Dodgers drop fifth straight
Penny can't protect fifth-inning lead in Brewers opener
MILWAUKEE -- Eric Gagne isn't what he used to be, but then, neither are the Dodgers.
So, while Gagne looked nothing like a Cy Young closer as he scrambled for his first career save against his former team, he was good enough to protect a 5-3 win for the Brewers Tuesday night, as the Dodgers, good enough to win eight straight a couple weeks ago, ran their losing streak to five.
Four of those losses are without shortstop Rafael Furcal and, sure enough, the game found his leadoff spot in the ninth inning, when Juan Pierre came up with the tying runs on base and popped up the first pitch for the last out.
"I didn't breathe for a while," said Gagne, who has 10 saves but has blown five others. "I was just waiting. The way it's been going, you never know. Maybe a bird was going to fly out there or something."
Gagne's ninth inning included a leadoff single by his fellow Canadian and former catcher, Russell Martin, who had three hits.
"It was fun facing him," said Martin. "I always told him I'd get a knock against him. I did."
Two outs later, in an unlikely pinch-hitting appearance, struggling slugger Andruw Jones worked Gagne for a 10-pitch walk in as competitive an at-bat as Jones has had in a long time.
By all accounts in the Dodgers clubhouse, it never should have come down to Pierre's popup. Starter Brad Penny, coming off a 10-run nightmare in his last start, was more effective but unable to protect a 3-1 lead.
"We had the lead," said manager Joe Torre. "Sometimes those one- and two-run leads have to hold up."
Penny committed what Torre called "a backbreaker," walking opposing pitcher, Carlos Villanueva, on four pitches to lead off the fifth inning that turned the game around, as hot-hitting Ryan Braun doubled in two and Prince Fielder singled in Braun. It was Villanueva's first career walk.
"My stuff was better, but I made the crucial mistake of walking the pitcher and that killed me," said Penny, who struck out six with one walk in six innings.
Now Penny is 5-4, with as many losses in mid-May as he had for all of 2007, which he started 13-1. Where Penny fell behind in many counts against the Mets last week, he was ahead in counts Tuesday night, but unable to finish off hitters.
Three of Milwaukee's hits came on 0-2 counts (one of them contributing to a run), two came on two-strike counts, including Mike Cameron's third-inning RBI single and Bill Hall's fourth-inning homer.
"It's just a mistake," Penny said of the hits in out-counts. "Sometimes you're too confident in your stuff and you think you're unhittable."
As for hitting, the Dodgers did a decent job of it over the first four innings against Villanueva, who came into the game 1-4 with a 6.46 ERA. They scored a two-out run in the first on Matt Kemp's double and Jeff Kent's RBI single, Pierre created a run with an infield single and scored on Kemp's single in the third and James Loney tripled and Martin singled him home with no outs in the fourth.
But after Blake DeWitt's single with no outs in the fourth, the Dodgers scratched out only two other hits the rest of the game, both Martin singles. Torre was asked if it all comes down to the loss of Furcal, the club's leading hitter with a .366 average and home run hitter (five) when sidelined.
"He does a lot, but for us to sit here and say that's the reason we're not winning, that's certainly not the case," said Torre. "Don't get me wrong. He's missed. The young kid that's playing [Chin-lung Hu] is doing the best he can. We still need to pitch better."
Torre has received only two quality starts in the past 10 games and the Dodgers squandered one of those on Sunday, when Hiroki Kuroda's one-hitter over 6 2/3 innings turned into a loss.
"Our outfielders certainly don't owe us anything -- Pierre, Kemp and [Andre] Ethier have done well. Raffy was hitting .360, .370. We do miss him. But if we're going to live there and say we can't win without him, we're basically packing up the tent and we can't do that. Is it tough? No question. It just means everybody has to do a little bit more."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.