Last night a really cool thing happened in San Diego. Anthony Keith Gwynn returned and led the Padres to a 3-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants. No I didn’t take a flying Delorian back to 1998, this time the Gwynn in question had a “Jr.” appended to his name.
Tony Gwynn Jr. hopped off a plane after being traded from the Brewers in return for Jody Gerut. He suited up and stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter with his hometown team down 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning. He got a raucous standing ovation from the crowd as he dug in, wearing No. 18, one off the retired 19 his pops wore during a Hall of Fame career with the Padres.
With a runner on second and one out, Tony Jr. worked a five pitch walk without even swinging the bat. Giants closer Brian Wilson’s 99-mph fastball and 91-mph slider did not impress the young Gwynn and his patience prevailed. He also failed to be unnerved by Wilson’s hideous white-guy tats and shaved neck-into-a-ponytail look. Seriously, who told Wilson any of those things were a good idea? Probably the same guy who advises UFC fighters on their appearance.
First and second, one out, Edgar Gonzalez to the plate. The older and far less talented Gonzalez has been great for the Padres over the past season and a half. But this time, Fredo struck out looking on a 97-mph fastball on the inner part of the plate.
With two outs, Brian Giles (he of the .160 batting average) stepped into the batter’s box and worked a walk on a 3-2 count after battling back into the at bat.
Bases loaded, two outs for David Eckstein. As if moved by some cosmic force, Wilson’s 97-mph first offering tailed up and in to Eckstein a little further than it should have, nailing the diminutive second baseman just above the elbow. The game was tied on a hit batsman.
Bases still loaded two outs for Scott Hairston, who over his nearly two seasons with the Padres has been money in clutch situations. Things had somehow set up perfectly for the Padres, who hadn’t caught a decent break in going on 20 months – since the aforementioned Gwynn Jr. lined a triple into the right field corner off venerable closer Trevor Hoffman when the Friars were one strike away from heading to the playoffs. That one swing set off a chain of events that put the Padres out of the postseason and set them up for a miserable 2008 season. But back to Thursday night.
Hairston took Wilson’s first offering, a mind-bending back you up slider, for a strike. On the next pitch he reached for a breaking pitch out over the plate and pulled a soft liner to left that dropped perfectly in front of the oncoming Randy Winn. Padres win, 3-2. Crossing the plate with the game clinching run? Anthony Keith Gwynn Jr.
I’m not saying this one move or one game can change the fortunes of an entire franchise. No way, not even close.
What I’m saying is that for one night, for one inning, there was something at work at PetCo Park that Padres fans hadn’t seen in years. Whether real of perceived, there was magic happening right in front of us. A memorable moment (The kid we all watched grow up as his father forged his legacy, returned to where he always should have played) was capped by what seemed like an improbable comeback. For one night it really felt good to be a Padres fan.
Welcome home kid.