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NL Cy Young saved for Gagne

Dodgers reliever is a landslide winner

Eric Gagne was almost as perfect in National League Cy Young Award voting as he was on the mound.

The relief pitcher, who converted all 55 of his save chances this season, received 28 of 32 first-place votes and 146 points to win the honor yesterday from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

It was just the ninth time a reliever won a Cy Young, the first in the NL since San Diego's Mark Davis in 1989.

"We haven't seen a lot of relievers win that award, so I was a little worried," Gagne said during a telephone conference call.

Jason Schmidt of the Giants was second with two first-place votes and 73 points. Chicago's Mark Prior got the other first-place votes.

Gagne, a 27-year-old righthander, was 2-3 with a 1.20 ERA and had 137 strikeouts and 20 walks in 82 1/3 innings. He was converted from a starter after the 2001 season and had 52 saves in 2002.

"I knew I had the mental attitude to be a closer, it was just a matter of doing it in the major leagues," Gagne said. "As a starter, you have to be more relaxed, you have to control your emotions more."

He is the only pitcher to reach 50 saves in more than one season and has converted 62 consecutive save chances since failing to hold a lead against Arizona Aug. 26, 2002, a major league record.

"I don't really care about the streak," said Gagne, the first reliever to win a Cy Young since Oakland's Dennis Eckersley won the AL award in 1992.

He is just the second Canadian to win a Cy Young, following Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs in 1971.

Gagne failed to hold a lead just once this season -- he allowed a two-run, go-ahead homer to Hank Blalock of Texas in the eighth inning of the All-Star Game.

Sox re-sign Timlin

While Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is working on acquiring a new closer for the 2004 season -- top targets include free agents Keith Foulke and Eddie Guardado -- he came to terms with righthanded setup man Mike Timlin, who was, for the most part, a model of consistency last season and unhittable during the postseason.

Timlin, who will be 38 next season, told agent David Sloane he preferred re-signing with Boston than going on the open market. He agreed to a one-year deal for the 2004 season for $2.5 million, plus a club option for $2.7 million for the 2005 season that will automatically vest if Timlin meets performance incentives.

Those incentives mirror those of lefthanded setup man Alan Embree, who signed a deal last November that paid him a base salary of $2.75 million last season and will pay him the same amount in 2004. Embree's $3 million option in 2005 will vest, as will Timlin's option, if he appears in 50 games and is not on the disabled list at the end of the 2004 season.

The performance incentive should be within reach for Timlin, who appeared in 72 games in each of the last two seasons. Last season, his first with the Sox, he was 6-4 with two saves and a 3.55 ERA.

Orioles drop Cruz

The Baltimore Orioles declined options on shortstop Deivi Cruz and righthander Kerry Ligtenberg. Both were signed after the 2002 season and will become free agents. Baltimore had a $1.5 million option on Cruz. Cruz played in 152 games in 2003, batting .250 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs. But his .269 on-base percentage was among the lowest of any regular position player in the AL. Ligtenberg went 4-2 with one save and a 3.34 ERA in 68 games . . . The Dodgers signed lefthanded reliever Tom Martin to a two-year contract. Martin set a club record with 80 appearances last season . . . Miguel Tejada will join the Dominican Winter League in December along with Atlanta's Rafael Furcal. Tejada, one of the top free agents, will be with the Cibaenas Eagles. "One of the conditions I demand in signing a new contract is that no one stops me from playing in the winter league," said the shortstop, who won the 2002 American League MVP award with Oakland. Tejada has played in the Caribbean country's winter league for eight years, helping lead the Eagles to six championships . . . Darryl Strawberry is back with the New York Yankees, this time as a player development instructor. The eight-time All-Star, who has overcome a drug addiction, prison, and cancer, will work with the major league team during spring training and with minor leaguers the rest of the year. Also, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre will return to the Yankees next season, according to a report in Newsday.

Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Phoenix.

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