Tracy called upon him more often as the season progressed, and Gagne worked at least 17 innings in each of the final two months. He had a earned-run average of 4.24 in August but rebounded in September to help the Dodgers win the NL West.
General Manager Paul DePodesta said when Gagne went on the disabled list in April that it "might be a blessing in disguise," implying that a shorter season could keep the closer strong down the stretch.
"August and September will be like June or July for me," Gagne said.
He has worked through a problem in his delivery that he said cost him velocity and is putting less effort into each pitch. Early on, it seemed he was trying to throw the ball through a wall -- and was merely hitting one instead.
"I was rushing my legs and throwing with all upper body," he said. "It's like a golf swing. The harder you try, the less you trust your ability and the worse you perform."
Gagne is aware of his velocity. He turns and peeks at the radar reading below the Dodger Stadium video board.
Where's the heat?
He knows a batter who must respect a 97-mph fastball is that much easier to fool with a changeup or curve. But after getting his first victory of the season by mowing down the Minnesota Twins in the ninth and watching Hee-Seop Choi break a tie with a home run in the bottom of the inning, Gagne was buoyant.
"Hey, I hit 94," he said. "I feel better and better. If I hadn't been hurt a while I wouldn't be as confident. No worries."
Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.
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Numbers per nine innings for Eric Gagne, right, since he became a closer:
*--* Season IP H/9IP BB/9IP SO/9IP ERA 2002 82.1 6.01 1.75 12.46 1.97 2003 82.1 4.04 2.19 14.98 1.20 2004 82.1 5.79 2.40 12.46 2.19 2005 13.1 6.75 2.03 14.85 2.70