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Eric Gagné returns to Dodgers’ mound on the 20th anniversary of his 84 consecutive saves streak

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — With “Welcome to the Jungle” blaring like the old days, Eric Gagné took the mound and fired a strike Wednesday night on the 20th anniversary of recording his 84th consecutive save for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Every time I step on this field, it’s like a church to me,” he said. “It’s my office on top of that little mound and walking in here with all the history — the Tommy Lasordas, the Don Drysdales, the Sandy Koufaxes of the world — it’s humbling.”

Catching Gagné was current closer Evan Phillips. Manager Dave Roberts turned down the request of his former teammate to get behind the plate, but they shared a big hug on the field.

“I don’t know what he’s going to throw and I don’t want him to embarrass me,” said Roberts, who played with Gagné from 2002-04.

The consecutive saves mark still stands as the longest such streak in major league history. It lasted 87 2/3 innings in which the Canadian struck out 139 batters while not allowing any of 123 inherited runners to score. He gave up a total of two runs and no homers.

“It was like cartoon stuff, guys had no chance,” Roberts said. “I remember being out in center field and I would kind of challenge myself by not having my glove on when the pitch was thrown.”

Gagné signed with the Dodgers as a free agent in 1995 and began his career as a starter. But after struggling in that role, he was converted into a reliever.

That’s where he blossomed. From 2002-04, Gagné was the majors’ dominant closer and won the NL Cy Young Award in 2003. He was a three-time All-Star during that stretch. He finished his career with 187 saves.

Gagné pitched sparingly in 2005 and 2006 after undergoing elbow and back surgeries. The Dodgers didn’t re-sign him. He pitched for the Boston Red Sox in 2007 when they won the World Series.

That December, Gagné was linked to baseball’s steroids scandal after he was named in the Mitchell Report. In 2010, he admitted to using human growth hormone, saying it was to recover from a knee injury.

Deeply tan from days spent playing golf and biking in Arizona where he lives, the 48-year-old credited his teammates, including Roberts and Shawn Green, for keeping the streak alive.

“A lot had to go right and the defense behind me was unbelievable,” Gagné said. “People call it a save, I call it more of a preserved win. That’s kind of how I went about my whole approach. I didn’t feel the pressure that much because I wasn’t really focused on me messing up. I was focused on helping the guys.”

Roberts helped him, too. One night in Houston, he robbed Lance Berkman of a home run in the ninth to keep the streak going.

“I’m certain that he said he owes me a dinner,” Roberts said. “I’m still hungry.”

Gagné plans to pay up next year at spring training.

“We got to find a good steakhouse worth it,” he said.



AP Sports Writer