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A Sweet Rally Comes With Nasty Aftertaste

Times Staff Writer

It was supposed to be all about Brad Penny, who was making his first start in South Florida in opposing colors.

It should have been about Hee-Seop Choi, who was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle.

Instead, the Dodgers’ come-from-behind 11-6 victory over the Florida Marlins at Dolphins Stadium on Saturday night was overshadowed by an in-game confrontation between Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent.

After emerging from a lengthy postgame meeting with Manager Jim Tracy, Bradley spoke with reporters, who were kept out of the clubhouse for more than 20 minutes after the final out. Toward the end of the question-and-answer session, Bradley had tears in his eyes.

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“As long as I’m black, I’m fine,” Bradley said. “I have a life besides baseball. I play because I can, whether I get to the Hall of Fame, or whether I don’t.”

Bradley, who participated in anger management counseling after incidents last season, when he was twice suspended and spent three days in jail for obstruction of a police officer, intimated that his style of play was called into question as was his progress in controlling his temper.

“Anybody who’s willing to stand between me getting there needs to be eliminated,” said Bradley, who has not been ejected from a game this season. “Something needs to get done.

“I’m not going to revert back to the person I was last year or the year before. I’m not going to look like an ass on TV every day. I started getting respect because I earned it.

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“I’m a person of belief, of convictions, morals. I don’t have an enemy in the world.”

In the seventh inning, with the Dodgers trailing, Bradley failed to score from first base on Kent’s double into the gap in right-center field. The hit tied the score, 6-6, but Bradley’s scoring would have given the Dodgers the lead and Kent, who joined the Dodgers as a free agent on Dec. 9, his team-leading 84th run batted in.

“For some people, all their life is baseball,” said Bradley, who never mentioned Kent by name. “All they care about is how many hits they get, how many runs they drive in and how many plays they make. They’re just looking for a plaque.

“I love baseball to death, but it’s not my life. My life is working to put food on the table for my wife and my son, coming in December.... You can read between the lines and see who’s had problems with teammates; never me.”

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While with the San Francisco Giants, Kent had a well-publicized feud with Barry Bonds, the two once engaging in a dugout choking match.

Bradley, tears welling in his eyes, surveyed the emptying clubhouse and the reporters surrounding his locker.

“Look around, there’s only one of me,” he said, apparently referring to his being African American. “I’ve got to have my own back.”

Kent had left the clubhouse before Bradley came out of Tracy’s office and was unavailable for comment.

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Tracy, meanwhile, said his meeting with Bradley was “internal” and would not discuss the particulars.

Said Bradley: “That’s my pops. My dad was never around for me. I had something to say to Trace, I went in there. I’m trying to become a good man like that.”

Dodger starter Brad Penny was probably relieved that the game was not broadcast in the Southland as the burly right-hander was roughed up by his former teammates.

Penny gave up six runs and six hits in five innings.

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“I was just wild,” said Penny, who, with Choi, was part of the six-player trade last year that sent Paul Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion to Florida. “Everything was over the plate.”

Choi, meanwhile, singled in the first, tripled in the third, doubled in the fifth, was hit in the right knee by a Ron Villone pitch in the seventh and hit a sacrifice fly to left in the eighth. A homer would have made him the first Dodger since Wes Parker on May 7, 1970, to get the cycle.

"[Hitting] a home run is a tough time,” said Choi, who scored three runs, drove in two and is now batting .342 in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. “I like the fans here. I wanted to play in Florida and Trace gave me a chance.”

After demoted closer Yhency Brazoban loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, Tracy summoned newly installed closer Duaner Sanchez to face No. 3 hitter Miguel Cabrera, who earlier had hit a homer off the upper deck, 423 feet away.

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Sanchez got Cabrera to bounce into a game-ending double play and the third-place Dodgers (56-66) remained five games behind San Diego in the National League West.

“We battled, had some big hits up and down the lineup,” Tracy said. “It turned out extremely well.”

Now, it appears, the Dodger clubhouse chemistry will be put to the test.


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