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Dodgers move closer to wild-card lead

9/3/2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Eric Gagne has a simple plan every time he
gets the call: Don't spend too much time on the mound.

It's worked out 55 times in a row.

Gagne set a major league record with his 55th consecutive save,
and Fred McGriff hit two homers to give him 491 for his career as
the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Houston Astros 4-1 on Tuesday night.

Gagne, in only his second season as a closer, preserved the
victory for Wilson Alvarez by retiring the last four batters. He
broke Tom Gordon's record, set from April 19, 1998-June 5, 1999,
with the Boston Red Sox.

"The last couple of years have been amazing," Gagne said.
"Every time I go out there I try to get three or four outs as
quick as possible. They play eight innings to give me the lead, so
I don't want to go out there and blow it."

The right-hander, whose only blown save this season came in the
All-Star game, hasn't squandered a lead during the regular season
since Aug. 26, 2002, when Arizona's David Dellucci hit a tying RBI
double in the ninth inning.

Gagne leads the majors with 47 saves -- the most to begin a
season without a miss -- after setting a Dodgers franchise record
last year with 52 saves in 56 chances.

"I always saw myself as a reliever," said Gagne, who had a
couple of undistinguished seasons as a starter. "I always used to
watch John Wetteland, Mariano Rivera and Robb Nen, who used to be
my favorite pitchers. I always knew I had the mentality to do it,
but I just didn't know I could do it in the major leagues. But I
got a great opportunity to do it last year."

The Dodgers started out the 2002 season with a
bullpen-by-committee after deciding not to re-sign Jeff Shaw.
Manager Jim Tracy gave Gagne the ball one night in April against
San Francisco.

"We got lucky," general manager Dan Evans said. "We were
lucky that we had a lot of starting pitching, and we had eight
pitchers to pick from. Had we not had that, we never could have
experimented with him as a closer."

Gagne struck out Brad Ausmus with a runner on in the eighth. In
the ninth, he got pinch-hitter Mitch Meluskey to pop out to short,
Jose Vizcaino to fly to center field, and after striking out Craig
Biggio, Gagne gave his trademark fist pump in a subdued
celebration.

"He's got four pitches and he can throw any one of them at any
given time, so it's not by accident that this has happened,"
Biggio said. "Not only does he have the ability, but he knows what
to do with it. He's got 55 saves in a row, so nobody's guessing
right against him."

As he was walking off the field, Gagne was given a ball -- not
the game ball -- and flung it underhanded into the second deck at
Dodger Stadium.

The AStros fell a half-game back of St. Louis in the NL Central
following the Cardinals' doubleheader split at Chicago.

McGriff homered in the fourth off Tim Redding and off Mike Gallo
in the eighth, giving the injury-plagued first baseman 13 for the
season.

"I haven't seen too many left-handed swings like Freddie's,"
the Dodgers' Rickey Henderson said. "He's got a real easy swing
and a lot of pop behind his bat speed. I'm just glad he got healthy
and I got a chance to play with him."

Alvarez (3-1) threw 92 pitches over five innings, allowing a run
and six hits and helping the Dodgers win for the fifth time in six
tries. The left-hander stranded two baserunners in the second,
fourth and fifth innings -- retiring Richard Hidalgo on a flyout in
the fifth with two Astros in scoring position.

Redding (8-14) lost his fifth straight start, allowing three
runs -- two earned -- and five hits over 5 2-3 innings. He struck out
four and walked none.

Redding, matched against Alvarez for the second time in five
days, retired his first nine batters before shortstop Adam Everett
allowed Dave Roberts' leadoff grounder to go through his legs for
an error. Shawn Green drove in Roberts with an opposite-field
double to left-center and McGriff followed with his first homer,
giving the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.

The Astros scored their only run in the second when Jeff Kent
led off with a single and scored from third on Ausmus' grounder.

Game notes
Green, who has only 12 homers and 62 RBI in 135 games,
confirmed a published report in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times that he
has been playing with discomfort in the back of his right shoulder
since spring training. ... Green's 45th double tied his career
high, set in 1999 with Toronto. ... Gagne has yielded just two
earned runs over 47 innings in his save situations. ... McGriff has
hit 41 homers against the Astros. His three RBI increased his
career total to 1,543, edging him past Willie Stargell for 34th
place all-time. ... Astros RHP Roy Oswalt, on the DL for the third
time because of a right groin strain, threw 60 pitches without any
discomfort in a four-inning simulated game. He's tentatively
scheduled to return to the rotation Monday night at Milwaukee. ...
The Dodgers held C Paul Lo Duca out of the lineup for precautionary
reasons after he sprained his jaw when a foul tip hit him in
Monday's game.