Gagne, Sox bullpen melt down in 11th
Embattled reliever allows go-ahead run in seven-run inning
BOSTON -- Once upon a time, the phrase "Game over" flashed across the Dodger Stadium scoreboard as Eric Gagne -- one of baseball's most dominating closers -- burst from the bullpen to the raucous cheers of the Los Angeles faithful.
Times have certainly changed.
On Saturday night, Gagne emerged from Boston's 'pen in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. This time, though, the reaction was a quiet uneasiness that swept through the Fenway Park stands, a product of the rocky road Gagne has traveled since stepping into an unfamilar setup role for the Red Sox.
Once again, Gagne slipped for the Sox, igniting a seven-run meltdown that sent Boston spiraling to a 13-6 loss at the hands of the Indians. The right-hander's postseason woes persisted, and though he didn't surrender the decisive Cleveland hits, Gagne was the primary goat in a truly disheartening defeat.
"We need him to win. I don't know what to say," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said in the wake of the late-inning collapse. "We need him to help us win the World Series. We're all 100 percent behind him and pulling for him."
Gagne, who has rapidly fallen down Boston's bullpen depth chart, was only called upon after the Red Sox had already used Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon in relief. A subpar showing from Red Sox starter Curt Schilling forced manager Terry Francona to utilize his relievers before the end of the fifth inning.
With the score tied, 6-6, heading into the 11th, Francona summoned Gagne. The only other options were left-handers Jon Lester and Javier Lopez, who were being saved in case any left-handed hitters were to come up later that inning. With a lack of arms remaining, Francona had to play his cards carefully.
"Not having a whole lot of pitchers left," Francona said, "we're trying to have an answer for whatever they did, and both teams had used a lot of players."
Gagne masked any upcoming trouble by blowing away Indians third baseman Casey Blake with a 95-mph fastball for a strikeout to lead off the 11th inning. One pitch later, Cleveland's Grady Sizemore roped an offering into right field for a single, and Gagne followed by walking Asdrubal Cabrera on five pitches.
It was a similar showing to Gagne's effort in Game 1, when he struggled despite working with a 10-3 lead. In that appearance on Friday night, he yielded two hits and walked one, but still logged three strikeouts. With that inconsistency in mind, and left-handed-hitting former Boston outfielder Trot Nixon moving into the batter's box, Francona turned to Lopez to play the percentages.
"We were really hoping to make an out," Francona said. "Under the circumstances, for how many pitchers we had gone through, we were actually pretty happy to have a left-on-left in that situation. It didn't work very well."
In fact, it worked out quite poorly.
Nixon quickly turned his former fans against him by drilling a 1-0 pitch from Lopez into shallow center field for a crucial base hit. The single provided ample time for Sizemore to sprint across home plate, putting Cleveland ahead for good, 7-6.
"I didn't hit it hard, but I hit it where I needed to," Nixon said. "I think we all know how a player can cross over to the dark side, but I fully expect that I'm the enemy coming in here."
And Nixon's single was merely the beginning.
The floodgates began to open when Lopez followed by misfiring with a wild pitch that allowed Cabrera to scoot home for another run, also advancing Nixon to second base. After an intentional walk to catcher Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko lined an offering from Lopez up the middle for another run-scoring hit to put the Indians up by three runs.
"It's tough to swallow tonight that I couldn't finish the deal," Lopez said. "Obviously, the situation they threw me in, it was a tight situation and they gave me the ball. I've got to like that. I just have to feed off that. Obviously, it didn't go my way."
The final dagger came three batters later, when Lester turned to watch one of his pitches sail over the 37-foot-tall wall in left field for a three-run homer off the bat of Cleveland's Franklin Gutierrez. It was the finishing touch on a fateful frame that began to unravel with Gagne's entrance.
Then again, Gagne's struggles have been frequent since being acquired by Boston in a trade with Texas on July 31. After posting a 2.16 ERA with 16 saves for the Rangers, the righty went 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA in 29 outings as a setup man for the Sox.
In the playoffs this year, Gagne has given up three runs in 2 1/3 innings, with an October loss on his resume after Saturday's debacle. Gagne's stuff was missing on the mound and he was absent from the clubhouse to answer for the loss.
Game over -- just not like in years past.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.