On a night when the Phillies snapped a three-game losing streak, their rookie pitcher won his third straight start and Cody Asche and Marlon Byrd had big hits, it was a pinch-hit groundout by a .155 hitter that made this such a special night.
Tony Gwynn Jr. returned to the Phillies Tuesday, eight days after his father, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, died of cancer.
Gwynn Jr. spent the last week on the bereavement list, but he was called on to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of the Phillies’ 7-4 win over the Marlins (see Instant Replay), and when the fans at Citizens Bank Park saw No. 19 striding slowly toward the plate, a loud, prolonged ovation began rising from the stands.
Realizing what was happening, Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked to the pitcher’s mound to give Gwynn Jr. some time to take in the moment.
The ovation just got louder and louder. It was an unforgettable moment during what so far has been a middling season.
“Needless to say, it was pretty awesome,” Gwynn Jr. said. “Made the at-bat a little more difficult, had to fight the emotion and the tears and stuff like that.
“But that’s why guys who play here like to play here. When things are going well or regardless of whether they’re going bad or good, I think the fans stay behind us. Much appreciated by the Gwynn family.”
Gwynn Jr.’s dad hit .338 with 3,141 hits in a 20-year career, all with the Padres. He retired after the 2001 season.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007, his first year of eligibility, receiving 532 of 545 ballots.
Gwynn Jr. is a .239 career hitter in eight seasons with the Brewers, Padres, Dodgers and Phillies. But none of that mattered Tuesday night.
Gwynn Jr.’s first at-bat since June 13 was the hardest of his life.
“It was really hard,” he said. “Really hard. I was fortunate enough to get two balls to regroup a little bit, but I’ve never been through anything like that before.
“Under these circumstances, it was even tougher, but like I said it was much appreciated.”
Saltalamacchia is an eight-year veteran, and he knew immediately what to do when Gwynn Jr. was announced.
Give him as much time as he needed. Saltalamacchia said after the game that’s why he went out to the mound.
“Yes, I did,” he said. “I don’t know what it must be like to lose a father, especially a guy who brought so much to this game.”
Phils manager Ryne Sandberg was a contemporary of Gwynn’s, and the two were teammates on nine National League All-Star teams.
He said he spoke to Gwynn Jr. before the game to make sure he was ready to play, but he was clearly moved by the emotion everybody felt in the bottom of the eighth.
“That was a special moment,” Sandberg said. “I thought it was outstanding by the fans, and Saltalamacchia went out there to the mound, that was classy.”
Gwynn Jr. broke down crying at his locker talking to writers after the game. He said he couldn’t even describe what all the support has meant to him -- from the fans at Citizens Bank Park and back home in San Diego.
“I don’t even know if I could come up with a word to describe it,” he said. “Obviously, at home, in San Diego. My teammates … I don’t think there was a guy I didn’t get a text from.”
At this point, he put his head down and wept, then finished by adding: “Needless to say, it’s been nice.”
Then there was the game.
David Buchanan pitched in and out of trouble all night, allowing 10 baserunners in five innings, but he gave up just two runs and earned his third straight win. He’s only the seventh Phillie rookie to go at least five innings in each of his first seven starts.
“One of those nights where the ball just wasn’t going where I wanted it to,” he said. “I probably fell behind 95 percent of the guys tonight. But you continue to battle.
“My job is try to give the team a chance to win and it wasn’t pretty, but I tried to do the best I could tonight. Obviously didn’t throw the ball where I wanted to or go as deep as I wanted to go, but it’s just one of those days.”
Byrd’s two-run homer in the first and Asche’s two-run double in the sixth were the big hits for the Phils.
Asche is 7 for 18 (.389) with three doubles and five RBIs in five games since returning from a month-long layoff with a hamstring injury.
“Just coming up in spots with teammates on base,” he said. “I think those guys are really doing it. It’s easy to hit when you’ve got guys on base, more times than not.”
Sandberg gave Asche a little more credit than Asche gave himself.
“He’s really on the ball,” he said. “He’s got a real good stroke in the zone and stinging the ball consistently. He’s an added bat, and it’s good to have. Since he came back, he’s using the whole field and showing some good pop.”