San Diego Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn ticked through the 3,000-hit milestone with clockwork inevitability tonight, joining the short list of baseball's best hitters, pausing for congratulations, then hitting some more.
Gwynn singled in his first at-bat, reaching down and lining a hit past second base on a 1-2 pitch from Montreal Expos right-hander Dan Smith, a rookie making his 11th career start. Gwynn's teammates raced from the dugout to congratulate him, and first-base umpire Kerwin Danley -- Gwynn's college teammate at San Diego State -- gave him a hug.
Gwynn became the 22nd major leaguer to reach 3,000 hits, and the first National League player in 20 years to do so. Fireworks, usually reserved for Expos home runs, were set off as soon as the hit dropped in, and Gwynn's mother, Vendella, celebrating her 64th birthday, came onto the field and embraced her son.
"The relief that you feel is the first thing that hits you," Gwynn said. "And then I started to feel emotional and then all these guys started coming over to me. When I got back to the dugout I could not sit down."
A crowd of 13,540 at Olympic Stadium, which was on its feet and clapping throughout the at-bat, gave Gwynn a lengthy ovation when he tied Roberto Clemente with career hit No. 3,000. The Padres won the game, 12-10.
The ball and the first-base bag were taken out of play, with one or both likely to end up in the Hall of Fame.
But Gwynn did not wait long to move past Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer. Gwynn singled up the middle in his second at-bat, singled to right in the sixth and singled to right in the eighth before leaving for a pinch runner. The crowd gave him another standing ovation after his 3,003rd hit. Al Kaline is next on the career list with 3,007.
"To get 3,000 on my mom's birthday is a really special thing for me," said Gwynn, who got No. 2000 on his mother's 58th birthday. "I was hugging her and telling her, `Happy Birthday, Mom. This is for you.' "
Gwynn's milestone hit was shown on the Jumbotron at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Devil Rays third baseman Wade Boggs went 0 for 3 in his pursuit of 3,000 hits, leaving him three shy. The crowd in St. Petersburg cheered as Gwynn made history, as did the fans at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken, who is on the disabled list, needs 32 hits to reach 3,000.
"It's a very special time for not only him and his family, but for major league baseball to go ahead and get that taken care of," Boggs said. "My hat's off to him. Nice going. Work on 4,000 now."
In San Diego, some 8,000 Padres fans at Qualcomm Stadium chanted Gwynn's name as he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat, then cheered when he reached 3,000. Many fans either skipped work or took off early to watch Gwynn on a giant-screen television at Qualcomm, where fireworks were set off after Gwynn's hit.
Gwynn's milestone hit came one night after he played in St. Louis and witnessed Mark McGwire's 500th career home run. Gwynn went 1 for 4 against the Cardinals, leaving him one hit shy of 3,000.
Gwynn showed the slightest glimpse of nervousness in his first at-bat tonight -- a whiff, then a tentative foul down the first-base line before he settled in to tally his 3,000th. He stooped to lift a low pitch, looping it gently over second baseman Mike Mordecai.
Gwynn became the first NL player since the Cardinals' Lou Brock in 1979 to reach 3,000. Brock was at Thursday's game in St. Louis, as was Stan Musial, hoping to see Gwynn reach 3,000.
Gwynn reached 3,000 in 2,284 games, third-fastest behind Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie. Cobb was the fastest, doing it in 2,135 games. Gwynn also became the first major leaguer to get No. 3,000 outside the United States. Pete Rose got his 4,000th hit in Montreal as a member of the Expos.
Gwynn got his first two hits in his major league debut on July 19, 1982, playing against Rose, and wanted to get No. 3,000 quickly so he could beat Boggs to the mark.
Gwynn admitted to experiencing some recent pressure as he closed in on the milestone, when he was closely followed and fans wanted nothing but to see Gwynn get on base. The relief of getting No. 3,000 helped him add three others. Going for the top spot, or trying to beat Rose's record of 4,256, was not on Gwynn's mind.
"Six more years for 4,000," he laughed. "I just can't see it."
Before the game, Gwynn had made little of his career hits, pointing to all his other big numbers. Gwynn, 39, has played for the Padres throughout his 18-year career, and has hit better than .300 for 16 straight seasons. He is tied for Honus Wagner with eight NL batting titles.
But after the game, Gwynn admitted the milestone meant something to him, noting he was proud he had done it faster than most, and as a National Leaguer who did not play as a designated hitter.
"I was consistent, more than anything," he said. "I think that's good enough."
The Hit PARADE
Tony Gwynn is one of only 22 players to collect 3,000 hits.
Pete Rose 4,256
Ty Cobb 4,191
Hank Aaron 3,771
Stan Musial 3,630
Tris Speaker 3,515
Honus Wagner 3,430
Carl Yastrzemski 3,419
Paul Molitor 3,319
Eddie Collins 3,309
Willie Mays 3,283
Eddie Murray 3,255
Nap Lajoie 3,252
George Brett 3,154
Paul Waner 3,152
Robin Yount 3,142
Dave Winfield 3,110
Cap Anson 3,081
Rod Carew 3,053
Lou Brock 3,023
Al Kaline 3,007
Tony Gwynn 3,003
Roberto Clemente 3,000
Wade Boggs 2,997
Cal Ripken 2,968
NEVER MADE IT
Many notable hitters stopped short of 3,000 hits, such as:
Willie Keeler 2,947
Frank Robinson 2,943
Rogers Hornsby 2,930
Mel Ott 2,876
Babe Ruth 2,873
Brooks Robinson 2,848
Lou Gehrig 2,721
Ted Williams 2,654
Reggie Jackson 2,584
Source: Associated Press
Gwynn has 200 career hits against the Expos, with 112 coming at Olympic Stadium. He also stroked career hits 400, 1,200, 1,900,
and 2,900 in Montreal.