Gwynn's savvy move sparks Padres' win
Outfielder's baserunning read sets late rally in motion
SAN DIEGO -- Don't let your eyes fool you: Tony Gwynn's mad dash toward the plate in the sixth inning on Wednesday was more carefully calculated than it was the spontaneous maneuver it appeared to be upon first blush.
In a game in which the Padres again found themselves hard-pressed for runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gwynn's instinctual read on an Adrian Gonzalez flare to center field in the sixth inning of the Padres' 6-1 victory proved to be the play of the night.
"You can either trust your eyes with what you see, or you can play it safe," Gwynn said of scoring the tying run in an inning that saw the Padres push ahead for good with two runs against Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.
"In my head, I didn't think he [center fielder Matt Kemp] was going to get to that ball. But it sure hung up in the air a lot longer than I thought."
The Padres (59-40), who had gone 16 consecutive innings without a run going back to their victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday, were again handcuffed by a Dodgers pitcher, as Kuroda took a one-hitter into the sixth inning.
Manager Bud Black lifted starting pitcher Clayton Richard (8-5) after six strong innings in which he only allowed a Jamey Carroll RBI single in the third inning. Black went to his bench for Gwynn.
Gwynn reached base on a single deep in the hole between shortstop and third base and was able to beat the throw to first base by shortstop Rafael Furcal. That's when the fun started for the Padres and when the demise for Kuroda and the Dodgers (54-47) began.
The Kuroda the Padres saw in the sixth and seventh innings hardly resembled the pitcher who, for the first five innings, allowed two baserunners and matched Richard with a pace that threatened to turn this into a nine-inning sprint.
It was when Kuroda (8-9) found himself with multiple runners on base, as he did during that pivotal sixth inning, that the pace slowed and he appeared somewhat distracted, especially after Gwynn reached to start the inning.
All told, Kuroda allowed four baserunners in the inning -- two hits and two walks -- with the second run of the inning coming on Nick Hundley's sacrifice fly to right field, which gave the Padres the lead for good.
Kuroda threw over to first base three times before Gwynn stole second base. One out and one walk to Chris Denorfia later, Kuroda tried to run a fastball in on Gonzalez's hands -- and it worked, to some extent, as Gonzalez got enough of the barrel on the ball to hit it in the air toward center field.
Gwynn didn't bother seeing if it landed.
"Great read," Black said. "If he doesn't read that, it is bases loaded and you don't know how it's going to play out. It gave us the momentum moving forward."
Gwynn said there was a method to his madness, as he was able to check Kemp's depth in center field on several occasions to gauge exactly where he was playing Gonzalez. His consensus?
"Looking back, the first thing I noticed was how deep they [outfielders] were playing him ... they were playing deeper than normal depth," Gwynn said.
When the ball was hit, Gwynn could tell Gonzalez didn't get a lot of barrel on the ball -- leading him to believe that the ball wouldn't carry far. That was enough for Gwynn, who rates as one of the fastest players on the team.
"It fell in just like I thought it would ... and it kind of got us rolling a little bit," Gwynn said.
He was right. The Padres added two runs in the seventh inning and two more one inning later to put some distance between themselves and the Dodgers, who had won five of the first six meetings between the teams before Wednesday.
That Richard pitched as well as he did certainly buoyed the Padres, especially because he had allowed 19 earned runs over his last four starts. Richard allowed four hits and had one walk and six strikeouts.
"You certainly have to give credit to the opposing pitchers; it's not easy to hold a club down, even against clubs in a slump, you still have to pitch well," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre. "We aren't hitting, obviously. I'm still a believer that all of a sudden things will turn around. The capability is there."
Richard pounded the strike zone and got back to getting a lot of ground balls -- nine of them, to be exact -- like he was earlier in the season.
"Establishing the fastball down and away," Richard said. "In pitching, that's usually a key to success is being able to command your fastball. [Hundley] called a great game behind the plate."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.