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Dodgers get night in the driver’s seat

Times Staff Writer

If there was a time for the Dodgers to humble their tormentor, this was it, in the 147th game of the season, with the division title still (barely) within reach.

The Dodgers drove Doug Davis out of the game only 4 2/3 innings into Friday night’s series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium, pounding him for six runs and nine hits.

The offensive output was enough to give the Dodgers a 7-4 victory on a night when staff ace Brad Penny was far from his best.

Takashi Saito picked up his 39th save as the Dodgers moved to within 4 1/2 games of the Diamondbacks in the National League West, a race they appeared to be all but out of not so long ago.

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And Davis was hardly the man the Dodgers wanted to see standing on the mound Friday. In 30 career innings against them, he hadn’t been charged with a single earned run. His last start in Los Angeles was a 96-pitch masterpiece, in which he blanked them over eight innings and won, 1-0.

Davis had won seven of his last eight decisions.

“The guy changes speed,” Dodgers Manager Grady Little said before the game. “When he’s in the strike zone, he’s tough. He’s a veteran pitcher. He exposes any weaknesses that you have.”

But, Little noted, “Today’s another day.”

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That much was evident in the first inning, when James Loney doubled into the left-field corner to drive in Rafael Furcal.

The Dodgers put up another run in the fourth when Russell Martin singled in Jeff Kent to tie the score 2-2, but blew a chance to take the lead. They had the bases loaded, only to see Andre Ethier line out to first, Penny strike out and Furcal ground out to third. The Dodgers’ big inning came in the fifth, when they put up four runs and forced Diamondbacks Manager Bob Melvin to pull Davis.

Nomar Garciaparra, who hadn’t played in two games, hit a bases-empty home run. Matt Kemp tripled to drive in Martin and scored on a single by Ethier.

The resulting 6-4 lead didn’t look safe, the way Penny was struggling.

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He started the game by loading the bases and walked in a run with one out. Penny managed to minimize the damage by striking out Chris Young and Stephen Drew.

Penny gave up a run in the fourth and two more in the fifth on a home run by Mark Reynolds.

Penny’s last start was the subject of debate, as he was pulled a batter into the eighth inning of an eventual loss to the San Francisco Giants. Penny had only thrown 82 pitches, his lowest total of the season.

But Penny defended Little this week, saying Little told him in advance that he would be pulled when he let a runner get on base, which, in this case, turned out to be a double to Kevin Frandsen.

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“The managers are always going to take the fall because of the money the players are making,” Penny said. “You can’t fire 25 guys, you can’t blame 25 guys. This is my eighth year, I’ve had six different managers. And the teams that were good won, the teams that weren’t lost and it had nothing to do with who was managing.”

Penny recalled how, when he was part of the Florida Marlins team that won the 2003 World Series, Manager Jack McKeon often relied on instinct to make decisions.

“He went with gut feeling,” Penny said. “If we had lost, people would’ve blamed him for everything.”

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com


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