BROCKTON - Eric Gagne was the National League Cy Young winner in 2003 with 55 saves. And for a three-year period he was an event and one of the most exciting players in baseball every time he walked out of the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen and made his way to the mound. But these days he's taking long bus rides with the Canadian-American League Quebec Capitales, who started a three-game series with the Brockton Rox tonight at Campanelli Stadium, followed by three games in Worcester this weekend. Gagne is scheduled to pitch as a starter vs. Worcester Friday.
Earlier this evening, Gagne, who had a terrible half-season with the Red Sox in 2007 (2-2, 6.75 ERA) after being acquired at the trade deadline from Texas for David Murphy, Kason Gabbard and Engel Beltre, said his arm hurt while pitching for Boston and he also pitched poorly for Milwaukee in 2008. Gagne said he's trying to rehab his right shoulder without surgery in an effort to naturally heal a 30 percent tear in his labrum and rotator cuff.
His first start for Quebec before a standing room-only crowd at Municipal Stadium, where Gagne is a huge draw, wasn't the best as Gagne allowed nine hits and five runs and four walks in 4-2/3 innings. So far he has not hit 90 mph on the radar gun, but Gagne has not had any spring training or that much pitching time leading up to his first start.
Gagne said his goal is to make it back to the majors and he doesn't seem to care whether it's as a starter or reliever.
"I don't care what I do," he said. "This is more of a controlled environment right now. If I want to compete, being a starting pitcher is right for me now. I'm a starting pitcher and I have a routine of when I'm going to pitch. Maybe a month from now I can start doing some relief, getting some innings in and doing my Jobe weights. I think it's a lot easier on my body this way."
The Capitales drove 12 hours to get to Brockton. Gagne actually drove himself from Montreal where he was visiting family. Gagne, who earned more than $40 million as major leaguer, said he played minor league baseball and junior ball with some of the Capitales players and he's known manager Michele Laplante for years. He wanted to go the Independent League route because he didn't want to be on a strict timetable, but would rather come back on his own pace.
"I'm here now and if somebody wants (to sign) me I'll think about it. My goal is to get back there when I'm ready and when I'm healthy and when I 'm able to compete better than I did the last two years," he said.
Gagne said he drove past Fenway on his way to Brockton, but didn't know the Red Sox were in town. He said he would likely give Jonathan Papelbon a call while he was in the area.
While admitting he went through difficult times with the Red Sox because he hurt his shoulder after going 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA with Texas and 16 saves, said "I'm so glad I did it. The guys there are great. We won a World Series. It was amazing. A lot of the guys are still there. They were a good bunch of guys and they really supported me. Looking back it was a great experience. It was hard when I was going through it."
"I know it was hurting," he said. "I was also tipping my pitches in Boston so I started working on that. When I got to Boston my shoulder started to bother me and they had to shut me down for 10 days. Since then it hasn't felt right. In Milwaukee, I felt good and then really bad and then good. I was just in a bad spot in Boston where I tried to do more than I was capable of doing."
Gagne, 33, said he's about at 80 percent of what he thinks he's going to be. He'll never be the guy in LA, where he became a cult figure to Dodger fans as the most imposing closer in the game. He said even if he never makes it back, he's planning on having fun playing with his friends and in front of his countrymen.
He knows his inclusion in the Mitchell Report for taking performance enhancing drugs, will taint him forever.
"It (the Mitchell Report) bothered me for a while but I'm over that. It's all about playing baseball now. It's something that you guys will always be asking me and unfortunately that will always be on my resume," he said.