Dodgers Gagne claims NL Cy Young

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2003

LOS ANGELES - A so-so starter, Eric Gagne became a Cy Young closer.

The Los Angeles Dodgers reliever, who had 55 saves in as many chances this season, was nearly as perfect in the NL Cy Young balloting. He received 28 of 32 first-place votes and 146 points to win the honor Thursday from the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Gagne, 5-6 with a 4.92 ERA in 24 starts for the Dodgers in 2001, wasn't sure what job - if any - he would have when he reported the following spring.

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''When I came into spring training in 2002, I had no idea where I was going to be, if I was going to be on the team or in Triple-A or what,'' Gagne said. ''I told (manager) Jim Tracy that I didn't care what I did, that there were so many good guys on the team, I just wanted to be a part of it.

''They gave me a chance to pitch and I went out there and took advantage of it.''

Did he ever.

Gagne, 27, is the first NL reliever to win the award since San Diego's Mark Davis in 1989, and only the ninth in either league.

San Francisco's Jason Schmidt finished second in the Cy Young balloting with two first-place votes and 73 points. Chicago's Mark Prior got the other first-place votes and was third with 60 points.

''You hear a lot of argument about starter versus reliever, but he is very definitely the Cy Young Award winner, hands down,'' said Tracy, who attended a news conference with Gagne at Dodger Stadium a few hours after the voting was announced.

''This year, I don't think any starter had a great, great year, won like 23-24 games,'' Gagne said. ''And personally, I think I had a great year.''

The Dodgers' right-hander was 2-3 with a 1.20 ERA and had 137 strikeouts in 82 1-3 innings, an average of 14.98 strikeouts per nine innings.

Gagne had 52 saves in 2002, his first year as a closer, and is the only pitcher to reach 50 in more than one season. He has converted a major league record 62 consecutive chances dating back to Aug. 26 of last year, when he failed to hold a lead against Arizona.

Because he was 18 days shy of being eligible for arbitration and his contract was automatically renewed by the Dodgers in March, Gagne doesn't get a bonus added to his $550,000 salary.

He figures to earn $3.5 million or more next season.

''He obviously had a special year, has a special talent. I think everybody knows what he means to this franchise,'' said Scott Boras, his agent.

Schmidt, 17-5 with a league-leading 2.34 ERA, gets $75,000 for finishing second.

Prior, 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA, gets $100,000 for winding up third and also receives $250,000 raises in each of the next three seasons. With Prior's All-Star selection and Cy Young finish, the value of his five-year contract increases from $10.5 million to $12.95 million.