When the tying run scored, the fans gave him a standing ovation. Gagné got the last two outs and when he returned to the dugout, fans called him out for a curtain call. (By the way, the Dodgers won the game in extra innings.)


“I had fun,” Gagne said when looking back at the streak. “Everybody says you have to be real lucky. I was real lucky for a long time. It just came to an end.”

In the immediate aftermath of the game, teammates paid tribute to Gagné.

“What he accomplished is unbelievable,” Shawn Green said. “It’s one of those records that will be with all the other huge records of baseball. Eighty-four consecutive saves will be a number people will remember. It’s something that wasn’t going to last forever, but it seemed like it would with the way he pitches.”

Tracy said he didn’t know how to react when the streak ended.

“We just gave him a huge hug. You know something special has been taking place over the course of almost two seasons now when there’s a blown save and our fans ask for a curtain call after a blown save. How many times have you ever seen that happen?”

Gagné’s career quickly unraveled though. He hurt a knee in spring training before the 2005 season. He came back, hurt his arm and had season-ending Tommy John surgery. He pitched in only two games in 2006 and then hurt his back, needing season-ending surgery for two herniated disks.

After the season he became a free agent and bounced around to three teams. His last season was in 2008 with Milwaukee. He made a comeback attempt with the Dodgers in 2010, but after six runs in two spring training innings, he retired.

Some shine of the streak was dulled when he was named in the Mitchell Report as a player who had used performance-enhancing drugs. He said he used human growth hormone and apologized to the fans, saying he started using it when he was injured in 2005, after the streak. Gagné talked about it in 2010.


“It changed it a lot for a couple of years,’’ Gagne said. “But now, you come to grips, where you know what, it is what it is. You have to accept it and just go on. You have to keep going and enjoy baseball, get people out and get back to basics. There are a lot of regrets. But the whole time I was with the Dodgers, it was an unbelievable time. The Mitchell Report and everything is negative. It’s always going to be on my resume for the rest of my life.”

Walker Buehler

Some of you wondered why I didn’t mention Walker Buehler in my postseason roster projection. I’m not convinced he is going to be back, so it felt premature to put him on the roster. I should have mentioned that though. If he is able to return, will he be able to start? It’s unlikely he would be able to pitch in relief on consecutive days. And if he starts, how many innings will he be able to go? Do you want to have a postseason game where you know you will have to tax your bullpen? A lot of ifs regarding Buehler. When the next postseason roster projection comes next month, we should know a lot more.

J.D. Martinez

Speaking of the trouble of projecting a roster six weeks in advance, J.D. Martinez was put on the 10-day IL Tuesday because of tightness in his groin. He has had this issue for weeks, and the Dodgers can take advantage of their comfortable NL West lead to give him some extended time off. Michael Busch was called up to replace him.

And finally

Eric Gagné enters the game. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

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