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04/14/07 2:30 AM ET
Gagne slams door against Mariners
Closer preserves Milwood's win; Kinsler hits fifth homer
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- The save opportunity was there, and when they went to the bottom of the ninth inning at Safeco Field, the door to the Rangers bullpen swung open and out popped Eric Gagne. Gagne, just activated off the disabled list, was in his old role on Friday night and he did just what was expected. He faced three batters and that was all he needed to save the Rangers' 5-2 victory over the Mariners. It was Gagne's first save since June 6 and just his second since June 12, 2005. They didn't play "Welcome to the Jungle." This is Seattle's ballpark and all they have up here are rain forests anyway. They showed a clip from the hockey movie "Miracle" instead, but that didn't help Gagne's nerves. "I was just trying to stop shaking," Gagne said. Gagne instead sang the song in his head, the song they used to play at Dodger Stadium when he was one of the best closers in the game. That was a few years ago, when he was setting a Major League record for consecutive saves before he underwent surgeries on his elbow and back. Now he has a new streak going. He is 1-for-1 as the Rangers closer. "It has been two frustrating years, but it feels good right now," Gagne said. "It's fun to be out competing again." Gagne saved it for Kevin Millwood, who earned his second victory by holding the Mariners to one run on seven hits through six innings. Millwood has had a head cold for the past few days and it was all he could do to get though six innings on 82 pitches. "I had no energy left," Millwood said. "I've been battling a cold and it just hasn't gotten any better. I was just trying to stay out there as long as I could. That was all I had." His offensive support came from three players: Jerry Hairston, Ian Kinsler and Matt Kata. Those three were a combined 6-for-11 with two walks, five runs scored and four RBIs. Kinsler hit his fifth home run in 10 games, a two-run shot in the fifth off of Mariners starter Jarrod Washburn. Millwood left after six innings with a 4-1 lead, and manager Ron Washington immediately went to Bullpen Plan A -- Joaquin Benoit in the seventh, Akinori Otsuka in the eighth and Gagne in the ninth. The plan worked as designed. "That's exactly the way I want it to be," Washington said. "I feel like we have a great bullpen, and they did exactly what they were supposed to do. They got us the last nine outs." Benoit did give up a run in the seventh, the first he's allowed in any situation since showing up for Spring Training two months ago. But Otsuka kept it a two-run game with a scoreless eighth, and Kata, starting for the first time this year, made it 5-2 with a ninth-inning home run. Then came Gagne. As the closer emerged from the 'pen, Washington said he thought to himself, "Finally, we get a chance to see him close a ballgame. It was pretty exciting. He has been wanting this day for a long time." Ben Broussard, pinch-hitting for Jose Lopez, was the first hitter. Gagne started out with two fastballs high and outside, then made an adjustment and got two quick strikes on him. Broussard then got his bat on a pitch low and away and dropped it into right-center for a hit. "I was just nervous," Gagne said. "My legs were shaking, but I was throwing the ball good. I was spotting it good in hitters." Gagne then went after Ichiro Suzuki, one of the best hitters in the game, and he struck him out on four pitchers. Adrian Beltre was next, the Mariners third basemen and Gagne's former teammate on the Dodgers. "I've been playing with him since he was 15 years old," Gagne said. Gagne opened with a sweeping curve for a strike, then came with fastballs. Beltre hit the second one he saw right at third baseman Hank Blalock for a game-ending double play. "This means a lot, but it's just good to be with the team," Gagne said. "I was with it, but I wasn't a part of it. I was in the way. It feels good to be back out there." The Rangers gave Gagne the last baseball used as a memento from the game. Gagne flipped it into the stands to a young fan. "I guess when you've saved 84 in a row, one baseball isn't a big deal," Washington said. "That's what we've been waiting for. We got him to the ninth, and he did what we got him for."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.