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06/01/05 1:30 AM ET

Dodgers fall despite Penny's gem

Starter goes eight strong; LA offense held to one hit

LOS ANGELES -- Brad Penny and the Dodgers have started talking contract, but he made his best argument on the mound Tuesday night.

The Dodgers lost to the Cubs in 10 innings, 2-1, but Penny had what manager Jim Tracy called the righty's best start of the season, far and away.

"You couldn't ask him to do more than he did," said Tracy. "That resembled his first start of last year for us when he shut out Pittsburgh [for eight innings]."

Penny became the first Dodgers starter in six weeks to pitch eight innings, allowing only one run on six hits with three strikeouts and no walks. All it got him was a third consecutive no-decision -- during which he has a 1.61 ERA.

Penny wasn't complaining about the lack of run support. He's now not only healthy, but a workhorse in a shaky rotation, and he'd like to remain there for a while.

"I love L.A. and would love to get something done, but the further along we get in the season, the more I'll lean toward going free agent," said Penny, who is earning $5.1 million this year.

That Penny even has a future is a sign of how far and how fast he has come since the serious arm nerve injury suffered last August that put him on the disabled list for the first three weeks of this season. In this game, he made 108 pitches, with a fastball as high as 95 mph.

"When I got in a jam in the sixth inning, I was able to reach back and it was nice to see I had something extra there," said Penny. "I felt I was able to get more done with less pitches tonight."

The only Cubs run he allowed scored on a second-inning groundout by former Dodgers catcher Henry Blanco that scored Aramis Ramirez, although the key at-bat in the inning was a double by rookie Jason Dubois.

"It was a bad pitch, a 2-0 fastball, and it cost me a run," said Penny. "I needed to focus a little harder."

Only because his opponent was Carlos Zambrano, who was even better in his eight innings, allowing only one hit, a bloop RBI double by Cesar Izturis that spent a lot of time in the air before falling amongst three Cubs fielders. The blooper scored Hee-Seop Choi, who shouldn't have been on base, reaching on a passed ball after striking out.

That's what it took for the Dodgers to score even once.

Meanwhile, the back of the Los Angeles bullpen still hasn't seemed to fully recover from the injury that sidelined Eric Gagne for the first six weeks. Gagne, his fastball still a few ticks slower than normal, followed Penny and nearly gave up the game, needing 24 pitches to escape a first-and-third jam unscathed with a pair of strikeouts.

Penny on the hill
Chi Cubs at LA Dodgers, May 31, 2005
Brad Penny didn't pick up a decision, but he turned in eight spectacular innings of work, his most since his eight-inning Dodgers debut on Aug. 3, 2004 (a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh). His line:
Key numbers for Penny:
Pitches-strikes: 109-74; Groundouts-flyouts: 11-9;
Season strikeouts-walks: 26-7; WHIP: 1.10

Yhency Brazoban wasn't as fortunate. He allowed a pinch-hit single to Michael Barrett leading off the 10th, a sacrifice bunt by former Dodger Todd Hollandsworth, then Neifi Perez sliced a single to left field. Hollandsworth froze halfway between second and third to see if the ball would drop and might have had to stop at third, except the ball glanced off left fielder Ricky Ledee's glove for an error and he scored the tie-breaking run easily.

The Dodgers had one last chance to tie when Antonio Perez was beaned (and was unhurt) by Ryan Dempster's 88-mph pitch, and was bunted to second by Choi. But catcher Mike Rose, making his first Major League start, flied out and pinch-hitter Olmedo Saenz grounded out.

The loss means the Dodgers finished May with an 11-17 mark, matching the worst record for the month in franchise history.

Penny said his lack of run support will turn around, and that he wasn't worried that the club had slipped 6 1/2 games behind San Diego, after never being more than 3 1/2 games out last year. He knows what can happen, having ridden the Marlins roller coaster in 2003, when they trailed by as many as 15 games but still won the World Series.

"We were 10 games under [.500] and had a 20-game swing," he said, "so anything can happen. We play the Padres a lot, too."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.