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Martin in middle of good stuff

Times Staff Writer

Good signs for the Dodgers include Russell Martin batting with runners on base, Russell Martin dashing around the bases and Russell Martin sliding on his belly.

Also, Russell Martin standing at first base, surrounded by 49 other players and various coaches, cross words flying and the competitive nature of the Dodgers’ youthful catcher rubbing off on his teammates.

One night after his home run was the difference in a victory, Martin again had the key hit, smacking a three-run double in the first inning as the Dodgers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, 5-1, Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.

The early lead was plenty for Brad Penny, who showed that giving up eight runs to the Angels five days earlier was an anomaly by tossing seven scoreless innings on an obscure holiday known as “Lucky Penny Day.”

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After 10 starts, Penny (6-1) has better numbers than last season when he pitched so well early that he started the All-Star game. He has one more victory than at this time last year and his earned-run average of 2.26 is slightly lower.

“We got the runs early and that made it a lot easier for me,” Penny said.

Not that the Dodgers sat on their 4-0 first-inning cushion.

Everyone in the dugout and bullpen charged onto the field in the fifth after a sequence that had Martin circling the bases after an apparent home run, returning to the plate when umpires changed the call to a foul ball, ducking under a pitch near his head, trotting to first base with a walk, and stepping between first-base coach Mariano Duncan and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder.

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Duncan took exception to the pitch from Carlos Villanueva that nearly beaned Martin and exchanged words with someone in the Brewers dugout. Fielder verbally blasted Duncan and within seconds players congregated around them.

“I know he’s got better command than that, so if he was trying to hit me he would have hit me,” Martin said. “It was the difference between throwing at you and making a statement, I guess.”

No punches were thrown, but the confrontation served as notice that the Dodgers will not put up with any headhunting involving their prize second-year catcher.

“From our viewpoint, we interpreted it as not too good,” Manager Grady Little said.

“Any player is valuable, but [Martin] may be a degree more valuable than most folks.”

Other folks set the table for Martin. Rafael Furcal, back in the leadoff spot, led off the first with a single and Juan Pierre followed with a grounder to third base that became a single when Tony Graffanino took too long to throw the ball.

Jeff Kent was hit by a pitch with one out, bringing up Martin, who improved to three for five with 11 runs batted in with the bases loaded by blasting a double to right-center. Martin advanced to third on a throw to the plate and scored on the first of three hits by Luis Gonzalez.

Martin padded the Dodgers’ lead to 5-0 in seventh with a sacrifice fly, giving him four RBIs for the first time in his career. Little likes his team’s chances when a game turns on Martin’s performance.

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“The only way it’s not a good sign is if he’s the only one in the middle of the action,” he said.

With Penny dominating on the mound and enough other Dodgers chipping in, Martin had help. And he’ll only get better.

“Russell is going to be OK in five or six years,” Little said facetiously. “Isn’t he?”

For now, Martin was grateful his teammates came to his aid.

“It felt great,” he said. “We are a team and we’re going to stick together.”

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steve.henson@latimes.com


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