Penny keeps his cool in the storm

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - SATUR­DAY, MAY 19, 2007

[ 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 bill.plaschke@la­times.com. To read pre­vi­ous col­umns by Plaschke, go to la­times.com/ plaschke.

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