SAN DIEGO — Manager Steve Boros made a bold statement after his Padres defeated the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, Sunday afternoon at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
"I can't think of a better defensive outfield in the National League right now," Boros said.
He was talking about his own outfield. The one with Kevin McReynolds in left, Marvell Wynne in center and Tony Gwynn in right.
The three players were informed of Boros' statement and were a bit reserved about how to respond. If anything, they disagreed with their manager.
Gwynn: "Ah . . . (long pause) that may be pushing it a bit."
McReynolds: "I don't know . . . (shorter pause) Steve's got a positive outlook on a lot of things."
Wynne: "(No pause at all) I don't know. All I know is that everybody is going out every day to do their best to help this team."
Actually, the best response to Boros' statement is that the jury is still out--but clearly, on Sunday, the evidence was in Boros' favor.
In the second inning, with the bases loaded and two outs, Cub pitcher Scott Sanderson hit a deep fly ball--well, deep for a pitcher--to right field. It wasn't the greatest play he'll ever make, but Gwynn did race back to grab it.
It got better.
In the third inning, with one on and one out, Chicago's Ryne Sandberg turned around one of Andy Hawkins' fastballs and sent it on a line toward the center-field fence. Before the ball got there, however, Wynne sped back to reach up and intercept it.
In the seventh, with two out, Keith Moreland sent a liner to left. This time, McReynolds moved to his left to reach up and end Moreland's bid for extra bases.
The coup de grace came in the eighth inning. With the tying run on second, Rich Gossage came out of the Padre bullpen to try and get Shawon Dunston and end a Cub threat. Dunston hit a hard line drive toward center--hard enough that Gossage wasn't sure for a moment if the ball would stay in the park.
"A lot of the balls I thought would be a can of corn have been going out lately," Gossage said.
The ball stayed in, and Wynne, retreating quickly, made the catch.
"I'll tell you, Marvelous sure is something out there," Gossage said.
The final numbers Sunday? The Padre outfield combined for 12 putouts (eight by Wynne). Four of the plays were anything but routine, and Jerry Coleman even hung out a star for McReynolds' play in the seventh.
"Well, I haven't sat down and analyzed it," Boros said. "But I do know that if our defense stays like it has been lately, we can win this thing. I feel very confident with our outfield right now."
Last Monday, Boros started Wynne in center field and moved McReynolds to left. He had done that before, but this time he said the move was permanent. Since then, the Padres have won five of seven games, including three of four from the Cubs this weekend.
Gene Michael, the Cubs' manager, was impressed.
"I like fly balls when they drop in somewhere, but those guys don't let too many drop in," Michael said.
They're also hitting well. Gwynn went 0 for 3 Sunday but is still hitting .342. McReynolds, battling a minor slump, had two hits and scored a run Sunday. He improved his average to .272 while continuing to lead the Padres in RBIs with 43.
And then there's Wynne. When he wasn't catching them Sunday, he was hitting them where they couldn't be caught. Leading off the first inning, he connected off Scott Sanderson for his fourth home run. Later, he doubled, improving his average to .300.
"We've been trying to teach Marvell some more patience at the plate," Boros said. "He had the count in his favor against Sanderson (3 and 1) and he looked for his pitch."
Another time, when Wynne should have been looking, however, he wasn't. With a runner on in the third inning, he missed a hit-and-run sign and Tim Flannery was thrown out at second.
Afterward, Boros didn't seem too annoyed.
"Well, he did do a lot of good things," he said.