PITTSBURGH -- Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz. Those are the first three hitters that Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Brad Penny will face on Tuesday night. If he gets through those three, up next are Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez. Penny said it was a "great honor" to be named the National League's starting pitcher for the 77th All-Star Game by manager Phil Garner on Monday. But it can also be a daunting task, considering the sheer firepower being thrown out there by the American League, and the fact that the National League hasn't won this game since 1996.
"It's a tough lineup," Penny admitted. "The American League has a lot of unbelievable hitters. I just have to go out there and make pitches and hope they hit it at someone rather than away from them. He has been in bigger situations before and pitched well. Josh Beckett was the Most Valuable Player of the 2003 World Series because he shut out the Yankees in the sixth and deciding game. But that was his only win of the series. It was Penny who put them in that position by going 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA in his two starts. "If I make my pitches, I can be successful," Penny said. "If I leave the ball over the plate, it could get ugly. I just need to stay focused." The World Series heroics were 2 1/2 years ago. Penny has been through much since then, and being selected as an All-Star starter is the latest mile post to measure how far he has traveled. That Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca is behind the plate adds a certain symmetry to the whole situation. They were integral parts of a trade made almost two years ago, a trade that was almost a disaster for the Dodgers. In fact, it was until this season. On July 30, 2004, Penny, first baseman Hee-Seop Choi and Minor Leaguer Bill Murphy were traded by the Florida Marlins to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Lo Duca, reliever Guillermo Mota and outfielder Juan Encarnacion. Former Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta made the deal because he wanted another starting pitcher, and Penny was a tested veteran of pennant race and playoff pressure. But almost immediately, Penny came down with a damaged nerve in his bicep muscle and pitched just three games for the Dodgers that season. They won their division but with Penny on the sideline, they lost in four games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round.
The injury lingered into 2005, and Penny was 7-9 with a 3.90 ERA in 29 starts."Paul DePodesta stuck his neck out for me," Penny said. "He thought I was the right guy to help the team, and it didn't work out. I felt bad that I got hurt in my second start. The injury was tough. It was hard to sleep at night, but hopefully somewhere DePodesta is smiling right now." DePodesta was replaced by Ned Colletti in the offseason. But the Dodgers have had plenty of reason to smile when Penny takes the mound. He comes into the All-Star Game with a record of 10-2 and a 2.91 ERA, the third lowest in the league. Only St. Louis' Jason Marquis and Tom Glavine of the New York Mets have more victories. "He has pitched this year like we expected," said former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, now special advisor to the chairman. "He's a bulldog. He pitches his heart out and has had a great year." With Penny leading the way, the Dodgers are fifth in the National League in pitching and in second place in the NL West, two games behind the San Diego Padres. "Ned Colletti has done a great job putting this team together," Penny said. "We have the talent to win this division. We should win it, and if we don't, we will be disappointed." Penny is the first Dodgers pitcher to start the All-Star Game since Hideo Nomo in 1995. "It will be exciting for me," Penny said. "I'm sure the nerves will be flowing, but I'm going to go out and have fun, make my pitches and do the best I can."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.