Like his Hall of Fame father, Tony Gwynn has never been known as a power hitter. In fact, before Saturday, he had not homered since Aug. 19, 2011, a span of 130 Major League and 22 Minor League games.
He picked a heck of a time to end the drought.
Gwynn drilled a three-run homer to highlight a nine-run seventh inning Saturday as Albuquerque rallied for a stunning 12-10 victory over Omaha that forced a decisive fifth game in the Pacific Coast League semifinals .
With the Isotopes facing elimination, the home run obviously was a clutch one. But the 29-year-old outfielder just seemed happy to finally go deep.
"It's one of those things [hitting coach John Valentin] and I had been working on since I've been down here," said Gwynn, who was designated for assignment by the Dodgers on Aug. 6. "I've been trying to get deeper in counts, be more aggressive with my hacks. But I'm not saying I'm trying to it home runs all the time. It's more like aiming for the gaps."
Nine outs away from a season-ending loss, Albuquerque sent 13 batters to the plate in the seventh, with nine scoring.
The first six reached safely before Matt Angle's sacrifice fly plated the fifth run but also represented the first out. Two batters later, Gwynn roped a three-run shot to right-center field off reliever Brandon Sisk. Josh Fields plated Elian Herrera with another sacrifice fly as the 12th batter of the inning.
"I don't know if invincible is the word, but we're a confident bunch at home," Gwynn said. "We didn't really get much early in the series and earlier in the game, and we couldn't get them to put up a zero really, either. But we got a few balls to hit and a lot of good, productive at-bats there in that inning. It's one of those things where you have to sit back and enjoy the ride."
Beyond his power struggles over the past year, Gwynn had other issues in the first three games of the best-of-5 semifinal series. Batting out of the ninth spot in the lineup, he was 1-for-11 with four strikeouts.
The problem was simple, as was the solution.
"I was getting worn out by the fastball earlier in the series," Gwynn said. "But I was determined to not let it beat me again. Fortunately, I was blessed to get a fastball middle in and get my body in the right position to hit it. I thought it would just head to the gap, but with the high altitude here, it kind of got a little help."
Gwynn's homer not only was his first of the season, it was his first in the Minors since May 11, 2009 for Nashville. He played 103 games for Los Angeles, where he owned a .232/.276/.293 batting line this before being designated for assignment. He was taken off the 40-man roster when the Dodgers' outfield became too crowded with the acquisition of Shane Victorino.
The seven-year big league veteran accepted the assignment but wasn't particularly enthused, although he acknowledged the opportunity he has before him.
"It [stunk], to be honest," he said. "This isn't a place I aspire to be. I feel like a big leaguer still. But when I'm here, I know it's not just about going through the motions. I still have to work on my game, and when I get another shot at the Majors, I'll apply what I've learned here."
Before Gwynn moves back to the Majors, there's still Game 5 against the Storm Chasers on Sunday at Isotopes Park. It's not exactly Dodger Stadium, but with the season on the line, he said there's few places better for a Minor League playoff game.
"If you're going to be down here, it's nice to play in front of good crowds like we get here," he said. "It's a noticeable difference when we get home, guys just seem more confident. Whether we win or lose, everybody just looks and plays a little better when we're here."
Adam Moore homered twice and drove in four runs for Omaha, which got a solo blast from Jason Bourgeois.
In other PCL playoff action
Sacramento 4, Reno 3
Daric Barton's leadoff homer in the 10th inning forced Game 5 in the other semifinal series.
Blake Lalli provided the rest of the River Cats' offense with a three-run blast in the second.
Josh Bell went 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored for the Aces, who will host Game 5 on Sunday. Gameday box score