Gwynn's clutch knock aids Padres win
Speedster's triple lifts San Diego to victory in South Florida
MIAMI -- The Padres had to battle back several times, but ultimately came out on top thanks to some key hitting by the bottom of the order.
Tony Gwynn came through with a two-run triple in the eighth to give the Padres their second consecutive series victory as San Diego beat the Marlins, 7-4, on Saturday.
"We had our big boppers down today, but other guys stepped up," Gwynn said. "They say hitting is contagious and it's true for our team right now. One through eight, and even the guys coming off the bench, are putting together good at-bats."
With the score tied at 4-4 in the top of the eighth, the 26-year-old outfielder drove a 1-0 fastball from reliever Luis Ayala into the left-center-field gap for a triple that pushed home Oscar Salazar and Nick Hundley. Two batters later, Gwynn scored from third when Everth Cabrera hit a sacrifice fly to center.
"You don't ever want to be the guy who lets the team down," Gwynn said. "We had a runner on third with no outs -- the least I wanted to do was put a ball in the outfield so we could score that run. Fortunately, I was able to get a ball that I could handle and I drove it to left-center. That's something I've been struggling with a lot lately -- shooting the ball to left-center -- and finally I was able to do it."
Salazar, who started in place of Adrian Gonzalez (getting a day off to rest his injuries), sparked the eighth-inning rally with a single to left. The 31-year-old finished Saturday's game with a career-high three hits.
"He came advertised as a guy who could hit," Padres manager Bud Black said. "The bat gets through the zone and he has a good idea on how to hit. Tonight, he hit all pitches. He hit the fastball and the slider. He's a hitter."
San Diego starter Wade LeBlanc took a no-decision in his third start of the season (first since June 25), holding the Marlins to four runs on four hits over six innings while striking out two and walking two.
"He's definitely improved from what we've seen," Black said. "The fastball in to the righty was better. He choked off some swings. You saw them hit the fly ball that they just couldn't get their arms extended. With his style of pitching, using the changeup down and away and the fastball down and away, it's essential for him to throw quality pitches inside to keep them off the ball away. For the most part, he did a good job with that."
The left-hander found trouble in the second and sixth innings, but was able to limit the Marlins to two runs in each frame.
"It was a lot better than my first two this year," LeBlanc said. "The most important thing is we got a win. I made one mistake in the sixth inning that could've cost us the game, but these guys did a great job of coming back."
Will Venable got the Padres on the scoreboard with a leadoff home run in the top off the fourth off Florida starter Ricky Nolasco. Two innings later, the 26-year-old gave the Padres a 3-2 lead when he scored on a Hundley sacrifice fly to right field.
An inning after Ronny Paulino blasted a two-run homer to left-center that gave Florida a 4-3 lead, the Padres evened the score when Kevin Kouzmanoff punched a two-out single in front of left fielder Chris Coghlan that drove home Drew Macias.
"I've sensed that, as a group, guys are a little bit more relaxed at the plate, and with that I think their focus and concentration level have increased," Black said. "When that happens, I think you have a better chance to have a quality at-bat, and as a group we've seen some guys' averages rise because of those two things."
Despite being out of playoff contention, the Padres have certainly not given up this season. San Diego won its second consecutive series against a team in the playoff hunt and has a chance to sweep the Marlins on Sunday.
"We're trying to salvage the year the best way we could and that's to try to knock these guys, who have a chance, off," Gwynn said. "We're just playing good baseball. We're pitching, hitting and catching the ball. If you do those three things, you're going to be alright."
David Villavicencio is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.