SAN DIEGO — Tony Gwynn had not struck out in more than a month until Chicago's Lee Smith got him to chase an outside fastball with a full count and two outs in the ninth inning Saturday.
Thus ended a streak of 120 at-bats without a strikeout for the National League's leading hitter, who had three singles in five appearances in a 3-2 loss to the Cubs.
Jody Davis' one-out solo home run off ex-Cub Craig Lefferts in the ninth inning was the game-winner for Chicago.
"I take a lot of pride in not striking out," Gwynn said. "I had some good pitches to hit that I fouled off before I went after a fastball running away from me. I was trying to hit it to left, but I just overswung."
The rare, game-ending strikeout by Gwynn was a letdown for a crowd of 43,742 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. But both Gwynn and Manager Steve Boros had sensed early in the game that the Padres might let this one get away.
The Padres, who had won the opening two games of this four-game series, scored twice off left-hander Steve Trout in the first inning. But then the offense stalled.
Nine runners were stranded, three were caught stealing and one was picked off during the course of the sunny afternoon.
The Padres had the leadoff batter on base in four of the first five innings.
They had runners on second and third with two out in the second inning, and runners on first and third with none out in the third.
But Trout was able to escape, in part because Garry Templeton was picked off first and cut down stealing and Bip Roberts was thrown out stealing in the first three innings.
Meanwhile, the Cubs got solo homers from Gary Matthews and Ron Cey against Padre starter Dave Dravecky to tie the game, and Davis' game-winner against Lefferts.
The mistake by Lefferts was as rare as the strikeout by Gwynn. Lefferts, who has made more appearances (44) than any pitcher in the major leagues this year, had allowed only two earned runs in his last 22 innings. His earned-run average for his previous 16 games was 0.81.
And the pitch he threw Davis was really not a mistake at all.
"It was a good pitch, a screwball, but he was sitting on it," Lefferts said. "At least I didn't make a bad pitch. This was as good as I had felt all year, and I made the best pitch I could in that situation."
Lefferts worked the final three innings after Dravecky's elbow stiffened in the sixth.
Dravecky, who was diagnosed Thursday as having flexor tendinitis in his left arm, seemed relatively unconcerned about his condition. He believes that a regimen of ultrasound, weightlifting and rest during the All-Star break will keep him in the starting rotation.
Boros seemed slightly more bothered by his pitcher's sore arm, since another starter, Eric Show, has a similar problem. Boros said he will have to keep them separated in the rotation and hope that Andy Hawkins, LaMarr Hoyt and Lance McCullers can keep the bullpen from being overworked.
Dravecky yielded just five hits Saturday, but two of them were home runs. In fact, the Cubs have scored their five runs in this series on homers.
"I was concentrating on my control today and I was fairly pleased with it," Dravecky said. "On the homer by Cey, he was able to get his arms extended and hit a fastball that flattened out. Matthews hit a decent pitch, a slider down and in, a pitch I wanted to make. He just won that at-bat."
If the Padres had won a couple of more at-bats early in the game, they might have avoided what turned out to be a frustrating afternoon.
"When you look back on a season, there are some games you get beat and some you let get away," Boros said. "This was a game that got away, and it's a tough one to live with.
"We had plenty of chances, but we couldn't get it going. Actually, I didn't have a very good feeling after we swung at some bad pitches and had a couple of guys thrown out in the first two innings."
Gwynn said he was disappointed that the Padres failed to make it three straight victories against Chicago, which would have given San Diego a chance to sweep the series and get closer to the first-place San Francisco Giants.
"It's like we were just waiting for them to come back on us today," Gwynn said. "I feel like we should've won, but we couldn't get the clutch hit. It seemed like one more hit would've knocked out Trout early in the game.
"It's frustrating because we need a winning streak to put us in first place. Every time we win a couple, it seems like the Giants win, too."
Gwynn sees the Giants, not the Houston Astros, as the Padres' most formidable competition in the division, and he expects the addition of Steve Carlton to help San Francisco.
"They're playing pretty good baseball, but we're going to have play even better if we're going to catch them," Gwynn said.
"They're a more complete team than Houston and I think they're the team to beat," he said. "By the time we see them again in September, I look for Carlton to be throwing that split-finger fastball, and they'll be harder to beat."