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Phillies deal for Wagner

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Philadelphia have acquired closer from the Houston in exchange for pitcher , and minor league pitchers Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio. The 32-year-old Wagner, a lefthander, went 1-4 with a 1.78 ERA and recorded a career-high and franchise-record 44 saves in 47 opportunities this past season. He successfully converted a franchise-record 22 consecutive save attempts and made a career-high 78 appearances. Wagner leads the majors with 118 saves in 129 chances since the beginning of the 2001 season.

Wagner finished third in the National League in saves, behind only (55) and (45). His 93.6 save percentage (44-47) was also third- best in the league, trailing Gagne and , each of whom converted 100% of their saves. Among NL relievers, Wagner finished second in strikeouts (105), third in opponents average (.169) and fifth in ERA, innings and strikeouts per nine innings (10.99).

"He's one of the most dominant closers in baseball," said manager Larry Bowa. "He's right up there with and in that when he comes into the game, it's over."

Wagner made his third All-Star appearance on July 15 in Chicago, pitching one inning. Over his eight-plus years in Houston, Wagner went 26-29 with 225 saves and a 2.53 ERA. He signed a three-year contract worth $24 million for 2002 to 2004. There was also a club option in the deal at $9 million for 2005.

The muddled through 2003 with as their closer. Mesa had a team-leading 24 saves, but blew four save opportunities. The 37-year-old Mesa went 5-7 with a 6.52 ERA and his problems were more magnified at Veterans Stadium, where he went 4-5 with 13 saves, but had a 7.86 ERA in 29 games.

Late in the season, the went with a closer-by-committee approach and moved Mesa in a different relief role.

The pitching problems for the were part of the reason they faltered down the stretch and were not able to secure the National League wild card spot, which went to the eventual World Series champion Florida .

"When we met with our pro scouts and staff in Clearwater three weeks ago, we prioritized our needs and decided that the closer should be at the top of the list," said general manager Ed Wade. "We then went through the list of available closers and ranked them. was at the top of our list. Billy represents a huge improvement for the 2004 . Now, we'll continue to concentrate on other personnel areas, but it's great to get the key piece in place."

Duckworth went 4-7 with a 4.94 ERA over 24 games, including 18 starts this past season for the . The 27-year-old righthander struggled in 2003 and was demoted to the minors for some time before being moved to the bullpen late in the season.

"This move today is a major step toward regaining the flexibility in our payroll that we have lost," said general manager Gerry Hunsicker.

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