With the game out of reach, it would be easy to dismiss Eric Gagné's clean ninth inning in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. But not for him. Not for a pitcher who arrived in Boston as the potential last cog in a shutdown bullpen and sank so far that there were calls by fans for him to be left off the postseason rosters.
Prior to Saturday night, Gagné had thrown just three clean innings in his brief time with the Red Sox, spanning 20 regular-season games and three postseason appearances. None had come in the playoffs.
So, to him, it was something.
"It's just good to go out there and put up zeros," said Gagné, citing his "stop thinking" mantra as a reason for the success. "For me, it's good. I mean, I feel great physically. I've just got to go out there and do my job."
Which is exactly what he hadn't been doing since arriving in Boston in a July 31 trade deadline deal that sent Kason Gabbard, David Murphy, and Engel Beltre to Texas. He looked tortured after outings, struggling to explain his problem, talking in whispered tones that conveyed just how hard he was taking his failures.
"I think it was important," Jonathan Papelbon said of Gagné's Game 6 inning. "I think it was important for him to get some confidence under his belt. Even if you're a Cy Young winner who saved 84 games straight, you throw one bad game, that doubt still creeps in your head. It's only human nature."
It was a rare pleasant moment for Gagné, whose loss in Game 2 against the Indians seemed as if it could be his Red Sox epitaph. The former Dodgers great was charged with two runs (on a hit and a walk) in the 11th inning of a dispiriting loss that was the first of three straight Red Sox setbacks.
In the wake of his Game 6 appearance, he was asked if he thinks the outing might mean his appearance in more than just a mop-up role in the World Series.
"I don't really care what I do," he said. "Right now, all I care about is winning. I don't care when I pitch. I could pitch in the second inning, I'd be happy. All I want to do is help the team to win the World Series. We're there and that's all that matters. That's what I came here for. I came here to try to help them win the World Series and that's all that's important."
That was the theme that was repeated. The Red Sox are in the World Series. He is in the World Series. Other than that? Not much matters.
Before this season, Gagné had never made it past the Division Series, which he reached with the Dodgers in 2004. He pitched three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk, and striking out three. But that was it. "Doesn't get any better than that," Gagné said. "If you can't get up for that, you can't get up at all. I don't think you should be in this game. World Series. That's what you work for ever since you were in pro ball, ever since you played baseball. You dream of that. We're there right now and I think it's pretty special."
Even though, in many ways, he has been a negative focus - from outside the clubhouse - throughout his tenure in Boston? Even though he hasn't pitched like Eric Gagné?
"It's the World Series," Gagné said. "It's really easy. It makes it a lot easier when you go out there. Even though I've struggled so far, we've been winning ballgames. That's all I care about. That's what I came here for. I came to win a World Series."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.