A somber mood is expected Wednesday night when the San Diego Padres play for the first time at home following the death of Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn.
After what is sure to be an emotional tribute to a man who spent his entire 20-year career with the organization and was dubbed "Mr. Padre," San Diego will have to quickly shift its focus to a matchup with one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors when it faces Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners.
Gwynn died of oral cancer at 54 on Monday, hours before the Padres (29-42) went out and lost 5-1 to the Mariners (37-34). San Diego then fell 6-1 on Tuesday and now returns home for another two games against Seattle, which has won three in a row following a five-game slide.
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Fans paid their respects by visiting the statue of Gwynn on a grassy knoll just beyond the outfield at Petco Park on Monday, and this game offers the first chance for the team to honor the career .338 hitter in front of the home fans.
”More than just Mr. Padre, Tony was Mr. San Diego. He cared deeply about our city and had a profound impact on our community. He forever will be remembered not only for his tremendous on-field accomplishments, but also for his infectious laugh, warm, outgoing personality and huge heart,” the Padres said in a statement.
Getting back to the business at hand may not be easy for the Padres, especially with Hernandez (8-2, 2.29 ERA) off to the best start of his career.
The right-hander is 4-1 with a 1.34 ERA in his last six starts, with the loss coming Friday despite allowing one run and four hits over 8 1-3 innings in a 1-0 home defeat to Texas.
The Mariners haven’t scored with Hernandez on the mound in his last two outings, as he’s given up one run and eight hits with 21 strikeouts over 15 1-3 innings while failing to earn a win.
Hernandez is 5-0 with a 1.54 ERA in six starts at Petco Park, going at least eight innings four times.
The Mariners will face Andrew Cashner, who dropped to 0-5 with a 3.29 ERA in his last seven starts after allowing four runs in six innings of Friday’s 6-2 road loss to the New York Mets.
It was the second start for Cashner (2-6, 2.47) after he missed nearly a month with right elbow soreness, and the Padres again failed to give him much support.
Cashner has a 1.82 ERA in 17 starts dating to Aug. 19, but he’s posted a 4-8 record because San Diego has handed him 2.29 runs per game. The way the Padres have been hitting lately, two runs would be welcomed.
San Diego has been held to one run in each contest during a three-game skid and has lost eight of nine. The Padres scored five times in the win over that span and combined for 10 runs in the defeats.
"It’s tough," catcher Rene Rivera told the Padres’ official website. "We’ve battled. I haven’t seen a guy in here hang his head down. We’re trying to perform at a high level, but it seems like we come up short each time."
Cashner made his only start against the Mariners on May 30, 2013, at Petco Park and allowed four runs over six innings of a 7-1 loss while opposing Hernandez.