Bats back Penny as Dodgers sweep

Penny, Dodgers sweep Mets

LOS ANGELES -- Now that the Dodgers have pulled off a three-game sweep of the Mets, they need to work on the timing. It's much better done in October.

The sweep they completed on Wednesday night with a 9-1 rout didn't undo last year's playoff wipeout, but it did allow the Dodgers to cling to a share of first place and marked their first three-game sweep of the Mets in Los Angeles since 1996.

"I'll always remember getting swept in the playoffs last year," said catcher Russell Martin. "I'll always try extra hard when I'm playing the Mets. There's a little bit of revenge, and it's not really over yet. This sweep isn't like their sweep. Nobody here has forgotten that. It's always good to beat the Mets."

A lot of people are doing it lately, as New York has lost nine of its last 10. Brad Penny did the beating in this game, a welcome reversal from the 3-10 career mark against the Mets that he brought into this start.

He struck out seven in seven innings without a walk. His 8-1 start to the season is the best of his career, he's tied for second in the league in victories and his ERA is 2.18. He's actually ahead of last year's pace, when he went 10-2 in the first half and started the All-Star Game.

He didn't slug any homers or flip any bats like Hong-Chih Kuo the night before, but Penny matched Kuo's one run allowed in seven innings and, for good measure, lectured Shawn Green on cheating, accusing his former teammate of tipping off hitters on pitch location while leading off second base.

Dodgers' hitters, meanwhile, looked like they were stealing signs all night. Wilson Betemit slugged his second homer in as many nights, a solo shot off Jorge Sosa. James Loney, a defensive replacement for Nomar Garciaparra in the top of the eighth inning, homered in the bottom of the inning off left-handed closer Billy Wagner. Rafael Furcal tripled twice, and Matt Kemp had three hits. Kemp is now 13-for-28 in 11 Major League games this year.

"We've got a lot of good players, and we've got plenty of playing time for all of them," said manager Grady Little. "We like our club. We feel good about the way we're playing."

Betemit also singled in a run, scored twice and seems to have reclaimed the starting third-base job he lost a month ago. He's 6-for-12 on the homestand and has started three of the last four games at third after yielding the position at times to Andy LaRoche, Tony Abreu, Wilson Valdez and Ramon Martinez.

"The manager makes that decision," he said. "Tony is a good hitter, LaRoche is, too. But I know it's hard, you try to do too much. You think you have to hit every at-bat, and if you don't, something's going to happen.

"For me, with the Braves, everybody there knows me and they know I can hit. I get traded here, and nobody knows me. Maybe I try too hard to show them. But when I didn't play, I didn't get mad. I still know I can hit. I'm not saying 50 homers and .350, but I can hit."

As for the Penny-Green flap, it was there for all to see when Penny struck out Green to end the top of the third inning, but its origin was the first inning. Green had doubled and with two out, David Wright laced a 2-0 fastball on the outside part of the plate to right field for an RBI single.

Nothing was said at the time, but when Green came up in the third, Penny's fastball jumped two miles an hour faster until he hit 97 mph on the strikeout pitch. As Green bent over to remove his shin guard while still in the batter's box, Penny walked off the mound and, instead of heading toward his dugout, moved with a purpose, stopping two feet away from Green. There wasn't much of an exchange, maybe 10 seconds worth with Penny doing the talking. But from the facial expressions, Penny was stern and Green appeared surprised.

"I was a little mad at the time," said Penny. "[Green] was giving pitch location to the hitter from second base in the first inning. When you do that, and you have a reputation for doing that, people are watching you and you take a chance of getting yourself or your team where you shouldn't be."

"I was working on my shin guard, and there he was," said Green. "He said I was giving location of pitches from second base, which wasn't true. A little bit of paranoia on their side. If you think someone is stealing signs, you change the signs. It's that simple."

There is no official rule preventing sign stealing, but it does break unwritten baseball etiquette. It often is policed by brush-back pitches, but Penny decided to do it face to face. When Penny came to bat in the bottom of the third, plate umpire Gary Darling said a few words to Penny and Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca, but Darling would not discuss it when requested by reporters after the game.

So, file it away, because these teams meet again in Los Angeles in July and for a third time in New York in August. After a day off on Thursday, the Dodgers open a three-game series with the Angels at home.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.