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A Tony Neighborhood

3,000+

Hit, Hit, Hit, Hit, Hooray: No Suspense for Gwynn

August 07, 1999|J.A. ADANDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MONTREAL — Only Tony Gwynn could turn a night that was supposed to be ceremonial into something so instructional.

On the night he reached the hallowed mark of 3,000 hits, Gwynn wasn't content to stop there. He rapped out four hits in five at-bats during the San Diego Padres' 12-10 victory over the Montreal Expos Friday night.

After achieving the milestone hit with a first-inning single, the impromptu ceremony--consisting mostly of hugs, applause and a few fireworks--took less than three minutes. By the time Gwynn was removed for a pinch runner in the top of the eighth inning, his career hit total stood at 3,003.

That's the way it is with Gwynn. Any time spent around him, watching him play or listening to him talk, eventually turns into a lesson on hitting.

He looks at pitches, analyzes them, swings and places them--or "carves" them, as he likes to say--into appropriate spots. He lined his first two hits near second base, and after a groundout to second base he knocked out two more hits to right field.

"The game went on, you just had to get back to business, get back to doing what you do," Gwynn said. Few have done it like him.

"He's going to go down as one of the greatest hitters of all time," Padre Manager Bruce Bochy said.

Gwynn became the 21st player to reach the 3,000-hit plateau, which has granted access to the Hall of Fame for every member who is eligible. He is the first National League player to get 3,000 hits since Lou Brock in 1979.

Gwynn has often been called the game's greatest hitter since Ted Williams, but not even Williams is a member of this elite group. Gwynn's contemporaries, Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken, hope to join the list later this season.

The number is a sign of patience and longevity.

"Consistency," is the word Gwynn chose.

The youngest members of the group, Hank Aaron and Robin Yount, reached 3,000 at age 36. Gwynn, 39, is in his 18th season.

Gwynn, from Long Beach, began his odyssey on July 19, 1982. He got his 1,000th hit on April 22, 1988 and reached his 2,000th on Aug. 6, 1993 exactly six years before Friday--which also happens to be his mother's birthday. It all seemed to work out for Gwynn. It didn't matter that he missed the chance to share a historic night with Mark McGwire, who hit his 500th home run against the Padres in St. Louis the night before.

Not even the dreary Olympic Stadium and sparse crowd diminished his spirits. Attendance was announced at 13,540, but many tickets were bought over the phone or the Internet by fans only interested in acquiring a souvenir of the historic night. Even fans at the game bought extra tickets, which start at $7 Canadian.

But the fans who did show up gave Gwynn everything they had, including repeated standing ovations.

"For me, this is probably the way it should have been done," Gwynn said. "I'd love to have done it last night in St. Louis. Now things have happened the way they happened, this is great for me. Mark had his day, and today is my day."

Gwynn made sure of that right away.

"We all felt like he would get it on the first time up," Bochy said.

That didn't change even after Gwynn quickly fell behind in the count, 0-2, to Expo starter Dan Smith.

"He's so great with two strikes, that's almost when he's the most dangerous," Bochy said.

After taking a pitch inside for a ball, Gwynn golfed a shot over leaping Montreal second baseman Mike Mordecai.

After Gwynn reached base, he hugged first-base coach Davey Lopes. He hugged first-base umpire Kerwin Danley, his college teammate at San Diego State. Gwynn's teammates ran out of the visitor's dugout and across the diamond as fireworks shot up from behind the outfield wall. Gwynn's mother came onto the field and he hugged her longest and tightest.

"I told her happy birthday," Gwynn said. "This is for you."

His wife, daughter and niece joined him as well.

It was Gwynn's 2,284th game, which made him only the third player to reach the milestone in less than 2,300 games. Only five players required fewer at-bats than Gwynn's 8,874. Ty Cobb was the fastest to reach 3,000, doing so in 2,135 games and 8,093 at-bats.

Gwynn's second hit of the night had some historical significance as well; it moved him past Roberto Clemente and into 20th place on the all-time list. Gwynn's next four hits will tie him with Al Kaline at 3,007.

Only six other members of the 3,000 Club spent their entire careers with the same team: Stan Musial (Cardinals), Clemente (Pirates), Kaline (Tigers), Carl Yastrzemski (Red Sox), Robin Yount (Brewers) and George Brett (Royals).

Gwynn talked of doing it all in the same uniform, then realized that wasn't exactly true when he thought back to the ugly brown jerseys the team wore when he first came to the majors. Technicalities.

"I've been a Padre my whole career, and I'm proud of that," Gwynn said. "Everything I've done, I've done in a Padre uniform. If my career is over and they look back and they see San Diego all the way down the line, that means a lot to me."

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