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Gagne Gets Another Look

Baseball: Pitcher works six innings in 5-4 victory as Dodgers hope to see progress.


The baseball season slid another day toward Dodger elimination, a term beginning to rival "grand slam home run" among the game's great and lasting redundancies.

It will come any time now, apparently wrapped in a National League West title for the hated San Francisco Giants and a wild-card berth for Mike Piazza's New York Mets. No wonder Tommy Lasorda left the hemisphere.

That's not to say the Dodgers will spend the next two weeks frivolously. They've got stuff to do. They've got plans, for instance, for rookie pitcher Eric Gagne.

Mainly, they're going to give him the baseball every five days and see what he does with it.

They also hope to paint the clubhouse.

The Dodgers defeated the Colorado Rockies, 5-4, Saturday night at Dodger Stadium before a crowd of 36,464, meaning at least that many L.A. residents lack central air conditioning.

Gagne, the spring bust and one of the reasons the Dodgers didn't have the pitching to stay with a pennant race, pitched six decent innings, allowing three runs. In two September starts, Gagne (3-6) has allowed three runs and six walks in 12 innings and won twice.

Their season already a tragedy--somewhere between the definitions provided by Bobby Knight and Jeremy Schaap--the Dodgers handed the baseball to Gagne, and today give it to rookie Luke Prokopec, hoping it's not too late to jam some big-league experience into their pitchers' craniums.

It is why a handful of rookie pitchers will pitch innings they otherwise wouldn't, and why Ismael Valdes might have started his last game as a Dodger. Again.

"It's more important to answer some questions," Manager Davey Johnson said. "We'd like to establish a young arm in the rotation."

Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort will get their starts in the final two weeks. The rest belongs to the youngsters and the bullpen.

"The success of any organization is in the development of your young players and establishing them at the major-league level," said Johnson, who by many accounts won't be around to manage the end product. "That's your foundation. That's the strength of your organization. When you don't, the manager fails, and the coaches fail. I take it more personally, probably, than the player."

The Dodgers begged Gagne, 24, to win a place in the rotation out of spring training. He didn't pitch well enough. In 16 starts before Saturday's, Gagne walked 5 1/2 batters and allowed two home runs every nine innings.

He's been different in September, which is promising, though achievement in September occasionally fools even the best of evaluators.

"I was proud of him tonight," Johnson said. "He didn't have very good command of his curveball and his changeup was flat. He hung around there and battled, though. That's a big step in the right direction. That's the growth of a young pitcher right there."

Gagne, who again wore orange lenses in his wraparound sunglasses, began as he very often has, wild around the strike zone and hittable in it. After he faced 12 hitters and threw 42 pitches over the first two innings, however, Gagne adjusted out of the middle of the plate.

He retired eight consecutive hitters from the end of the second inning into the fifth, when Neifi Perez lashed a one-out double to right field. Jeff Cirillo bunted into a brilliant barehanded play by third baseman Adrian Beltre. Gagne then found the barrel of Todd Helton's bat, a mistake common among National League pitchers. As he did in the first inning, Helton whacked a fastball into the right-field corner for his second double and second RBI.

Helton's major-league leading 56th double also was his 200th hit.

The Rockies led, 3-2, but that was all they'd get off Gagne. The Dodgers scored twice in the sixth--on RBIs by Beltre and Chris Donnels--and the eventual game winner, on Eric Karros' sacrifice fly in the seventh.

"That's big right now," said Gagne, who threw 92 pitches. "I was able to step back and relax a little more. I trust my stuff more.

"I'm trying to get more experience. I got 90 innings earlier this year, but it wasn't a good 90 innings."

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