Rangers rally to win, avoid scare
After leaving game, injury doesn't appear serious for Gagne
ARLINGTON -- Few sights would send a chill up the spines of Rangers players, management and fans faster than seeing closer Eric Gagne wincing in pain and limping off the mound.
Yet it was such a scene that cast a brief pall over Sunday's dramatic 4-3 comeback win over the Athletics, sending a crowd of 37,002 filing quietly out of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington wondering just how costly this victory was.
Teammates were especially concerned after watching the three-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner hobble off the field with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, unable to complete his full-count duel with Oakland batter Mark Ellis. But moments after former closer Akinori Otsuka hurried on to nail down the victory for Texas, those concerned teammates found Gagne sore but smiling with embarrassment as he described his ailment.
"He said his [posterior] hurt," shrugged Rangers shortstop Michael Young.
Rangers manager Ron Washington more vaguely described the injury as a right hip strain, but Gagne told reporters his pain was indeed slightly lower and to the rear. He apparently suffered a strain of his right gluteus when he landed with a slight slip one pitch before running the count full to Ellis.
"I just landed wrong," Gagne said. "I don't know exactly what it is.
"All I know is it's not the back and it's not the elbow," he added, citing the two major injuries that required surgery and sidelined him for most of the past two seasons.
Of course, it's because of that recent history of debilitating injuries that Gagne is even in Texas.
The closer with the highest career save percentage in baseball history found himself out of work after the elbow and back injuries limited him to just 15 1/3 innings the previous two years. The Rangers, who were willing to guarantee Gagne $6 million on a one-year gamble, had to wait until April 13 before the pitcher was physically ready to be activated. And though he has 3 1/3 scoreless innings since, the team is walking on eggshells each time Gagne is on the mound.
There was relieved laughter late Saturday night, when Gagne pitched a scoreless ninth in the 7-0 victory over Oakland. Gagne made some odd gyrations before facing his first hitter, prompting a concerned visit to the mound by Washington, pitching coach Mark Connor and trainer Jamie Reed. Gagne chuckled and waved them away, saying he was fine and only doing a quick bit of stretching.
But there were no smiles Sunday when Gagne hopped from the mound, wincing in pain. The same triumvirate rushed to the mound, and this time Gagne needed assistance from Reed as he bent over several times before hobbling to the dugout.
"I got scared, a little bit," Gagne admitted. "I couldn't push off or anything. It was like the muscle sort of shut down. The pitch before, I kind of slid off the mound, and I probably did it there, because there was a little grab. Then the next pitch, that's when I knew something was wrong.
"It's just a strain. It might be 90 percent better tomorrow. I'm just going to go lay down, take some anti-inflammatories and see what it feels like [Monday]."
The possibility of Gagne returning to the disabled list won't be broached until he is reevaluated. Meanwhile, the Rangers were able to take a deep breath and give thanks for some other heroic performances on Sunday.
Trailing, 3-1, entering the bottom of the eighth, Texas loaded the bases with one out against former Rangers right-hander Justin Duchscherer. Sammy Sosa, who was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, worked the count full and induced a run-scoring walk that brought the score to 3-2.
Oakland closer Huston Street entered to face Hank Blalock with the bases loaded. Blalock fell behind 0-2 before lining a soft single into right field. His third hit of the game scored two runs and gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead. Blalock lifted his batting average from .220 to .254, and his two RBIs doubled his season total.
"I don't think Hank ever had a problem with his confidence," Washington said. "As bad, sometimes, as Hank looked, one thing he does is swing the bat. A swinging bat is a dangerous bat, and his bat was dangerous today."
Street's first blown save in five opportunities sprung Gagne from the Texas bullpen with a chance to convert his second save chance of the year. He retired Jason Kendall for the first out before injuring himself.
Otsuka, deposed as the closer when Gagne was signed, had to hurriedly warm up and try to preserve the comeback. He lost Ellis (a walk charged to Gagne, statistically), putting runners at first and second with one out. But Otsuka struck out Nick Swisher and induced a foul out to catcher from Eric Chavez to give the Rangers the rubber match of the three-game series.
"That was big," Young said. "You can't say enough about Aki and the job he did today. To come out of the bullpen cold and get two tough hitters like that? Aki's been huge for us for two years now. And we don't take it for granted."
Rangers starter Robinson Tejeda threw a crisp game, but it appeared one pitch would ruin his day. Tejeda already had lost the 1-0 lead provided by Ian Kinsler's second-inning RBI single, having allowed a Chavez single and an RBI double by Mike Piazza with one out in the fourth.
But Tejeda was one strike away from ending the fifth inning with the score tied 1-1 when he made a costly mistake against Shannon Stewart. Tejeda attacked the Oakland leadoff man with three consecutive fastballs, but the 0-2 delivery came in high and fat. Stewart drove it over the left-field wall for his second homer of the series and season, a two-run shot that put Oakland ahead, 3-1.
That lead looked sufficient for Oakland right-hander Chad Gaudin, who struck out seven while holding the Rangers to one run on four hits in six innings. But after throwing 97 pitches, Gaudin gave way to his team's usually stout bullpen, only to come away with a no-decision.
The Rangers stole four bases, their highest single-game total in nearly six years, but none of the thefts led to a score. The Rangers last stole five bases at Boston on Aug. 6, 2001, under former manager Jerry Narron.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.