Re-Living the Padres’ 1998 Playoffs One More Time

Credit: Sporting News

20 years ago, the city of San Diego fell in love with their Padres, as the team made it all the way to the 1998 World Series. Here is a look at that magical playoff run for the Friars that helped pave the way for Petco Park to be built in San Diego.

As the baseball season closes, soon will the year 2018, and the 20th anniversary of the San Diego Padres winning the National League pennant and reaching the World Series.

The 2018 League Championship Series is in full swing. Since we are in the playoff mood, let us, one last time in this 20th anniversary year, re-live one of the most fun and exhilarating years to be a Padres fan. Because, let’s be honest, the memory of 1998 is still the dim fire that keeps us warm at night until the next big wave realizes its potential.

Division Series vs. Houston Astros

The Astros were in the National League until 2013. They came into this series as the favorites, with 102 wins compared to the Padres’ 98. They boasted three would-be Hall of Famers in Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, and Randy Johnson. Of course, The Big Unit took the mound in the Astrodome for Game 1 opposite the Friars’ ace, Kevin Brown. For the first five innings, the game was just as advertised as a clash of the titans occurred on the mound and the game remained scoreless heading into the sixth.

Through five, Johnson had five strikeouts with four hits allowed. Brown was even better with nine strikeouts to one hit. Then in the sixth, our beloved Tony Gwynn led off with a double. A few batters later, with the bases loaded, first baseman Jim Leyritz hit a sacrifice fly to score Gwynn and give the Padres a 1-0 lead.

The Padres would add a critical run in the eighth on a home run by slugger Greg Vaughn.

Brown turned it over to Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman in the ninth. Things got a little dicey for number 51 when Moises Alou singled home a run, cutting the lead to one. Then he got Carl Everett to fly out to clinch Game 1 for the Padres in a critical road victory to flip home field advantage.

The Astros won Game 2 behind three RBI from Jeff Bagwell. Then the series shifted to Jack Murphy Field for a pivotal Game 3. Kevin Brown got the nod once again, and again he was the better pitcher. He threw 6 2/3 innings with five strikeouts and only one earned run. The Friars squeaked out two runs before Dan Miceli and Trevor Hoffman shut it down after Brown, giving the Padres a critical two games to one lead.

Mandatory Credit: AP Photo

Game 4 was also at Petco Park, in front of a packed crowd of over 65,000 people. Sterling Hitchcock started for the Friars and went six innings while striking out 11. Jim Leyritz got the scoring started with a solo homer in the second. After Bagwell tied the game in the fourth, the Padres broke the tie in the sixth thanks to a throwing error by third baseman Sean Berry, which allowed Vaughn to score from second.

The Padres got rolling after that, scoring four runs in the eight, as the Friars cashed in on a two-run triple by John Vander Wal, which was followed by a home run by Wally Joyner, giving the Padres a comfortable 6-1 lead heading into the ninth. Hoffman got the last three outs to send the Padres to the NLCS.

Championship Series vs. Atlanta Braves

The Padres earned a date with the mighty Braves, coming off of their fourth straight NL East title, second straight 100-win season, and just three seasons removed from their 1995 World Series championship. The Braves had four Hall of Famers on their roster under a Hall of Fame manager, Bobby Cox. The 1998 Braves had an impressive 106 wins, even more than the Padres’ previous opponent, the Astros.

Game 1 was held in Atlanta. The Friars went with Andy Ashby and the Braves countered with Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Each went seven innings, but Ashby was more efficient, allowing one fewer run with four fewer walks. The Braves did take a brief lead on an Andruw Jones solo homer in the third, but the Padres tied it up when Tony Gwynn singled home Carlos Hernandez in the fifth.

Then, in the eighth inning, Leyritz hit a weak grounder to the first base side and Andres Galarraga had all sorts of trouble, first with a fielding error then a throwing one, allowing the Padres to break the 1-1 tie. However, it would not end there as Hoffman was tagged with a rare blown save after an Andruw Jones sacrifice fly tied the game in the ninth.

The big hit came in the 10th when Ken Caminiti hit a solo homer, giving the Padres a 2-1 lead, and silencing the rowdy Atlanta ballpark. Hoffman and Donne Wall closed it out for the Padres, stealing Game 1 on the road.

Mandatory Credit: Photo/Denis_Poroy

Things got even better for the Padres in Game 2 as Kevin Brown shut the Braves down by pitching a complete game shutout with 11 strikeouts.

With the nation surprised that the Friars won both games in Atlanta, the series shifted to San Diego for Game 3. It was much of the same as Sterling Hitchcock matched Greg Maddux blow for blow. Ken Caminiti singled home Steve Finley to give the Padres a 2-1 lead in the fifth and that is all they needed as they eventually won 4-1.

The Padres were unable to secure the four-game sweep as the Braves won Games 4 and 5. The series returned to Atlanta with the Padres clinging to a 3-2 series lead, but with a daunting task of having to clinch the series on the road. They went back to Sterling Hitchcock for a second time in the series, and for five innings he was just as filthy, striking out eight and only allowing two hits.

The game was scoreless until the sixth inning when Vaughn and Caminiti both got one-out singles. Leyritz got the Padres on the board with an RBI groundout and Joyner extended the lead with a single. The defensive woes continued for the Braves as an error by Danny Bautista in left field allowed two runs to score on a batted ball by none other than the starting pitcher, Hitchcock. Quilvio Veras delivered the knockout blow, the fifth run in the inning, with an RBI single.

It was a bullpen game after that and the Padres pen shut it down. Brian Boehringer, Mark Langston, and Joey Hamilton bridged the gap to Hoffman.

Hoffy did what he does best, clinching the National League pennant with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Padres were headed to their second World Series in franchise history and did it in an impressive manner against one of the best teams of the decade.

Unfortunately, they were about to face the best team of the decade and beyond in the 1998 Fall Classic…

World Series vs. New York Yankees

The 1998 Yankees were perhaps the greatest team ever assembled. They accumulated a whopping 114 wins, which broke a 44-year-old record in the American League. As it stands today, the Yankees had one Hall of Famer in Tim Raines as a utility man, but almost surely two more at least in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

Game 1 was at the House That Ruth Built, Yankee Stadium. It pitted native San Diegan David Wells in pinstripes against the infallible Kevin Brown for the Friars. It was a David vs. Goliath matchup of sorts, with the Yankees being the Evil Empire and the Padres being a lowly, small-market team.

Even though Goliath came out on top, it was not without some memories and scars left by David.

The Yankees got to Brown early in the second inning after a Ricky Ledee two-run double. Greg Vaughn tied it up quickly with a two-run homer. It remained tied until the fifth inning. Tony Gwynn stepped up to the plate against Wells, a lefty on lefty matchup. Gwynn, then 38 and slowing down considerably after a stellar career, was looking to give the Padres a spark and sent a ball screaming over the wall for his first postseason home run and one of the most iconic moments of his illustrious career.

We all know Gwynn was never a power hitter, with his single-season career high at 17 home runs. However, this home run is forever immortalized in San Diego sports lore and the memories of Padres fans everywhere. At least for a brief moment, as Gwynn circled the bases, the Padres held the lead at Yankee Stadium in the World Series and put the Padres on top of the world.

The very next batter made things even rosier for the Padres as Vaughn also sent one into the seats, giving the Padres a 5-2 lead.

The Padres would hold that lead until the bottom of the seventh and one could argue the Padres lost the World Series right then and there. They had momentum on the road and the Yankees took it right back, perhaps killing the Padres’ mojo and confidence. First Chuck Knoblauch hit a game-tying, three-run homer. Donne Wall and Mark Langston struggled to get out of the inning but couldn’t before Tino Martinez delivered the knockout blow for Game 1, a grand slam, breaking the tie and giving the Yankees a 9-5 lead. The Padres managed to get one more run but fell 9-6.

Credit” AP Photo

Game 2 was a bit of a laughter as the Yankees jumped out to a 7-0 lead early and won 9-3.

The Padres had a chance to at least stop sliding backward in Game 3. The NLCS MVP Sterling Hitchcock was on the mound for the Friars against David Cone. The Padres took a late 3-0 lead in the sixth thanks to a two-run single by Gwynn and a sac fly by Caminiti. Unfortunately, the bullpen could not hold as Randy Myers and Hoffman surrendered three runs, giving the Yankees a 5-3 lead thanks to Scott Brosius, who would eventually win series MVP after he hit two home runs in this game. The Padres put up a fight but fell 5-4 and dropped into the dreaded 0-3 hole in the series.

The Yankees confidently entered Game 4 looking for the sweep. Andy Pettitte took the hill and pitched into the eighth inning without allowing a run. Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera closed out the game and series, entering in the eighth for a four-out save. Mark Sweeney grounded out to third baseman Scott Brosius to clinch the championship for the Yankees, capping one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history.

Tony Gwynn hit an astounding .500 with a 1.217 OPS in the World Series. Even though the Padres got swept in the series, that season is one of the last the Padres have had that fans can truly hold on to until a brighter future comes. That future may be closer than it has ever been before.

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Nick Lee
Native of Escondido, CA. Lived in San Diego area for 20 years. Padres fan since childhood (mid-90s). I have been writing since 2014. I currently live near Seattle, WA and am married to a Seattle sports girl. I wore #19 on my high school baseball team for Tony Gwynn. I am a stats and sports history nerd. I attended BYU on the Idaho campus. I also love Star Wars.

2 thoughts on “Re-Living the Padres’ 1998 Playoffs One More Time

  1. Yep, that was a fun series to watch. Games 1 and 3 SD was competitive. Games 2 and 4 not so much. But hey, no shame in losing to that Yankee team. And Vaughn and Brown were gone after ’98, and that was that. But the 2004-2007 team was pretty good too, 4 years in a row above .500, a franchise record.

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