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Dodgers closer key to pennant

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002

If the hitters feel a bit uncomfortable, that's fine with Eric Gagne.

"That makes it easier," the Dodgers reliever said.

The Canadian-born closer, who reached 30 saves faster than anyone, could be a key in determining the National League West pennant race.

"He's probably the most important guy on that ballclub," Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez said during the All-Star break. "He moves the ball around. Sometimes he's come in and been effectively wild. He's not going to put the ball right down the middle. He kind of moves the ball around, changes your eye perception.

"He's got confidence, and when a player has got confidence and he feels invincible that's when he's able to shut teams out. ... We're hoping he loses that confidence real quick."

The 26-year-old right-hander, a starter until this spring, converted 33 of 35 save opportunities with a 1.49 ERA through Friday. Except for the 1999 season, when he pitched in only five games after a September call-up, Gagne's ERA never has been worse than 4.75 for a season.

"I've played with Dennis Eckersley, with Lee Smith, some of the best closers in the game," Dodgers outfielder Brian Jordan said. "I tell you what, if he stays healthy, he'll rank right up there when his career is over."

And set an example for Canadian pitchers.

"It might be a little harder ... but right now there are a lot of good scouts looking at Canadians," said Gagne, who was born in Montreal. "I just want to tell (Canadian players) to keep playing hard. Make sure you dream about stuff and make sure you want to get to your goals."

* * *

COINCIDENCE?: There might be a little more to Indians owner Larry Dolan's verbal jabs at Yankees owner George Steinbrenner during a luncheon in Cleveland last week.

"It's not in any of our interests to have baseball be such that each season it's going to be the Yankees against some other team in the World Series," Dolan said.

His brother, Charles, is the chairman of Cablevision, the company that tried and failed to buy the Red Sox and is currently involved in a controversy over Steinbrenner's YES Network.

Steinbrenner reportedly wants the YES Network to be part of Cablevision's basic package, but Charles Dolan wants subscribers to pay a premium to see the Yankees network.

* * *

IVY MYSTERY: A 4-foot swathe of ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field has died, and officials suspect foul play by White Sox fans.

"We think someone leaned over from the bleachers and dumped something that killed some of our ivy," Cubs executive vice president Mark McGuire said. "I think we're just assuming (it was a White Sox fan). No decent Cubs fan would damage the ivy."

The team's head groundskeeper noticed the dying ivy shortly after the White Sox visited June 14-16.

"All it's going to do is stir more enmity toward the Cubs from the South Side," White Sox pitcher Kelly Wunsch said.

"All the White Sox fans who were at the game and obviously didn't poison the ivy will be mad someone would suggest a Sox fan would do something that dastardly."

* * *

HE'S THE MAN: White Sox manager Jerry Manuel, whose team was a disappointing 12 games behind the Twins in the American League Central through Friday, will have a job for a while.

"He will not be fired," general manager Kenny Williams said last week. "Spread the word. That phrase, "vote of confidence,' yeah, I've got confidence in Jerry Manuel. Absolutely."

* * *

ARE AIR: When he was ejected July 7, Expos manager Frank Robinson became the fourth man to be ejected from a game in six different decades. The others: Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher and Don Zimmer.

* * *

ODDS AND ENDS: The Dodgers' Darren Dreifort threw 34 pitches in a simulated game Monday and had a two-inning, 41-pitch effort in a simulated game Friday. ... The Padres have started 10 players at second base since Bret Boone left after the 2000 season: Damian Jackson, Cesar Crespo, Alex Arias, Adam Riggs, Chris Gomez, Santiago Perez, D'Angelo Jiminez, Ramon Vazquez, Julius Matos and Trenidad Hubbard. ... Diamondbacks aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling are a combined 34-4 against NL West opponents the past two seasons.

* * *

THE LAST WORD: "Basically, we are a failure. ... We have to have a sense of urgency. We have to check ourselves in the mirror and push ourselves more." -- shortstop Alex Rodriguez, whose Rangers were 19 1/2 games behind the Mariners in the AL West through Friday.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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