Penny keeps his cool in the storm
[ mound, the spiked resin bag, Penny reacting to his hanging curveball and lousy luck with his usual . . . Calm? Was I seeing that right? Did Brad Penny really casually pull off his cap, slick back his sweaty hair, replace his cap, and casually retire the next three batters on 11 pitches?
Did Penny really begin his most unfortunate game of the season Friday with the class and grace of, dare I say it, a staff ace? Believe it. Because that’s also the way Penny ended it five innings later, walking off the Angel Stadium mound with his head up and eyes forward after being chipped and cut and sawed and downright betrayed in the Dodgers’ 9-1 loss to the Angels.
Penny entered the game as the National League’s best pitcher, and the Dodgers’ hottest starting pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1988.
He left it after giving up eight earned runs in five-plus innings, and you know something?
His reputation only got better.
He entered it as the league’s only unbeaten pitcher with at least five wins, and ended with his first loss, and guess what?
This will be one of his starts that people remember.
What will beat Brad Penny in the pressure games of autumn is not the sort of strange bloops and odd Dodgers errors that beat him on this spring night.
What will beat Brad Penny is Brad Penny, and yet Friday, in his first real opportunity to blow up this year, that didn’t happen.
Those shoulders stayed upright, and that only means good things for a team that will spend the rest of the summer hanging on them.
“Brad Penny is pitching now,” said Manager Grady Little, obviously pleased that his prodigal arm is no longer pouting or whining or blaming.
Often after a game like this, the beaten starting pitcher is the last player to address the media.
On Friday, Penny was the first player to address the media, waiting mere steps from the visiting clubhouse door, present and accountable.
“These guys have played great behind me the whole year. I made a lot more mistakes than they did,” he said.
OK, so he was wearing the usual camouflage T-shirt and backward cap, but this was a different Brad Penny.
“I’ve just got to go back out there in five days and try again,” he said.
He could have blamed part of the loss on three Dodgers errors, which gives them 33 for the season, more than all other National League teams but the sorry Washington Nationals.
But instead, he blamed it on his two walks that both scored, and on Gary Matthews Jr.’s grounder up the middle that bounced off his hand to lead off the sixth inning.
“Those things killed me,” he said.
With the Angels leading 3-1 in the sixth, Matthews’ knock was the start of four consecutive hits against Penny. But one went through the infield, another bounced off the top of Nomar Garciaparra’s glove at first, and Andy LaRoche dropped a throw at third base for an error.
Out came Little, who stood directly in front of Penny for a discussion, and the pitcher didn’t growl, didn’t look away, didn’t even wince. More important, he had thrown 83 pitches and the night was clearly beyond saving, yet Penny also did not ask to come out of the game.
“Brad kept himself under control very well,” Little said. “That’s what we’re dealing with this year. A pitcher who had done that since day one of the season. We’re awfully proud of him for that.”
So he stayed, and gave up a single up the middle to Mike Napoli to score another run, and here came Little again, and finally Penny was done.
Then, and only then, did Penny throw the rosin bag down.
But he took a big breath, calmly handed the ball to Little, and walked off looking at the scoreboard that would soon turn against him even more.
The final line: eight earned runs on eight hits.
The final damage: He gave up exactly as many earned runs in one game as he had in his previous eight starts this season combined. The final expression: None. A Penny for his thoughts? “ Ommmmmm.”
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/ plaschke.