<
>

Penny helps Dodgers complete sweep of reeling D-Backs

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Perhaps when Brad Penny gets to Pittsburgh
next week, he'll appreciate his first-time All-Star status. But for
now, all he's concerned about is his next appearance for the Los
Angeles Dodgers.

"I'm planning on throwing maybe an inning out of the bullpen on
Sunday here, so that's what I've got on my mind right now," Penny
said Wednesday night after pitching seven strong innings in a 5-4
victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Arizona
Diamondbacks. "We're tied for first, so the important thing is
going out there and not worrying about my first half, but the
team's first half."

Penny (10-2) allowed two runs and seven hits while striking out
six. The right-hander, who is off to the best start of his
seven-year career, won for the third straight time and lowered his
ERA to 2.92.

"Wins and losses are sometimes more luck than how you pitch,"
Penny said. "But if you keep your team in the game, you're going
to win more than you lose. And that's what I'm trying to do."

The turning point of Penny's season so far may have been on May
29 at Atlanta, when he was removed by manager Grady Little with an
8-5 lead -- just two outs shy of the required five innings for a
victory. He threw a tantrum that was seen all over the country, but
he and Little quickly patched things up.

"I think the best thing was that it was handled head-on by
Grady the next day," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said.
"I was in the meeting, and they put it behind them. Both of them
said what they needed to say, and it was over right then. From that
point on, he's been tremendous -- not that he wasn't before that --
but he hasn't let it affect him.

"Since then, I think his attitude towards the game has been
better," Honeycutt added. "He's been looser and has gone about
his business really well. That relationship between him and Grady
continues to grow. They lean on each other. Grady has shown that he
has confidence in Brad, and vice-versa. So that's always a good
thing."

Takashi Saito got four outs for his sixth save in six chances.
He loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth and gave up a
two-run single to Chad Tracy before striking out Conor Jackson with
the tying run on second.

The Diamondbacks have now been swept in a series of three or
more games six times since June 4, including a four-game set
against the New York Mets, and have lost 23 of their last 29
contests. Yet they are only 4 1-2 games out of first place in the
NL West. The Dodgers are tied for the top spot with Colorado and
San Diego at 44-40.

"We've got to start getting the job done," center fielder Eric
Byrnes said. "We're going to have to start playing better
baseball. We have to get back to .500 first, but I don't think that
a team that plays .500 baseball is going to win this division this
year."

The Diamondbacks came into Los Angeles off a three-game sweep at
Oakland, including complete-game victories by Miguel Batista and
All-Star Brandon Webb on Saturday and Sunday. But none of Arizona's
three starting pitchers in this series could record more than four
innings. Juan Cruz, Enrique Gonzalez and Claudio Vargas were
charged with a combined total of 16 runs and 22 hits.

Vargas (7-5) allowed five runs -- three earned -- and seven hits
in four-plus innings. Andre Ethier opened the scoring with a
leadoff homer in the second, driving a 2-1 pitch into the right
field pavilion.

In the third, the Dodgers scored four runs to increase their
lead to 5-0. Penny led off with a double and came home on a one-out
triple by Cesar Izturis. Vargas walked Nomar Garciaparra and J.D.
Drew hit what appeared to be a tailor-made double-play grounder to
second baseman Orlando Hudson, whose throw sailed past shortstop
Damion Easley as Izturis and Drew scored. Hudson's error was his
seventh -- one more than all of last year, when he won his first
Gold Glove.

"I just threw it away," Hudson snapped. "They ended up
getting three runs because of it and we ended up losing by one run.
I lost the game. It was my fault, so I'll take that L. That's the
way baseball goes. We're just going to keep our heads up and keep
grinding."

Ethier was 6-for-12 in the series with a triple, two doubles and
seven RBI. He also prevented a run in the sixth with a sliding
grab of Johnny Estrada's flyball in short left field for the third
out.

Game notes
Injured Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, sidelined indefinitely
because of elbow problems, experienced lower back pain at his home
on Wednesday. He was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital, where he was
examined by Dr. Robert Watkins. ... Arizona RF Shawn Green, who was
hit on the right hip by RHP Danys Baez with two outs in the ninth
inning of Tuesday night's 11-3 loss, did not play because of a bone
bruise. ... Garciaparra extended his hitting streak to 17 games
with a leadoff double in the fifth.