Mariners reliever Joe Beimel, then a 24-year-old rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was preparing to make the 12th start of his major-league career on Aug. 11, 2001 when the scouting-report discussion turned to Tony Gwynn.
“There isn’t really a way to pitch him,” Beimel recalled being told. “He can hit everything, so maybe you should just try throwing it right down the middle.”
Reluctantly, Beimel did just that on his first pitch. Predictably, Gwynn gashed it for a double.
In the next at-bat, Beimel was able to get Gwynn out with a changeup — a pitch he said he’s thrown “maybe” five times to a fellow left-hander in his 13-year career. Then, in their third and final matchup, Beimel hung a slider over the plate that Gwynn belted over the fence at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.
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It was the final home run of Gwynn’s Hall of Fame career with the San Diego Padres.
Monday morning, after a long fight with cancer, Gwynn died at the age of 54.
“I actually took pride in the fact that I gave up the final home run,” Beimel said Monday afternoon as the Mariners prepared to open a series against the Padres at Safeco Field. “I kept watching the box scores the rest of the (2001) season to see if he’d have another one, and he didn’t. So I was like, ‘Yes!’ ”
Padres manager Bud Black was a teammate of Gwynn’s at San Diego State in the late 1970s. Gwynn, in Black’s words, became “an icon” in his 20 seasons with the Padres.
Gwynn won a record eight National League batting titles and his .338 career batting average is highest of any player who began play after 1939.
“He truly loved baseball, as much as anybody I’ve ever known,” Black said.
Gwynn’s younger brother, Chris, is the Mariners’ director of minor-league operations.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Chris yet,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I’m going to give him some time because I’m sure he’s grieving right now, but there’s a lot of memories I’d like to share with him. …
“What a tremendous loss for baseball. My heart goes out to his family.”
More than a decade after facing Gwynn in Pittsburgh, Beimel was at a clinic with Gwynn in Torrance, Calif., in 2012. A friend of Beimel’s asked the Hall of Famer if he remembered his last home run.
“He recalled everything in detail,” Beimel said. “Pretty awesome.”
Smoak to start his rehab
Justin Smoak is expected to begin a rehab assignment in Class AAA Tacoma on Wednesday.
Corey Hart and Michael Saunders could join him there by the end of the week.
After doing some running drills under the watchful eye of trainer Rick Griffin on Monday afternoon, Smoak said it was “as close to 100 percent” speed as he has run since going on the disabled list last week with a sore left quad.
“I feel pretty good,” Smoak said.
Smoak said the goal is for him to come off the DL when he’s eligible June 26.
McClendon said Smoak is tentatively scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with Tacoma on Wednesday. Hart and Saunders, who also are on the disabled list, could begin their rehab assignment with Tacoma late in the week.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364
On Twitter: @a_jude