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As the Dodgers Fade, Gagne Brightens Up

Times Staff Writer

Eric Gagne passed through the subdued Dodger clubhouse Thursday night in a Rolling Stones T-shirt, shorts and sandals. The laid-back look belied his intense desire to regain his dominant form as closer and help the team reclaim a semblance of respectability.

Out since June 13 because of an elbow injury that turned out to be less serious than feared, Gagne is so optimistic after playing catch this week that he plans to participate in the World Baseball Classic for his native Canada in March.

“I haven’t felt this good in a long time,” he said.

If only the rest of the Dodgers were as buoyant.

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They were defeated by the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-4, in 12 innings at Bank One Ballpark on a three-run home run by Alex Cintron, extending their losing streak to six games. Since the first two weeks of the season, the Dodgers have the worst record in the National League.

“We [stunk] this year,” Gagne said. “There is no reason to complain and feel sorry for ourselves. Out of all the negative stuff came some positives. A lot of young players got experience who wouldn’t have otherwise.

“I know Frank McCourt wants to win, and so does Paul DePodesta. They’ll do what it takes in the off-season to improve the team. First, we have to get healthy.”

Expected to require Tommy John surgery for the second time, Gagne was spared when team physicians Frank Jobe and Ralph Gambardella determined during the procedure that he had merely sprained the ulnar collateral ligament.

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Now Gagne is on the fast track to return in time for the World Baseball Classic, a prospect that doesn’t exactly thrill DePodesta and Manager Jim Tracy.

“If it were up to me, rehab-wise and medically he’d have to be completely clean,” Tracy said.

Gagne, who had eight saves this season to give him 160 since 2002, likes the idea of competing for Canada while preparing for the regular season. The tournament will take place during spring training.

“I don’t want to get hurt, but at the same time I want to represent my country,” he said.

The Dodgers come from so many different countries -- the infield at the end of the game consisted of a South Korean at first base, an American at second, a Mexican at shortstop and a Dominican at third -- they might have several representatives in the tournament.

But they also might want to become cohesive wearing blue.

Cintron’s homer came against Duaner Sanchez, who retired the first two batters in the 12th before walking Tony Clark and giving up a single to Shawn Green.

Dodger production came early. Returning to the lineup after a day off because of a sore back, Jeff Kent hit a three-run home run in the first inning, giving him 104 runs batted in and 29 homers. It was his 28th homer as a second baseman, tying Davey Lopes’ franchise record.

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The lead didn’t hold up for long. Jeff Weaver gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly, a single and a home run on consecutive pitches in the third inning and departed after six innings trailing, 4-3. The Dodgers scored in the eighth but left the bases loaded.

Since starting 12-2, the Dodgers (67-85) have won fewer games than any major league team besides Kansas City. Yet they can’t even say they are better than the Royals because they were swept in a three-game series at Kansas City in June.

And the Dodgers could be subjected to a final humiliation -- finishing last in the National League West. They are only four games ahead of Colorado.

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The forearm tightness that caused Brad Penny to leave Wednesday’s game after facing four batters is not believed to be serious and is unrelated to the biceps nerve injury that caused the right-hander problems last season.

Penny is expected to make one more start this season.

“I didn’t want to throw through the [tightness], especially in the position we’re in,” he said. “It wasn’t worth it.”

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DePodesta says he has spoken to injured outfielder Milton Bradley “about his health” but would not speculate on whether Bradley might return.... Odalis Perez is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start Saturday against Pittsburgh. He will be restricted to 45 pitches. Perez, who has been out since Aug. 18 because of a strained ribcage, is also expected to start Thursday against Arizona.... Monty Basgall, a Dodger coach from 1973 to 1986 who mentored the infield of Steve Garvey, Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey, died Thursday in Tucson. He was 83.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Fading away

A look at teams with comparable records to the Dodgers after the first 14 games:

*--* Team First 14 Since Overall Tigers 6-8 61-77 67-85 Mariners 7-7 59-80 66-87 Devil Rays 5-9 59-80 64-89 Rockies 4-10 59-79 63-89 Pirates 4-10 58-81 62-91 Dodgers 12-2 55-83 67-85 Royals* 5-9 47-91 52-100

*--*

* Swept three games from the Dodgers in teams’ only series


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