Gwynn swipes five bags to match NL record

Written by: Evan Gerike

Try as he might, Alan Ashby could not throw Tony Gwynn out on the basepaths.

Ashby, the Houston Astros catcher, had plenty of chances. But on Sept. 20, 1986, Gwynn couldn’t be caught, stealing five bags to tie a modern National League record.

Despite Gwynn’s efforts and his 10 total bases including steals, the Astros prevailed in a 10-6 victory.

It didn’t get long for Gwynn to start running. After he singled off Houston starter Mike Scott, Gwynn swiped second base. One batter later, he took third before San Diego center fielder Kevin McReynolds hit a home run to take an early 2-0 lead.

Gwynn had to get on base a few times to steal as many bags as he did. A 4-for-5 day at the plate certainly helped with that. It was the fifth four-hit game in 1986 for Gwynn, who finished his career with a .338 average.

He was retired for the only time that day in the third inning on a flyout to third. In the sixth, with the Padres trailing 6-3, Gwynn led off with a single, then stole second. After two consecutive strikeouts, Gwynn stole third, but was stranded to end the inning.

In the eighth, Gwynn reached on his third single of the day, then advanced to second on a throwing error. He swiped third right after, his fifth bag of the day, then was again driven in by McReynolds on a single.

Gwynn would get one more at-bat with two outs in the top of the ninth with his Padres trailing by five. He doubled and drove in a run but didn’t have a chance to go for the modern era record and swipe a sixth bag when left fielder John Kruk flew out to end the game.

Since Gwynn’s five-steal day, the three players have tied the all-time modern era record of six steals in one game, set by Eddie Collins on Sept. 11, 1912, and tied by Collins 11 days later. Montreal Expos outfielder Otis Nixon stole six bases in 1991 and the Rockies’ Eric Young had six steals in 1996 before Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay posted six steals in one game in 2009.

Gwynn raised his batting average four points on the day to .335. He would finish third in the National League in average with a .329 mark. Gwynn would go on to win the batting title his next three seasons, including 1987, where he led all of baseball with a .370 average.

Gwynn lost some of his bag-swiping speed later in his career. He stole 40 bases in 1989, his last season with more than 20 steals, and finished his career with a Padres franchise record 319 steals.

His hitting, however, only got better with time. He won four straight batting titles starting in 1994, where his chase to hit .400 was cut short by the strike. He hit .394 that season. Gwynn won eight career batting titles, tied with Honus Wagner for most all-time.

Gwynn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

“I guess I’m just a pretty hard worker,” Gwynn told the Associated Press in 1987. “I just want to be the best I can be.”

Evan Gerike was the 2022 public relations intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development
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