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ERIC GAGNE WINS CY YOUNG AWARD

Cy Magnifique!

Gagne runs away with voting and closes out a nearly perfect season with rare relief honor

November 14, 2003|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

With his trademark goggles, sweat-stained cap and flawless late-inning work, the Dodgers' Eric Gagne won the National League Cy Young Award on Thursday, the first relief pitcher to be so honored in 11 years.

Gagne, who converted all 55 save opportunities in 2003, received 28 of 32 first-place votes and 146 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Assn. of America.

Jason Schmidt of the San Francisco Giants finished a distant second with two first-place votes and 73 points. Mark Prior of the Chicago Cubs had the other first-place votes and 60 points, finishing third.

Dennis Eckersley of the Oakland Athletics was the last reliever to win the award, when he was named AL winner in 1992. Mark Davis of the San Diego Padres in 1989 was the last NL reliever to win it.

Gagne also is the seventh Dodger to have won the award, the first since Orel Hershiser in 1988, and the ninth reliever in baseball history. He ended the four-year reign of Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks as the NL Cy Young Award winner.

Gagne, from Montreal, is only the second Canadian in baseball history to win the award. Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs won in 1971.

In Gagne's honor, a huge Canadian flag flapped in the breeze beside Old Glory beyond the center-field fence at Dodger Stadium on Thursday afternoon.

"It's so good for baseball in Montreal and Quebec and all of Canada," said Gagne, who said he'd met Jenkins at a baseball function in New York this month.

Gagne had a 2-3 record and a 1.20 earned-run average with 137 strikeouts and 20 walks in 82 1/3 innings last season. He also had 52 saves in 2002, becoming the only pitcher with 50 or more saves in consecutive years.

Eckersley had the previous major league best, 94 saves in 1991 and '92.

"I didn't think I was perfect this year," said Gagne, 27. "I was perfect in save situations, but I gave up runs and I didn't hit all my spots."

Still, Gagne was a model of consistency in 2003. The Dodgers finished with an 85-77 record and failed to make the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. They haven't won a playoff game since Hershiser led them to the 1988 World Series championship.

Only in the All-Star game, when Gagne gave up a two-run go-ahead homer to Texas' Hank Blalock in the eighth inning, did the Dodger right-hander fail to hold the lead for his team. The AL defeated the NL and earned home-field advantage for the World Series.

The Florida Marlins took Gagne off the hook for his All-Star breakdown, however, by defeating the New York Yankees, four games to two.

Thursday, Gagne didn't exactly pin his success on his glasses -- he wears them to protect his eyes, which he injured as a youth hockey player, from more injuries -- or his unsightly cap, which he selects in spring training and wears until the (smelly?) end of the season.

At some point, he said, he might undergo laser surgery on his eyes. He made it plain, though, that he won't halt his practice of wearing one cap from start to finish each season.

There's no reason to alter his intimidating presence on the mound.

"There are still mountains for him to climb," Manager Jim Tracy said when asked whether it was possible for Gagne to improve upon his 55-for-55 save performance next season.

"He's very interested in playing baseball in October. It's been disappointing that we haven't been able to accomplish it. His main objective is to be on that mound in late October. Yes, the game is about individuals and they win awards, but Eric Gagne is very interested in the other 24 guys on this club.

"There's a lot more out there for this guy. In some ways, he's still not the complete product."

Gagne barely missed Bobby Thigpen's major league record of 57 saves in a season, set in 1990 while with the Chicago White Sox.

When asked if winning the Cy Young Award would cast him in a different role with the Dodgers next season, Gagne said, "I want to be a leader by example. I'm not that old. It's all about experience. Every year, I get more comfortable in that role. It's great that people listen to you when you have a little success."

How that success will affect contract dealings with the Dodgers remains to be seen.

Scott Boras, Gagne's agent, said Wednesday he expected the team to reward Gagne with a lucrative contract befitting a pitcher of his stature.

Gagne is eligible for arbitration but cannot become a free agent because he has yet to play six seasons in the major leagues.

Gagne did not receive a bonus to his $550,000 salary for winning the Cy Young Award. San Francisco's Schmidt and Chicago's Prior got bonuses for placing second and third in the balloting.

"It's the business part of baseball," Gagne said. "I accept that. I'll have to write that down for the next contract. Last year, they had leverage. I'm not bitter. No hard feelings. I didn't expect [a bonus]. I'll have the leverage next year. It's all about the Dodgers right now. Scott Boras can take care of all of that."

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