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Winning move by Gagne

Reliever puts title hopes ahead of his role

Already filled with conversations in English, Spanish, and Japanese, the Red Sox added French to the clubhouse patois with the acquisition of Eric Gagne from the Rangers at the trading deadline.

The Montreal-born reliever ended his introductory news conference yesterday at Fenway Park by fielding a couple of questions in his native tongue, making sure his message was clear to fans in Boston and back home: He is here to win a championship.

Gagne said "World Series" seven times in his eight-minute session with the media, underscoring the prime reason he chose to give up his closing role.

"I have always wanted to be a closer," said Gagne, who learned English at Seminole Junior College in Oklahoma. "I see myself as a closer. But a chance to have 15 more saves or win a World Series, that was a pretty easy choice."

As a closer, Gagne had an unprecedented three-year stretch of dominance with the Dodgers from 2002-04. He converted 152 of 158 save chances -- including a major league-record 84 in a row -- and won the Cy Young Award in 2003.

In 2005, Gagne pitched in just 14 games before undergoing Tommy John surgery. The following spring, he battled elbow pain and had more surgery. Gagne returned in June 2006 and pitched just two games before going back to the disabled list with more elbow pain. In July of that year, Gagne was diagnosed with herniated disks in his back and had season-ending surgery.

The Dodgers chose not to exercise their option, so Gagne signed with the Rangers as a free agent. This year, finally, he has been healthy and productive. Gagne is 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 16 saves in 17 opportunities.

After almost nothing to show for two years, Gagne was relieved to be back on the mound injury-free. He pointed to a stretch in late June in which he pitched four times in six days as the point where he felt he was back to form.

"That's when I really felt like my arm was bouncing back, my back was feeling good," Gagne said. "I felt great all year, but it just got better, and it got better every week. It's just good to be back on the field and be able to compete and not worry about your body and not worry about anything else and just make pitches."

Gagne can't hit 98 miles per hour with his fastball anymore, but he was able to get up to 94 when the Red Sox were scouting him, and he still has devastating offspeed pitches.

"I'm still throwing pretty hard," he said. "I'm not throwing as hard as I used to, but I've got my changeup. I've got my curveball. I'm the same pitcher pretty much."

The result of Gagne's resurgence was that he was mentioned in trade rumors from coast to coast. Instead of being a nuisance, Gagne said, it was a delight to have so many rumors swirling around him.

"Being out of the game for two years, to see yourself again on the mound performing is great," he said. "But to see that teams -- great teams -- really want you, that's really comforting. That's a great compliment to me. Because I had two years where I really had to struggle and I was hurt. It's a good feeling to come here and feel you're really wanted."

The Red Sox had wanted Gagne since the offseason -- manager Terry Francona met with him and his agent, Scott Boras, at the winter meetings, and Gagne said he was "pretty close" to signing with Boston before the season.

Now Gagne has been brought in to add another valuable weapon to a relief corps that entered last night's game against the Orioles with a 2.73 ERA, best in the major leagues.

"Any time you feel like you got deeper, especially pitching, it's exciting," said Francona.

The bullpen has depth, with Jonathan Papelbon as the closer and Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, and Gagne as setup men. The role will be an adjustment for Gagne. Since he moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen after the 2001 season, he had been a closer.

The reason the Red Sox were not on the original list of teams to which Gagne would accept a trade was that they had an established closer. But the opportunity for a ring prompted Gagne to put that aside. "I'm probably going to do my regular routine, I'm just going to close the eighth inning," Gagne said. "I'm really looking forward to that. It's going to be a good challenge."

But don't expect to see Gagne in long relief. He has gone more than an inning just once this season.

"I think I'm a one-inning guy," he said. "[But] it depends on the situation and it depends on the bullpen. I'm healthy, so we'll go from there."

About a half-hour before Tuesday's trading deadline, the financial details were worked out (Gagne will get a $2.5 million bonus -- $400,000 of which is coming from the Rangers -- to compensate for a clause in his contract that rewarded him for games finished), and Gagne became a member of the Red Sox.

For his friends and family back home, it was a big day. Since the Expos left, the Red Sox have become the most popular team in Montreal.

"I got more phone calls yesterday and today than I did when I won the Cy Young," Gagne said. "That's pretty amazing."

Most of those calls likely came in French, the newest language of Red Sox Nation.

Infielder Alex Cora, who played with Gagne in Los Angeles, hopes he doesn't hear it too often.

"I don't like it when he speaks French, because that means things aren't going too well on the mound," Cora said.

But Cora said Gagne always has been a good clubhouse presence, and the team's World Series aspirations haven't been lost in translation.

"I don't think we worry too much about stuff like that here," Cora said of clubhouse chemistry. "But [Gagne is] going to come in, he has the same goal, and he's going to be perfect for us."

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