Gagné on Jansen: ‘The greatest Dodger closer ever’

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By Cary Osborne

Prior to Tuesday’s game and the day after Kenley Jansen broke the Dodgers’ all-time saves record, the man he surpassed, Eric Gagné, helped present the Dodger closer with a framed shadowbox that included mementos from his 162nd save.

Gagné spoke briefly during the ceremony, and the phrase that rang loudest was when he called Jansen the greatest Dodger closer ever.

“He is that,” Gagné, the 2003 National League Cy Young Award winner said after the ceremony. “It was easy for me to say. He deserves everything. He is really, really good. He’s the greatest the Dodgers have ever had. For the fans, it was cool to see that I was there and I was past history and then there’s new history.”

Of Gagné’s 161 saves as a Dodger, 152 were earned between 2002 and 2004. Fierce, fist-pumping Gagné converted on 96.4 percent of his opportunities and dominated with a fastball-changeup combination.

Jansen earned his first career save in his second career game on July 25, 2010. Of his 162 saves, 153 have been earned since 2012. Cool, calm Kenley has converted on 88 percent of his opportunities, relying heavily on arguably the best cutter in the game — one often compared to arguably the best closer of all time Mariano Rivera.

“He’s very different pitch-wise (than me), but mentally and the way he goes about his business, he never has too many highs, too many lows. And that’s what you need as a closer,” Gagné said. “Style, he’s different. But he just dominates his own way and it’s really fun to watch. Everyone compares him to Mariano, but he has a really good slider, too. I think he has maybe a better cutter than Mariano. I’m going to get some bad words about that. But I think he’s that good.

“His (cutter) is more side to side. Mariano is almost like a hard slider. No one ever hit Mariano, but I think (Jansen’s) is very deceiving because it’s side to side. It’s on the same plane, but it just moves.”

Gagné thinks Jansen is just touching the surface, too.

“He’s going to get better. One hundred percent,” Gagné said. “It’s not about stuff. It’s about experience and knowing himself, and if you look at him three or four years ago, his stuff was better, maybe harder. But now he just locates better. He knows the game better. He trusts himself better. When Mariano was younger he wasn’t as good. He wasn’t as dominant. His stuff was better, but he didn’t know himself as well. But I think Kenley’s going to get a lot better.”

Gagné’s 161 was always reachable. His other record — 84 consecutive saves — is one of those baseball marks like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Players have chased and will chase but haven’t come close. Tom Gordon is second with 54 consecutive saves.

Is there a closer today who could beat that record?

“I don’t know,” Gagné said. “It’s a lot of luck. I got lucky, that’s the thing. I think stuff-wise (during the streak), it wasn’t the best I had (in my career). It was the luck I had. How about Dave Roberts robbing a home run in Houston? Dave Roberts is four feet tall! He’s not supposed to rob a home run over the fence in Houston! It’s things like that that shouldn’t have happened.

“I think it could happen. Maybe not in my lifetime, but hopefully I get to see it.”

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