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Gwynn's 3,000th hit almost came in a vacuum

Notes on Kennedy, Asuaje, Jankowski, Stammen
San Diego Padres

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

August 6.

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

August 6.

I remember this day in 1999, of walking into the visitors' clubhouse at Montreal and seeing Tony Gwynn like I had seldom seen him.

The smile was absent. He was quiet. The first words out of his mouth were: "I'm beat today."

The events of the previous week had piled up on Gwynn. He arrived in Montreal after the Padres' overnight flight from St. Louis stuck on 2,999 hits.

"I really wanted to get No. 3,000 in St. Louis," Gwynn said several minutes later. "The crowd was really electric. And with Mark McGwire and his 500th homer on the same night it would really have been special. The fans knew what was going on. They knew it and they were into it ... almost as much for me as for Mark.

"Every time I came up, I could feel them pulling me. That is quite an honor for a visiting player to be greeted like that."

Now the Padres were in Montreal. And there was no electricity. Actually, there was nothing. I picked up a Montreal paper to see if there was some mention of Gwynn going for his 3,000th hit that night. There wasn't.

While the Padres had just played before loud, capacity crowds in St. Louis, there was no buzz in Montreal. I asked the visiting clubhouse manager how large a crowd the Expos were expecting and his estimate was "around 10,000."

There was a chance that history was going to be made that night in a vacuum.

Because the 3,000th hit hadn't come in St. Louis, a portion of the party accompanying Gwynn on his victory tour had returned to San Diego.

"I really want to get this behind me," Gwynn told a group of media at his locker. Even the size of the media horde was much smaller in Montreal than it had been in St. Louis. Gwynn was subdued.

But towards the end of his interview a huge smile came across his face and Gwynn laughed. You all know the laugh. I can hear it now.

"I can solve one problem I have right now if I get it tonight," Gwynn roared. "If you remember six years ago tonight, you know what I am talking about. And I don't have a gift right now. So I better deliver."

And he laughed while crossing his arms across his chest. "A hit tonight, that'd be something."

Six years earlier, on Aug. 6, 1993, Gwynn got the 2,000th hit of his career on his mom's birthday. And Vandella Gwynn was in Montreal. Could he again give his mom the perfect birthday present.

He did.

On his first at-bat, Gwynn singled off Dan Smith to become the 22nd member of baseball's elite 3,000-hit club.

Honestly, some fans in Montreal didn't realize what had happened until they stopped the game and announced the achievement over the public address system. Gwynn's family gathered a home plate where they were joined by officials of Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame.

Tony hugged his wife, then was greeted by his mom. "Thanks," Vandella Gwynn told her son. Gwynn laughed . . . "You're thanking me?"

From the Padres' dugout, I watched as his teammates congratulated Gwynn. One of the warmest greetings was from first base umpire Kerwin Danley, who was Gwynn's teammate at San Diego State and actually the second person to reach Gwynn after his single reached the outfield.

I remember the ceremonies continuing for several minutes. Before the game resumed, Gwynn walked off the field with his party, leading them out to the corridor behind the Padres' clubhouse.

As he headed back towards the field, Gwynn leaned up against the wall of the tunnel and had a quiet moment. He admitted later that he teared up. But there was a game to finish . . . and he was the runner on first. So he ran back onto the field to a standing ovation of 13,540.

Gwynn would have three more hits that night. Afterwards, someone joked he was well on his way to 4,000. Gwynn laughed . . .

NOTEBOOK:

• When RHP Brett Kennedy starts in Milwaukee Wednesday night, he will become the 12th Padre to make his Major League debut this season ... unless right-handed reliever Trey Wingenter pitches Tuesday night. Kennedy was 10-0 with a 2.72 earned run average with Triple-A El Paso.

• 2B Carlos Asuaje is hitless in his last 32 at-bats dating back to the first game of the July 22 doubleheader in Philadelphia. He has drawn only walks without scoring or driving in a run during the drought. His batting average has fallen from .237 to .198.

• OF Travis Jankowski is 7-for-15 with a double and three RBIs in a five-game hitting streak that includes Sunday's two-run, ninth-inning single in Chicago.

• RHP Craig Stammen has made eight straight scoreless appearances since giving up eight runs (seven earned) over an eight-game span. Over his current streak, Stammen has allowed six hits and one walk with 12 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings - lowering his earned run average from 3.05 to 2.45.

San Diego Padres