All of a sudden, baseball’s most intimidating closer doesn’t seem quite as imposing.
Gagne gave up a tiebreaking single to Adam LaRoche in the ninth inning for the second straight night Friday. Adrian Beltre’s homer in the bottom of the ninth allowed him to escape without a loss. Beltre then homered again in the 11th to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win.
Gagne allowed the game-winning run in the eighth inning of a 6-5 loss in Thursday’s series opener, one night after giving up a three-run double in a 6-4 defeat to Florida. His blown save on Wednesday was just his second in 100 chances, dating to Aug. 26, 2002. The other blown save came on July 5, when his major league record of 84 consecutive saves was snapped by Arizona.
However, Dodgers manager Jim Tracy was quick to point out that Thursday’s loss was the result of a passed ball from catcher Brent Mayne, forcing in the infield and allowing LaRoche to hit a broken-bat single for the win.
“It shows how remarkable 84 consecutive saves are, with all the little nuances to thwart that,” Tracy said. “A crossed-up pitch, that’s how the run was allowed to score. It makes 84 saves that much more remarkable and we’re more than likely never going to see that again.”
Gagne has thrown 69 pitches in three innings over the last three games, allowing six runs and nine hits. He is one save shy of Dennis Eckersley’s record of 142 over a three-year span.
“I’ve been having a little trouble with my mechanics, just a couple of things I have to tune up a little bit,” Gagne said. “If you don’t make pitches, they’re going to hit you, so I just have to keep being positive.”
Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley said Gagne’s slump was inevitable.
“I would think he was due for something like this,” Bradley said. “I mean, he’s been stellar for, what, two, three years straight? So I’m pretty sure he’ll eventually figure out what he’s doing wrong, get back in command and start sitting batters down again.”
The Braves’ John Smoltz was charged with his third blown save in 35 chances Friday when he gave up Beltre’s first homer. He had allowed only two earned runs and one homer over 25 2-3 innings in his previous 22 appearances.
Smoltz, who broke Gene Garber’s franchise record Thursday with his 142nd career save for the Braves, has blown just 12 opportunities since being converted into a reliever in 2001. Garber had 51 blown saves in his 10 seasons with Atlanta.