LOS ANGELES // As he strolled to the bullpen for his pre-game warm-up, Brad Penny - who left the Los Angeles Dodgers on poor terms after last season - was roundly booed by the fans who arrived early at Dodger Stadium. But that was nothing compared with the ugly reception that awaited the San Francisco Giants pitcher once the game began on Saturday.
Ronnie Belliard tagged Penny for a grand slam in the first inning, and Matt Kemp and James Loney later added solo home runs against the right-hander on consecutive pitches in the third inning as the Dodgers routed the Giants 12-1. At the same time, the Dodgers starter Jon Garland - another late-season acquisition - held the Giants to one unearned run and seven hits in eight innings. "It's a breath of fresh air when they go out and put up five in the first," Garland said.
"We got Jon a lead and he knew what to do with it," the Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "That was a great game for us and our bullpen." The Dodgers lowered their magic number to nine for the National League (NL) West title and down to six for a play-off spot. Saturday's win in front of 52,438 gave the Dodgers a split of the first two games of their three-game series. Garland said that although he enjoyed an early lead, "you can't change your approach. I didn't change it, I went out there and continued to attack."
So did the Dodgers' batters starting with Belliard, who hit a 1-2 pitch from Penny into the Dodgers' left-field bullpen for the fourth slam of his career. "I was looking for a pitch to hit, I guess he threw a fastball inside and I reacted to it," said Belliard, a veteran infielder acquired from the Washington Nationals. Actually, Penny said afterward that "it was a change-up that I left way up and in. I got beat on bad pitches. I beat myself." Penny was making his fourth start with the Giants after arriving from the Boston Red Sox. He played with the Dodgers in 2004-08, and he was booed again when he walked off the diamond after surviving only two and two-thirds innings.
"You can't get down seven runs in a situation like this in September," said Penny, who had beaten the Dodgers a week earlier in San Francisco. Belliard's blast quickly erased any effects of Manny Ramirez's blunder in the first inning, when Giants lead-off hitter Eugenio Velez hit a fly ball that the left-fielder should have caught but that bounced off his glove. Velez later scored on a sacrifice fly by Randy Winn.
The Dodgers' scoring in the first inning began with Loney's single to drive in Rafael Furcal and tie the score, 1-1. Casey Blake then walked to load the bases and Belliard hit his grand slam. The Dodgers added two runs in the fifth inning, one in the sixth and two in the seventh, including a pinch-hit solo home run by Blake DeWitt, who was recently called up from triple-A Albuquerque. In other NL action, Colorado stayed clear of San Francisco at the top of the wild card table thanks to a ninth-inning surge on the way to a 10-4 win away to struggling Arizona. Atlanta held off a late rally from division leaders Philadelphia to win 6-4 and stay in the thick of the wild card race.
St Louis' 2-1 win at home to the Chicago Cubs kept them clear of those same opponents at the top of the Central table. Florida kept up their wild card chase with a 3-2 win at Cincinnati. San Diego won 2-1 at Pittsburgh, and back-to-form New York Mets' 3-2 verdict at home to Washington was similarly inconsequential. Milwaukee won their all-Central affair 7-2 at home to Houston. The Texas Rangers will need to build quickly on their 3-2 win at home to West leaders Los Angeles if it is to prove significant. Boston kept their wild card stranglehold with an 11-5 success away to East strugglers Baltimore.
New York Yankees' trip west to Seattle paid more dividends with a 10-1 victory which keeps them well clear of Boston in the East standings. It was payback time for Chicago White Sox, who made a mockery of their 11-0 defeat to Kansas City the previous day by dismissing the Royals 13-3 this time. Tampa Bay and Toronto have only pride to play for, and it was the Rays who enhanced theirs with a 4-0 victory in the East.Oakland continued their recent revival with an 8-4 win at home to Cleveland.
* With agencies