Gagne fails again
The former NL Cy Young Award winner gave up a two-run single with two outs in the ninth inning to Ryan Ludwick, and St. Louis held on for a 5-3 victory over Milwaukee on Saturday that snapped a season-long three-game skid.
“I don’t deserve that ninth inning right now. It’s pretty simple,” Gagne said.
The beleaguered reliever was slumped in his locker room chair with his eyes closed for several minutes before putting his hands on his head. After a clubhouse official asked if he wanted to talk, he told reporters he doesn’t need a “mental break” like Cardinals counterpart Jason Isringhausen asked for on Friday night.
“I don’t need breaks. I need to keep going out there. I need results,” said Gagne, who has a major league-leading five blown saves along with Isringhausen. “I get myself in a situation, in a jam, every single time I’m out there. You can’t pitch like that.”
Prince Fielder hit a tying homer in the eighth for Milwaukee, but the slumping Brewers botched a squeeze play later in the inning and lost for the seventh time in eight games.
Gagne, who signed a one-year deal for $10 million this offseason, has nine saves, but has faltered in back-to-back games, this time in a non-save situation.
Gagne (1-2) gave up consecutive singles to start the ninth. After Aaron Miles hit a 15-foot grounder that advanced the runners, Gagne intentionally walked Albert Pujols to load the bases with one out for Rick Ankiel, who fouled out. Ludwick grounded a single just past shortstop J.J. Hardy to give St. Louis a 5-3 lead.
“I am never nervous in that situation. I love that situation. I have been blessed with that opportunity a lot since I’ve been here and have been fortunate to come through in a lot of the situations I’ve been in,” Ludwick said. “I feel like that’s what baseball is all about — that situation, being in that moment.”
Gagne said his struggles have been embarrassing for him.
“Every time we get a little momentum, I come out there and kill that rally,” Gagne said. “It’s a matter of going out there and executing your pitches — not thinking results — and I’m thinking results. I’m going out there thinking three outs before I can even get one.”
Brewers manager Ned Yost refused to pull Gagne from the closer’s role immediately after the game.
“I don’t sit here and make decisions five minutes after a tough loss. I’ll sit and think,” Yost said. “You guys have known me long enough, I take a long time to analyze things and give everybody the benefit of the doubt and try to make the right decision.”
Ryan Franklin, who took over the closer’s role for the Cardinals on Saturday from Isringhausen, got three outs for his third career save and second this year. Still, Franklin said Isringhausen will return after a short break to refocus.
“He’s the closer,” Franklin said. “Hopefully, we can handle the ninth inning until he gets back.”
Chris Duncan hit a two-run homer and the Cardinals built a 3-0 lead against Brewers ace Ben Sheets, who set a franchise record with 1,086 strikeouts.
But Milwaukee rallied for the second consecutive game. The Brewers scored two runs in the seventh on two walks by reliever Kyle McClellan and another in the eighth on Fielder’s first homer in 42 at-bats.
Then Milwaukee cost itself a potential big inning. Russ Springer (1-0) relieved left-hander Ron Villone following Fielder’s homer, walked two and allowed an infield single to load the bases with one out.
On Springer’s first pitch to Jason Kendall, Bill Hall broke from third because the squeeze was on, but Kendall missed the sign. Hall was tagged out in a rundown and Kendall grounded out to end the inning.
“I missed a sign and it’s unacceptable,” Kendall said. “I cost us the game.”
Cardinals starter Joel Pineiro was superb through six innings, allowing just two hits to Ryan Braun before falling apart in the seventh. After Pineiro left with the bases loaded and one out, McClellan walked in Milwaukee’s first two runs to make it 3-2.
Sheets struck out six in seven innings. He fanned Pujols on an 0-2 breaking ball in the first to reach 1,082 strikeouts, breaking Teddy Higuera’s club mark. Higuera pitched for Milwaukee from 1985-91 and 1993-94.
But there was no celebration in the wake of Gagne’s performance.
“Closing is an emotional job,” Gagne said. “It’s a roller coaster. You do good, you’re a hero. You do bad, you’re a zero.”