Wil­lits again plays a lead­ing role in win

Los Angeles Times - - Sports -

[ nant but min­i­mized sev­eral threats while pitch­ing six strong in­nings to earn his first vic­tory since April 22 be­fore an ap­pre­cia­tive crowd of 44,342, the largest at An­gel Sta­dium since 1998.

The An­gels won the in­ter­league bat­tle be­tween di­vi­sion lead­ers known for dom­i­nant pitch­ing and in­con­sis­tent hit­ting with some sta­tionto-sta­tion of­fense run amok. They scored nine runs with the ben­e­fit of only three ex­tra-base hits — all dou­bles — and an­other break­out ef­fort from Reg­gie Wil­lits.

The lead­off hit­ter con­tin­ued his push to hold on to the left fielder’s job by col­lect­ing two hits and two runs bat­ted in. He also scored the An­gels’ first two runs off Penny (5-1), who failed in his bid to be­come the first Dodgers starter to open a sea­son 6-0 since Kazuhisa Ishii won his first six starts in 2002.

“I don’t know if you can put it on one guy with the way we’ve been swing­ing the bats, but what he has done in the lead­off spot, es­pe­cially the last 10 games, has been ter­rific,” An­gels Man­ager Mike Scios­cia said of Wil­lits, who has nine multi-hit games and is bat­ting .371. “He’s been the cat­a­lyst of ev­ery­thing.”

The An­gels broke open a taut game with a five-run sixth in­ning that fea­tured a two-run sin­gle by Wil­lits, run-scor­ing sin­gles by Maicer Iz­turis and Mike Napoli, and an RBI dou­ble by Shea Hil­len­brand — only his fourth ex­tra-base hit of the sea­son.

“Not re­ally any hard-hit balls,” Penny said. “They just went through the holes to­day.”

Penny ex­ited his worst out­ing of the sea­son with two on and no­body out in the sixth. He gave up eight hits and eight runs in five-plus in­nings, and his ERA nearly dou­bled from 1.39 to 2.54. The eight earned runs were as many as Penny had given up in his first eight starts com­bined.

Santana (3-5) im­proved to 3-1 at home af­ter giv­ing up only one run, on Rus­sell Martin’s dou­ble to left-cen­ter in the fourth, and con­tin­u­ally work- ing out of jams, in­clud­ing one with run­ners on first and third and no­body out in the fifth.

The mess was pre­cip­i­tated by a bizarre de­fen­sive gaffe by third base­man Chone Fig­gins that brought both man­agers out of their re­spec­tive dugouts.

Andy LaRoche’s grounder nicked off Fig­gins’ glove and rolled into foul ter­ri­tory. Fig­gins went to re­trieve the ball but dropped it and it rolled into the pho­tog­ra­phers’ well, prompt­ing the um­pires to award LaRoche third base on a play that was scored as a dou­ble and an er­ror.

Scios­cia raced onto the field to protest the call and Dodgers coun­ter­part Grady Lit­tle soon fol­lowed to join a sep­a­rate dis­cus­sion with um­pires.

Santana promptly ren­dered moot Fig­gins’ fourth er­ror in 17 games since re­turn­ing from the dis­abled list. He walked Rafael Fur­cal but got Juan Pierre to line out to sec­ond base­man Iz­turis and struck out No­mar Gar­ci­a­parra look­ing at a 92-mph fast­ball that Gar­ci­a­parra ar­gued was out of the strike zone.

Jeff Kent also took is­sue with home plate um­pire Ron Kulpa’s strike zone af­ter a called strike brought the count to 2-and-2. As ten­sions threat­ened to es­ca­late, Lit­tle trot­ted to­ward home plate for a brief dis­cus­sion with Kulpa and Kent, who popped out to short­stop Or­lando Cabr­era on the next pitch to end the in­ning.

“He was all over the place,” Kent said of Santana. “The catcher would set up out, he would throw in. But he was miss­ing on the good side. He was dif­fi­cult to pat­tern.”

Said Scios­cia: “His stuff tonight was a notch above any­thing we’ve seen in his last four or five starts. What we saw tonight just reaf­firms that the stuff is there.”

ben.bolch@la­times.com

Lori She­p­ler Los An­ge­les Times

YOU CAN’T WIN: The Dodgers’ No­mar Gar­ci­a­parra ar­gues with plate um­pire Ron Kulpa, who’d called him out on strikes in the fifth in­ning.

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