It wouldn’t be a completely satisfying accomplishment for perfectionist Tony Gwynn, but the Padres’ outfielder put himself in an excellent position to win his third National League batting title during Saturday night’s 6-3 victory over the Houston Astros.
Gwynn went 2 for 3 to raise his NL-leading average to .313, five points ahead of the Cubs’ Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro also was 2 for 3 in a victory over the Pirates Saturday.
“I felt like it was the seventh game of the World Series. I knew Palmeiro got a couple of hits today, so I knew I needed a couple. The pressure was on,” Gwynn said.
Padre Manager Jack McKeon said he doesn’t plan to play Gwynn in the season finale today against Houston and left-handed Astro starter Jim Deshaies because of an injured left index finger that has hampered Gwynn for most of the season. McKeon did leave open the possibility of using Gwynn as a pinch-hitter.
Gwynn’s average carried to five places is .31286. Palmeiro would need a 5-for-5 outing today to surpass it (.31379). A 4-for-4 day would put Palmeiro at .31261, leaving Gwynn on top.
“I’m not taking anything for granted,” Gwynn said. “He might go 7 for 7 in extra innings Sunday.”
Gwynn added: “Once you get this close, it means a lot. You go all season talking about it not meaning much, and then all of a sudden, it means everything.”
Gwynn, who hit .370 for the title last year, would be the first sub-.320 NL batting champion in history. Larry Doyle of the New York Giants hit .320 in 1915.
Gwynn was batting .246 (55 for 224) on July 1 but has hit .364 (108 for 297) since then.
Even when he was slumping, Gwynn said his wife predicted he would win the title.
“When I was at .237, she was still telling me that, and after the All-Star break, when I started hitting the ball hard, I started believing her and thinking that I had a chance,” Gwynn said,
Greg Booker, Dave Leiper and Mark Davis combined on a five-hitter to nail down Saturday’s victory, which pushed the Padres into third place in the West, a half-game ahead of San Francisco and Houston.
Booker (2-2) allowed one unearned run, walked two and struck out four in 5 innings. Leiper yielded two unearned runs on three hits in 2 innings, and Davis worked the ninth for his 28th save.
San Diego took a 1-0 lead in the first inning off Bob Forsch (10-8) when Tim Flannery scored on Marvelle Wynne’s sacrifice fly.
The Padres added two in the second on Roberto Alomar’s fielder’s choice RBI and Flannery’s sacrifice fly to score Garry Templeton.
The Astros pulled within 3-1 in the sixth when Gerald Young singled home pinch-hitter Louie Meadows.
Alomar scored on Stan Jefferson’s sacrifice fly in the seventh to give San Diego a 4-1 lead, and Templeton doubled home Rob Nelson in the eighth.
The Astros scored two unearned runs in the eighth. Billy Hatcher’s groundout drove in Craig Biggio, who had reached on third baseman Flannery’s error, and Young’s sacrifice fly drove in Casey Candaele, who had doubled.
Alomar scored in the ninth on a wild pitch by Juan Agosto.