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Sunday yard work

Times Staff Writer

Grady Little was already in the clubhouse when Brad Penny came up from the dugout in the middle of the seventh inning Sunday.

“He told me when he came in the door, ‘We’re going to win the game,’ ” Little said. “And that’s what happened.”

But you couldn’t have blamed the Dodgers manager if he figured his star pitcher should be checked for dementia as well as the queasy stomach that has been bothering him the last week. Because if there ever were a game the Dodgers seemed sure to lose, this was it. Consider what had happened by the time of Penny’s pronouncement:

* Penny, their starting pitcher, threw up in the dugout before the game, then went out and gave up his first two homers of the season.

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* Little, their even-keeled manager, blew a gasket in the fourth inning after a close play at the plate, earning an ejection after jabbing both index fingers toward umpire Bill Welke’s chest.

* And the Dodgers hitters struggled against Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny, who held them to three hits through six shutout innings, running L.A.'s scoring drought to 13 consecutive innings.

Yet by the time it was over the Dodgers had proved Penny a prophet, rallying for a 5-4 win -- their eighth in 11 games -- to retain their share of first place in the National League West.

“I had a feeling we would” win, Penny said. “I was hoping anyway. I’m not a psychic or anything, but the attitude of the guys, they didn’t give up. I had a feeling we were going to win.”

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And in overcoming such long odds to overcome the Pirates, the Dodgers might have won more than just another ballgame.

“I just like the fact that we didn’t give up, we battled back,” said Nomar Garciaparra, whose seventh-inning single pulled the Dodgers to within a run. “It says a lot about this team, the character of this team. Guys aren’t giving up.”

Andre Ethier, whose eighth-inning home run proved to be the game-winner, added of his teammates: “They keep their cool. No one’s getting antsy, no one’s getting jumpy. We believe in each other.”

Still, that faith was tested early Sunday when the Pirates pounded Penny for nine hits in six innings, the most he has given up in nearly two months. Two of those hits were mammoth home runs by Adam LaRoche and Jason Bay, the first homers Penny has given up since September.

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Trailing 4-0, the Dodgers started their comeback in the seventh, chasing Gorzelanny and scoring three times while batting around. Martin started that rally with a single, then opened the eighth with another hit before Ethier hit his fifth homer of the season on the first pitch he saw from reliever Salomon Torres (0-2).

The Dodgers’ mettle was tested one more time in the ninth when closer Takashi Saito limped off the field with a tight left hamstring with one out and the tying run at first. But left-hander Joe Beimel came on to retire Jose Bautista on a fly ball. Then, after a wild pitch moved the tying run into scoring position, he got Jose Castillo to ground out after a 10-pitch battle for his first save this season.

“It’s a nice game to win when the guys come back like that,” Penny said. “It’s huge.”

Saito, who complained of a tight hamstring while warming up in the bullpen, will be reexamined today but could sit out a couple of games. Little hinted Jonathan Broxton will probably finish games in his absence.

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After watching the Dodgers’ bullpen hold his team to a run -- while striking out 17 -- in 10 1/3 innings in the series, LaRoche isn’t convinced the Dodgers will miss their closer.

“You think every one of those guys is their closer,” he said.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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