Their unsuccessful chase of the cocky, brash Phillies in '93 created a personality in the Expos' clubhouse. "They shaped our attitude," Fletcher says. "You had to be a little cocky and have some toughness. We knew Montreal didn't get much respect. We had a $10 million payroll, and all anybody could say was, 'How are these guys even in the conversation?' Everybody needs a motivator."
And they started the '94 season 4-9. The seats clacked in disgust.
On May 9 and 10 against the Reds, Gwynn went consecutive games without a hit. On May 15 against the Dodgers and May 16 against the Cubs, Gwynn went consecutive games without a hit.
Those were the only two times in the 117 games the Padres played that season (Gwynn played in 110 of them) that he went hitless back to back.
Everybody goes through a bad stretch, right? Wrong. For Gwynn, starting a game 0-for-2 qualified as a prolonged slump.
"He was the best fastball hitter I ever saw," says Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who was the Padres' third-base coach in '94 before becoming the team's manager the following season. "And that year, he hit a fastball better than he ever did. I don't care who you were, you could not throw it past him."
On June 11, Gwynn went 4-for-5 against the Giants to raise his average to .388. In a three-game series, he had seven hits. For the season against San Francisco, he was 12-for-28.
"We couldn't figure him out that year," Williams says. "We had no idea how to pitch him. None at all. We tried everything. After a while, we figured we'd just throw it down the middle so he wouldn't know which way to hit it."
The Padres lost that game on June 11, which means it served as a solid metaphor for the entire season: four hits for Gwynn, one loss for the Padres. They were 22-39 at that point, and it never got much better.
"We were busting our butts, but it was a rough year," Roberts says. "We would sit on the bench or in the clubhouse and say, 'Man, he's going to do it. Tony Gwynn's going to hit .400.' He never talked about it, at least with us, but I know he knew we were talking about it. Why wouldn't we? He was the thing we looked forward to every day."
Williams says, "He would survey the field. It was almost as if he would look out there and say to himself, 'Oh, there's nobody standing there? I guess I'll go ahead and hit it there.'"
In the concrete cereal-bowl ballparks of the day -- St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta -- the ball sounded like an M-80 when it left Williams' bat. The contact was inconsistent but loud, demanding the attention of everyone in the stadium. At the All-Star break, he was hitting .251 but with 33 home runs. It was about that time when the words ahead of Roger Maris' pace became a regular part of his world.
"I just remember that year going, 'Wow -- I can't believe that one actually squeaked over the fence,'" he says. "Maybe that's why I never took it seriously. It just never felt like a good year."
Williams never went more than six games without a homer, and yet he hit the All-Star break with just seven doubles. "An odd, odd year," he says. "Whenever I hit it, it seemed like it always had just enough to get out. It was never that way again."
At the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, the focus was on the looming strike, or Griffey, or Bonds, or Greg Maddux. "Really, nobody wanted to talk to me, and I was fine with that," Williams says.