LOS ANGELES -- Eric Gagne wasn't needed, but he sure was wanted. Fans came to see him Thursday night in his first game back in nearly a year and while they got a 7-2 Dodger win over the Philadelphia Phillies, for some it wasn't enough. They chanted his name when there was no chance he'd be used and some went so far as to boo when Nomar Garciaparra caught Jimmy Rollins' foul pop to end a ninth-inning rally and the game with Gagne warming up behind Tim Hamulack.
"Of course they want to see him. They haven't seen him at his best in a couple of years," said Derek Lowe, whose six scoreless innings on another night might have had the fans chanting his name. Lowe, at a time when his fellow starters are struggling, is on a personal roll with three consecutive wins, yet he took the time to share the glory with the swarm of young talent forced into prominent roles recently because of injuries to veterans. "It's amazing that the young kids coming up aren't just doing all right, but they're contributing at the highest level," said Lowe. "They're the No. 1-rated farm system and you can see why. It's a good time to be a Dodger." Especially on this night -- when the Dodgers started four rookies and had eight among their 25 active players, including top prospect Joel Guzman, who made his Major League debut (and grounded into a double play in his lone at-bat). Meanwhile, Lowe wasn't going to ignore the seven runs of offensive support provided by three-run homers from J.D. Drew and Matt Kemp and a solo shot from Russell Martin. Drew, who inherited the cleanup role from Jeff Kent (whose sprained wrist put him on the disabled list earlier in the day), is expected to produce with an $11 million salary. But Kemp? He's 21 and been in the big leagues for five days and already had to overcome a three-strikeout debut. Less than a week later he's hitting .385, and he wasn't fazed by moving into Kenny Lofton's second spot in the batting order or center field. His first career home run was a laser that might have put a dent into the left-field foul pole and put the Dodgers on the board in the second inning after Lowe's stunning one-out double off the wall. "I'm glad my first home run came at Dodger Stadium," said Kemp, who was promoted from Double-A. Martin's shot was next leading off the fourth inning and snapping a 1-for-17 slump. "I see the ball well here," said Martin. "I'm comfortable at Dodger Stadium." And the Dodgers are comfortable with him. Lowe talked about everything Martin, from his receiving skills to his leadership, the way pitchers have been talking about the 23-year-old since he stepped in for the injured Dioner Navarro four weeks ago. "Martin's got [guts]," said Lowe. "I've never seen it like that in a young catcher. He'll take control of a game. He'll make you throw a pitch you shake off because he says it's the right pitch to throw. That takes a lot of nerve, and I mean that in a positive way. Two games back against the Angels, I got upset and he came to the mound and said he wasn't leaving until I calmed down. That's a veteran move." The win, the double, it all made for a pretty nice 33rd birthday for Lowe, whose ERA is down to 2.68, although the 99 pitched he needed to get through six innings (with seven stranded runners) was an indicator that it wasn't clear sailing. "I never got in a good rhythm," he said. But the Dodgers as a group are sailing right along, considering they've had 11 disabling injuries so far. They kept pace with Arizona and ran their home win streak to seven games. It was a big win and a nice way to start a tough homestand, but Kemp was struck by the dialogue pouring out of the pavilion from Dodger fans. "They were yelling, 'Hey, Kemp. Tell [manager Grady] Little to get Gagne in the game,' " he said. Little didn't need to be told. After Hamulack walked leadoff hitter Ryan Howard, Gagne emerged from the bullpen bench area, his windmilling right arm not only shaking loose the cobwebs but inciting his minions, only for the game to end in a five-run victory while he was still warming up, before he could declare it, "Game Over." "He's going to be treated like a closer," Little said of Gagne.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.