Eric Gagne's historic three-year run

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We can speculate all we want about the methods he used to achieve it, but Eric Gagne’s three-year run of dominance as the Dodgers’ closer should never be forgotten.
From the time Los Angeles converted a struggling starter to relief in the spring of 2002 until the then 30-year-old right-hander got hurt at the beginning of the 2005 season, Gagne was a remarkably dominant force, even more so than his terrific ERAs indicated.
From 2002-04, Gagne saved 152 games in 158 opportunities. At one point, he converted 84 save chances in a row, a record that could stand for a long time even in such a highly specialized era. The previous best mark was 54, established by Tom Gordon, and the closest anyone has come since is Brad Lidge at 47.
Overall, Gagne had a 1.79 ERA in 247 innings over the three seasons. He struck out 365 and walked just 58. His WHIP stood at 0.822, and his ERA+ (ERA adjusted for the league average and ballpark factors) was 223.
Mariano Rivera has had a better three-season ERA run, but he can’t match the dominance when it comes to strikeouts or WHIP. In only one of his 15 seasons has he posted a WHIP better than Gagne’s three-year mark. The famous oddity from Gagne’s run is that he threw exactly 82 1/3 innings each year. Rivera only hit that total once, that coming in 1996 when he was serving as a setup man. That was also the only season in which he struck out 100 batters. Gagne reached triple-digits in strikeouts all three years.
There have been just 47 seasons in history in which a reliever has finished with an ERA+ of at least 180 and 100 or more strikeouts. Gagne did it three times in a row. Hall of Famer Goose Gossage (1975, ’77, ’78) is the only other pitcher on the list to show up three times.
Gagne’s 2003 season was arguably the most dominant ever by a reliever. His 1.20 ERA doesn’t beat Dennis Eckersley’s 0.61 mark from 1990 or Jonathan Papelbon’s 0.92 in 2006, but his WHIP was an incredible 0.692. Even better, his OPS+ was the best mark for anyone in the expansion era, minimum 70 innings. The league hit .133/.199/.176 off him, good for an OPS+ of 4 (100 being average). The next best marks belong to Rivera in 2008 and Billy Wagner in 1999. They came in at 10. Eckersley finished at 13 in his 1990 season.
The .176 slugging percentage against is also the best in the expansion era by a significant margin. Ted Abernathy has the next best mark at .202 in 106 1/3 innings in 1967. Wagner’s 1999 season ranks third at .212.
Gagne has little to offer outside of the three seasons. He went 11-14 with a 4.61 ERA in 48 starts and 10 relief appearances from 1999-2001. He had an excellent half-season run with the Rangers in 2007, but he ended up with a 4.28 ERA in 113 2/3 innings over his final four years.
But for three years, he was one of the game’s most compelling figures, and while he’s admitted to cheating along the way, he was getting a lot of his outs against similarly juiced hitters. For a brief period, it was an incredible ride.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 24, Phillies 4; Phillies 9, Mets 6: At least in a doubleheader you have the chance to shake off the first game if it doesn’t go your way. And boy howdy did the first game not go Philly’s way. In that one the Mets hung a 10-spot in the fifth inning and scored 24 runs on 25 hits. Only 11 of those runs were earned. It was an ugly, ugly game with two position players pitching including one, Scott Kingery, who was just lobbing in slow, fat pitches that didn’t even register on the radar gun. The only saving grave for the Phillies was that the game was “broadcast” on Facebook and no one watches those. If you want a full writeup of the carnage Bill, a Phillies fan, had to do it last night.

In the nightcap Philly righted the ship, with Zach Eflin pitching into the seventh and Phillies batters jumping on Steven Matz early. Rhys Hoskins hit a three-run homer and Kingery hit a solo shot that went out a bit faster than his fastballs came in in the first game.

Rangers 8, Angels 6: Neither of these teams are going to be playing six weeks from now, but they’ll always have this weird, kind of disjointed bases-loaded 5-4 triple-play to remember. It was an historical one too as it was the majors’ first triple play without retiring the batter in over 106 years:

Jurickson Profar, who started the triple play and was its MVP, at least if triple plays can have MVPs, also homered, as did Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo.

Rays 3, Yankees 1: Tampa Bay just has New York’s number I guess. Blake Snell returned to toss two-hit shutout ball for five innings and the Yankees would only manage a Giancarlo Stanton RBI double the rest of the way. Masahiro Tanaka was scoreless in innings 2-6, but unfortunately he started in inning 1, allowing two runs. Maybe the Yankees should try using a Rays-style opener for him?

Cubs 1, Pirates 0: Jon Lester hasn’t had a great second half — or last part of the first half — but he looked like the Lester of April and May last night, twirling six shutout frames, striking out eight and not walking anyone. Ivan Nova came close to matching him, but surrendered an Ian Happ solo homer in the fourth for the game’s only scoring. Chicago increased its lead in the NL Central to three and a half games over the idle Brewers. Pittsburgh lost its fourth straight to fall to .500.

Nationals 5, Cardinals 4Bryce Harper had three hits and drove in three runs to help the Nats snap its four-game losing streak and send the Cardinals to a loss for the first time in nine games. The most exciting thing here: the Nats taking a one-run lead into the ninth inning. Somehow Koda Glover held it. I mean, sure, he put two men on with two outs before closing it out, but what is life if it is not at least a little interesting?

Rockies 5, Braves 3: Atlanta could not close out its lead, however. In front 3-2 heading into the ninth, Trevor Story, the leadoff hitter that inning, reached via a Dansby Swanson error, Brad Brach — pitching in that situation because the Braves’ bullpen is sort of a mess right now — walked Gerardo Parra to move Story to second and then he came in on a Ryan McMahon pinch-hit RBI single to tie things up. Two batters later David Dahl — who had homered earlier — then came to the plate and knocked in both Parra and McMahon to give the Rockies a two-run lead that would hold up. The Rockies have won five of six. The only good news for the Braves was that Ronald Acuña played, singling in his first at bat and finishing 1-for-4.

Twins 15, Tigers 8: Logan Forsythe had five hits and Jorge Polanco drove in four runs for the Twins, three of which came on a three-run homer. There were lots of homers here, in fact, with the teams combining for seven round-trippers. The Twins must’ve left the air conditioner blowing out for the whole game. [*Editor whispers*]. Sorry, still not over the 1987 ALCS. I’m gonna accuse the Twins of somehow figuring out how to pull that crap in their new park too.

Royals 6, Blue Jays 2: For the third straight game a rain delay stopped the beginning of a game in this series, this time by over two hours. The Royals earned the series split, however, thanks to a single RBI from six different batters, including a Lucas Duda homer, and Royals relievers Brian FlynnKevin McCarthyBrandon Maurer and Wily Peralta shut down Toronto on three hits over the final five innings.

Diamondbacks 5, Padres 1: If you placed money on “Some time in 2018 Clay Buchholz will pitch a complete game, allowing only one run on five hits, getting the win for a playoff contending team” before the season began you would’ve been arrested for suspected time-traveling and/or placed in a rubber room so you could not do any harm to others or to yourself. Yet it happened. He got five runs of support in the first inning, thanks in part to a David Peralta three-run homer, and other than allowing a Hunter Renfroe solo shot in the eighth, he was lights-out. Not too bad for a guy everyone thought was burnt toast not too long ago.