The tributes and condolences rolled in Monday as word circulated that Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn, the greatest player in San Diego Padres history, had died at age 54 from complications resulting from salivary gland cancer.
There was plenty, too, from the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse prior to the start of their two-and-two interleague series against the Padres.
“Tough is not the word,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Obviously, waking up to that news, was pretty devastating. Tony was not only a person I considered a friend; as far as hitting was concerned, he was a mentor as well.”
McClendon recalled Gwynn, a well-established star, taking time on numerous occasions to share insights and instruction with a young player on the opposing club.
“To sit down and talk with someone like me,” McClendon said, “about hitting and the game of baseball — it just blows your mind. To think we’ve lost him at the age of 54 is really, really tragic.”
Gwynn always claimed the cancer resulted from his long-time habit of chewing tobacco. He underwent surgery in 2009 to remove a tumor from his right cheek, but the cancer returned on two subsequent occasions.
The setback was “traumatic,” Gwynn said, because he believed he “had it beat.”
Gwynn is the brother of Chris Gwynn, who is in his third year as the Mariners’ director of player development. Chris Gwynn played 10 seasons in the majors, for three clubs, from 1987-96. He was unavailable for comment.
Tony Gwynn compiled a .338 average in 20 seasons, all with the Padres, from 1982 to 2001. The last of his 135 career homers came Aug. 11, 2001 in Pittsburgh against a rookie left-hander named Joe Beimel at PNC Park.
McClendon was then a first-year manager in Pittsburgh.
Beimel, at 37, now serves as the Mariners’ situational lefty reliever, but as a rookie, he was a starting pitcher. He faced Gwynn three times that night in front of a near-sellout crowd..
“The first at-bat,” Beimel recalled, “I threw it down and he cracks a freaking double. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, man ...’ Then I did get him out on a lefty-lefty change-up, which I’ve thrown, maybe, five (times) in my whole career.
“And then he hit the home run on a hanging slider in his third at-bat. He was pretty good.”
It was the only homer that Gwynn hit in his final season.
“I actually took pride that I gave up the final home run,” Beimel said. “I kept watching the box scores the rest of the season to see if he’d have another one. And he didn’t, so I was like, ‘Yessss!’ ”
It was, apparently, also memorable to Gwynn.
“We did a clinic when I was rehabbing my Tommy John (surgery in 2012) back in Torrance, Calif.,” Beimel said. “One of my good friends, who catches me in the offseason, ended up talking with (Gwynn) for a while.
“He asked him if he knew who he hit his final home run off of. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and recalled everything, all of the details. Pretty awesome.”
CANO WIDENS LEAD
Second baseman Robinson Cano’s lead is up to nearly 400,000 votes in the latest All-Star balloting update to determine the starters for the July 15 game at Minnesota.
Cano now leads Detroit’s Ian Kinsler by 395,707 votes — up from last week’s 224,336-vote margin. Boston’s Dustin Pedroia, who ranks third, trails Cano by 504,243 votes.
No other Mariners are listed among the balloting leaders; MLB releases the top-five vote getters for catcher, designated hitter and each of the four infield positions. It releases the top 15 outfielders.
Cano is seeking to be voted in as the AL starter for a fifth consecutive year.
Here’s the latest on the Mariners’ injury list:
• Left-hander James Paxton is “three-to-four weeks” away from returning to the rotation, McClendon said. Paxton has yet to be cleared to throw from a mound in his recovery from a sore shoulder and a strained back muscle.
• First baseman Justin Smoak is showing noticeable improvement in his recovery from a strained left quadriceps muscle and could start a minor league rehab assignment as soon as Wednesday at Triple-A Tacoma.
• Outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart said he experienced no problems with his strained left hamstring in early base-running drills. He plans to report Wednesday to Tacoma and expects to be playing by the weekend.
• Outfielder Michael Saunders is sufficiently recovered from inflammation in the AC joint of his right shoulder to take batting practice. He also is likely to begin a rehab assignment by this weekend at Tacoma.
• Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma said he continues to experience tightness in his neck. He pitched through the ailment Sunday in limiting Texas to one run in eight innings in a 5-1 victory. His between-starts bullpen session is Tuesday.
A LONG WAY
No surprise here, but of the 15 interleague pairings that Major League Baseball defines as “natural rivals” for interleague scheduling purposes, the Mariners and Padres are separated by the greatest distance.
Officially, 1,050 miles.
The second-largest distance is the 882 miles for the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies.
The Mariners and Padres are considerably closer in spring training, where they share the Peoria Sports Complex and the distance between their clubhouses can be measured in feet (probably less than 1,050).
Advanced-A High Desert right-handed reliever Andrew Kittredge was picked as the California League pitcher of the week for June 9-15 after permitting just one hit while working six scoreless innings in two appearances.
Kittredge, 24, was signed by the Mariners in August 2011 as a non-drafted free agent. He is 3-0 with a 3.99 ERA in 18 games for the Mavericks.
James Jones became the first Mariner to steal three bases in a game since Ichiro Suzuki swiped four on Aug. 4, 2010 against Texas. Jones is the first Mariners rookie to do it since Suzuki in 2001. ... When Chris Young started Monday against the Padres, it meant he has pitched against all 30 teams. He pitched for San Diego from 2006-10. ... First baseman Logan Morrison returned to the lineup one day after a self-inflicted cut above his left eye — from shattering a bat in frustration — forced his removal from the game. ... Willie Bloomquist, prior to Monday, was 14-for-34 in his past 10 games.
The Mariners and Padres conclude the northern half of their four-game series at 12:40 p.m. Tuesday at Safeco Field. Lefty Roenis Elias (5-5 4.13 ERA) will face San Diego lefty Eric Stults (2-8, 5.79). Root Sports will carry the firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners