Today, Tony Gwynn would have turned 60 years old, but sadly we lost him back in 2014. In appreciation of one of the best hitters of my lifetime, here’s a collection of Gwynn’s best performances against the Dodgers.
Inside the park grand slam
In a 4-4 tie with the bases loaded in the seventh inning against Mark Guthrie on June 26, 1997, Gwynn lined a ball to left field, Brett Butler made an ill-fate dive and missed:
The ball got by Butler, and by the time center fielder Roger Cedeño tracked it down, Gwynn was rounding third base, and scored for what remains the only inside-the-park grand slam in Dodger Stadium history.
Butler hurt his shoulder and neck on the dive, and laid on the field in pain during and after the play. But he didn’t miss any time, though he was limited to pinch-running and pinch-hitting duty the next two games. This was the last of Butler’s 17 major league seasons, and as Chris Baker’s game recap in the LA Times pointed out, it was Butler’s first start in left field since 1983. His only time at the position was the four games immediately preceding this one, totaling seven innings in left after starting those games in center.
Gwynn was 2-for-4 in that grand slam game, which was fitting for the time. He hit .330/.396/.445 against the Dodgers in his career, which is great, but also basically the same as his career line of .338/.388/.459.
But from 1993-97, Gwynn won his final four (of eight!) batting titles, and in the season he didn’t lead the league he hit .358. Gwynn eviscerated the Dodgers in those five years, hitting .420/.480/.627 in 223 plate appearances. That included hitting .514 (18-for-35) against the Dodgers in 1994, the strike-shortened season that ended with Gwynn hitting .394, the best batting average since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.
Gwynn’s 12 RBI against LA in 1997 were his most against them in any season.
All over the place
Gwynn’s highest win probability added in any single game against the Dodgers came on June 21, 1986 at Dodger Stadium, a wild extra-inning game the Padres won 8-7.
Gwynn was in the middle of everything going 4-for-6, with all four of his hits coming in the seventh inning and later. Down 5-0, he singled in a three-run rally in the seventh, singled and scored the tying run in the ninth, singled and scored the go-ahead run in the ninth, and singled to advance the game-winning rally in the 14th.
Gwynn was 9-for-15 (.600) in the series, and the former San Diego State basketball player had a triple, double during the weekend.
“Gwynn, with two strikes, he’s unbelievable,” Lasorda told Dan McLean of the Daily Breeze. “You make a good pitch on him and he fouls it off and when you make a bad pitch on him, he hits it.”
Last inning of the month
We talk a lot about Fernando Valenzuela’s April (and May) 1981, and for good reason. That was Fernandomania, when the rookie took baseball by storm with five shutouts and eight wins in his first eight major league starts. But Valenzuela had another sublime April, too. This was in 1985, though you wouldn’t know it by his record.
On April 28, the Dodgers hosted the Padres on a Sunday afternoon, and Valenzuela carried into the game a 0.00 ERA, but a 2-2 record thanks to the Dodgers scoring once in three of his four starts. He allowed two runs in two different starts, but all four runs were unearned.
This game was scoreless as well into the ninth, and Valenzuela had 10 strikeouts. He set a major league record with 41 consecutive innings without an earned run to start a season. But his second batter faced in the ninth inning was Gwynn, who homered to right field to give the Padres a 1-0 win.
It was the second hit of the game allowed by Valenzuela, who finished April with a 0.21 ERA and a 2-3 record.
It was the first of 10 career home runs at Dodger Stadium for Gwynn, and the culmination of quite a week for Gwynn against the Dodgers. From Gordon Edes in the LA Times:
“You feel bad in that situation because you made a mistake,” he said. “Scioscia asked me to pitch Gwynn differently and I didn’t. I made a mistake, and I paid for it.”
Gwynn, who in the span of a week also broke up two no-hit bids by Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers, hit Valenzuela’s first pitch in the ninth into the seats in right-center field.
“I guessed fastball and I figured if he threw it, I’d go for the home run,” Gwynn said. “You try to hit a home run and 999 times out of a thousand you don’t do it. This time it happened.”
Hello, San Diego
On June 11, 1993, I made my first visit to San Diego. It was the last day of my junior year of high school, so with my friends Tom and Scott we made the two-hour drive from Palm Springs on a Friday, and bought tickets in the loge section of Jack Murphy Stadium.
This was the second game of a four-game weekend series, and there was buzz in the stadium because the day before Dodgers pitcher Ricky Trlicek hit Gary Sheffield with a pitch, igniting a benches-clearing brawl. Trlicek and Sheffield would each get suspended for three games, though both were still active for this game.
Kevin Gross and the Dodgers were cruising in this one, taking a 4-0 lead in the ninth. But with a new pitcher in, Sheffield (two weeks before he was traded to the Marlins) singled to open the frame, followed by Fred McGriff (a month before he was traded to the Braves) hitting a two-run home run. After a strikeout, Derek Bell walked and Kevin Higgins singled, knocking out the 21-year-old reliever of what was his worst game as a Dodger.
That reliever was Pedro Martinez.
Jim Gott came in and allowed a single, putting the tying run on base, but struck out Kurt Stillwell, putting the Dodgers one out from victory. All that stood between them and a win was lefty Omar Daal vs. Gwynn, who at 0-for-4 with two strikeouts was having a rare bad game. In Gwynn’s entire career, he only had 15 games with no hits and at least two strikeouts.
It might have been 16, except this happened.
Sure, it was a long ride home that night, but we took solace that at least it was Tony Gwynn who delivered the crushing blow.