IT HAD TO BE A STRANGE SIGHT — It had to be a strange sight - reliever Eric Gagne getting two standing ovations after blowing a save against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night - but the fans at Dodger Stadium were showing their appreciation for one of the most impressive pitching accomplishments in the history of baseball.
Gagne's record string of 84 successful save opportunities stretched back to Aug. 26, 2002 and was 30 saves longer than the previous record, set by Tom Gordon. During the streak, Gagne registered an 0.82 ERA, gave up just 43 hits and struck out 141 batters, but never got overly impressed with himself.
"I don't think it's that big a deal," he said. "My focus is on wins. That may sound boring, but that's the way it is. It was good for me, because it was good for the team. I don't really analyze it."
The last time he let a lead get away the opponent also was the Diamondbacks, but those were the defending world champion Arizona Diamondbacks, not the last-place Diamondbacks who showed up at Dodger Stadium with a new manager on Monday.
"I think it speaks to the character of the players on the team," said Arizona rookie Chad Tracy, who delivered the game-tying hit. "We're 15, 16 games back and we're facing Gagne, [but] we're still not throwing the towel in."
Gagne embraced the streak and enjoyed the way Dodgers fans got into it over the years, but he let it go with a smile - which was a little easier because the Dodgers came back to win the game in extra innings.
"Everybody says you have to be real lucky," he said. "I was real lucky for a long time. It just came to an end. I made some great pitches. They beat me."
The St. Louis Cardinals were in fifth place in the National League Central on May 27, but they have been baseball's best team since then and they suddenly are jousting with the Yankees for the best record in the major leagues.
They entered yesterday on a 28-10 run and their seven-game winning streak had put some serious distance between them and the second-place Cubs. Who would have imagined that when they were struggling through May? Probably no one, but the Cardinals would rather enjoy than over-analyze the situation right now.
"I think it's a trap that's going to take away from what we've done. And I'm not going to begin falling into it," catcher Mike Matheny said. "Everybody wants to talk about leads and games over .500. We're playing good baseball. Anything that takes us away from that focus is going to be a negative. I think that's what we've got to be concerned about as a group."
What about Bob?
The dismissal of Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly last weekend did not exactly rock the baseball world. The Diamondbacks are a mess and there was the perception that he had gotten maximum managerial mileage out of the club's world title in 2001.
That said, he was doomed from Day One of spring training. The Diamondbacks starting rotation took two big hits when the club traded right-handed ace Curt Schilling and lost starter Miguel Batista to free agency.
The club attempted to offset the loss of pitching with the acquisition of big-swinging Richie Sexson from the Milwaukee Brewers, but ran aground when Sexson was lost to the most serious of 19 injuries that have cost the team time on the disabled list.
"The bottom line is this," owner Jerry Colangelo said, "sometimes coaches and managers have to play with the hand dealt them. And in no way, shape or form is this change a reflection on Bob Brenly. Nor are we putting any blame on Bob Brenly for the state of affairs of our baseball team."
Glad to get that cleared up. Brenly was just being rewarded for his solid performance with an extended vacation.
The Houston 500
Give Major League Baseball credit for getting it right with tomorrow's Home Run Derby, inviting all four of the game's active 500-homer guys to compete.
Sammy Sosa, who spent some time on the disabled list, and Rafael Palmeiro, who has struggled at the plate lately, wouldn't have been obvious choices otherwise, but they will add a lot to the workout day festivities.
There originally was some question whether Barry Bonds will take part (he will), but Sosa - ever the willing showman - didn't hesitate to accept the invitation to participate in the derby for the fifth time. He won it in 2000.
"The whole world's watching you," he said. "To have a chance to put on a show for the fans, I will do that."
The lingering feud between Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza will be set aside - at least temporarily - for at least an inning or two on Tuesday night when the two are likely to be joined as battery-mates in the All-Star Game.
No doubt, baseball officials would like to orchestrate a hatchet-burying ceremony, but it probably won't be all warm and fuzzy when they are working together.
"I'm not going to lie to you and say it's not going to be awkward," Piazza said. "It's going to be one for fastball, two for [slider], wiggle for split, and let's go get 'em. Personally, I think it's his moment, and I don't want to detract from that."
The White Sox were understandably miffed at the final composition of the American League All-Star team, which included just one player Esteban Loaiza from the second-place team in the American League Central.
The cross-town rival Cubs are also in second place, but placed three players on the team - Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou and Carlos Zambrano - by the various voting procedures.
It isn't easy being the second team in the Second City.
"Is it going to be tough for a White Sox player to get voted in as a starter? Absolutely," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "In fact, there is no question about that."
The Florida Marlins are so bewildered by the blister problem that has forced starter Josh Beckett back onto the disabled list that they took him to see burn specialist Dr. Robert Krisner at the University of Miami Wednesday.
Club officials can't understand why the problem keeps recurring, this latest episode even more severe than the previous instances where the skin on the end of his middle finger tears off. Beckett claims that he never had blister problems in high school or the minor leagues.
Beckett is eligible to return from the disabled list on July 22.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Beckett, trying to maintain his sense of humor. "Play third base, maybe."
Stat of the week
There were a total of 965 blown saves in the major leagues during Gagne's record streak.
Quote of the week
Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez noticed basketball coaching legend Bob Knight in the stands at Dodger Stadium the other night.
"Good thing those chairs are bolted down," Gonzalez said.
Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.
THEATER OF THE ABSURD
Tomorrow is the 25th anniversary of "Disco Demolition Night," an infamous promotion cooked up by Mike Veeck (the son of White Sox owner Bill Veeck) and radio executive Jeff Schwartz that sparked a small riot at the old Comiskey Park and forced the White Sox to forfeit the second game of a doubleheader to the Detroit Tigers.
Local TV affiliate WTTW will air a documentary on the event at 8 p.m., the exact time that a box of disco records was detonated to the raucous cheers and subsequent out-of-control behavior of a crowd of about 50,000 fans.
1. Yankees (1)
Eight players chosen as All-Stars. Joe Torre wanted nine, but Mickey Rivers declines invitation.
2. Cardinals (2)
Swept Reds at home for first time since 1987. Were in fifth place back on May 27.
3. Rangers (3)
Ricardo Rodriguez tosses first career shutout last week. Yes, it's going that good for them.
4. Athletics (5)
Tim Hudson is injured. Hold those Barry Zito trade rumors.
5. Twins (13)
Pitchers reeled off 32 scoreless innings in a row. Bullpen phone used only for pizza orders and chat lines.
6. Dodgers (17)
Milton Bradley delivers lineup card day after latest ejection. Umpires throw it out, too.
7. Cubs (8)
Kerry Wood set to rejoin team for first time in two months. An entire division shudders.
8. Red Sox (7)
Derek Lowe annoyed that media portray him as too emotional. Asks for a hug.
9. Padres (9)
Mark Loretta lone All-Star rep on team that's been in or near first place most of the season.
10. Phillies (10)
Want to add a starter, but payroll has less flexibility than Pete Incaviglia.
11. Giants (4)
As part of All-Star festivities, Barry Bonds agrees to participate in Intentional Walk Derby.
12. White Sox (6)
Frank Thomas might need surgery on left ankle. Sox ask doctors to throw in a personality transplant.
13. Brewers (14)
Trying to finish above .500 for first time since 1992. From Bratwurst to first?
14. Angels (12)
Umps check Bartolo Colon's uniform for foreign substance, find a pot roast.
15. Braves (19)
Stopped hitting the snooze button on season alarm.
16. Reds (15)
Sean Casey goes on DL with strained calf. Must have been from carrying a .352 average.
17. Mets (21)
Richard Hidalgo has been great addition, but Mike Piazza is wearing down fast.
18. Marlins (11)
Send Josh Beckett to specialist because of chronic blisters. Must come from massaging own ego.
19. Astros (16)
If losing continues, manager Jimy Williams could become Bob Brenly's roommate.
20. Devil Rays (18)
Jeremi Gonzalez returns to minors with 11 straight losses. Takes Lou Piniella's footprints with him.
21. Indians (20)
Bob Wickman pitches for first time since August 2002. Also last time Tribe didn't blow a save.
22. Tigers (22)
Eight ejections in five games. Suddenly, bench coach Kirk Gibson is the calm one.
23. Blue Jays (23)
Anyone still think the Orioles should have re-signed Pat Hentgen?
24. Pirates (25)
Put together 10-game win streak, longest since September 1996.
25. Orioles (24)
Rick Bauer throws tantrum and is put on timeout. Told to go stand in corner ... of Ottawa.
26. Rockies (28)
Joe Kennedy on DL with inflamed shoulder. Want to see real swelling? Check out the Rockies' loss total.
27. Mariners (26)
Edgar Martinez passes Harold Baines for most RBIs by a DH. Ties him for most age spots.
28. Diamondbacks (29)
End Eric Gagne's record-setting consecutive saves streak. Celebrate by losing again.
29. Royals (27)
Held "Kids Run the Bases" promotion. Still couldn't get anyone to cross the plate.
30. Expos (30)
D.C. and Northern Va. fighting over Expos. Loser gets them.- Roch Kubatko
(Last week's ranking in parentheses)