Greatest Moments in Padres History #4: The 1998 National League Championship
By Pat Callahan
Some baseball seasons are special. And for the Padres, the 1998 campaign was just such a season. Some might have begun to sense just that when, in mid December, GM Kevin Towers orchestrated a shrewd trade that sent pitchers Steve Hoff, Rafael Medina, as well as first baseman Derrek Lee (who would later become a two-time All-Star and play in the bigs for 15 years), in exchange for Florida Marlin ace, and free agent-to-be, Kevin Brown.
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Aside from Brown, other new additions to the 1998 team included INF Andy Sheets, C Greg Myers, C-1B-3B Jim Leyritz and 3B-2B Ed Giovanola, Mark Langston, Brian Boehringer, Dan Miceli and Scott Sanders.
In a refurbished bullpen, with the exception of closer Trevor Hoffman, Miceli, Boehringer, Wall and Sanders would help keep the Padres in games until AC/DC reverberated around the Murph.
The revamped bench, which would change from time-to-time, included of OF-1B-PH Mark Sweeny, INF Andy Sheets, OF Ruben Rivera, C Greg Myers, C-1B-3B Jim Leyritz (who was acquired midseason), 3B-2B Ed Giovanola and 1B-SS-3B Archi Cianfrocco.
The front five were Brown, Andy Ashby, Joey Hamilton, Sterling Hitchcock and Langston.
By the time Opening Day rolled around against Cincinnati, the Padres, who fished the previous year at 76-86, ran out their 1998 starting lineup. Carlos Hernandez got the call from the bench to become the starter behind the plate. However, the rest of the starting seven remained intact, including veteran Wally Joyner at first, speedy Quilvio Veras at second, Chris Gomez at short, Ken Caminiti at third, Greg Vaughn in left, Steve Finley in center and mainstay Tony Gwynn holding down his familiar position in right field.
The Padres beat the Reds that day in late March 10-2, as the team would go on win 21 of their first 30 games. At the All-Star Break, the Padres were 57-31. After 120 games, 78-42. After 140 games, 90-50, forty games over .500. The Padres finished the 1998 season at 98-64, the most games any Padre team had ever won before and since, and never spent a day under .500.
The team easily won the the National League West by 8.5 games over the Giants.
In 1998, the Braves won the East with a record 106-56, the Astros won the Central 102-60, and the Chicago Cubs secured the Wild Card by going 90-73.
In the National League Divisional Series, the Braves would meet the Cubs. The Padres would take on the Astros.
The Braves quickly dispatched the Cubs, sweeping them in three games by outscoring them 16-4.
The Padres-Astros series would begin at the Astrodome.
The Astros who also had sights set on the 1998 Fall Classic, had obtained pitcher Randy Johnson at the July 31 Trade Deadline for a World Series run of their own. Since joining the Astros, Johnson had gone 10-1 with a 1.28, while striking out 116 in 84 innings. Johnson would start Game 1.
However the Padres had an ace of their own in Kevin Brown. On the year, Brown had gone 18-7, with a 2.38, pitched seven complete games, three shutouts and struck out 257 in 257 innings. Brown would oppose Johnson in the first game.
The Padres won the first game 2-1. as Brown bested Johnson, pitching eight strong innings, picking up the win, giving up two hits and no runs, while striking out 16, Hoffman picked up the save.
Vaughn and Leyritz were responsible for the two RBIs, with Vaughn’s coming on a solo home run in the 8th inning.
In Game 2, a game the Padres trailed for the entirety, the Pads managed to tie the game in the top of the ninth, only to lose it in bottom of the inning, 5-4.
In Game 3, back at Jack Murphy Stadium, the Padres played another tight game, winning 2-1, with Brown again taking the ball for the start. The Padres scored their first run in the sixth and second in the seventh. Brown went six innings, giving up a run and striking out five. Miceli picked up the win and Hoffman added his second save of the series. Leyritz, who was playing first, added his second home run of the series.
In Game 4, at home, the Padres sealed the deal, winning 6-1 to close out the series. Lefty Sterling Hitchcock picked up the win. Leyritz hit his third home run to go along with four RBIs in the series. And PH John Vander Wal added a triple that scored two.
Bring on the Braves, who had won a National League-best 106 games.
The series would start at Turner Field and Ashby would face off against John Smoltz who boasted a 17-3 record to go along with a 2.90 ERA.
After five innings the game was tied 1-1. After a leadoff double, the Padres added a run in the eight thanks to a Braves error.
However, the Braves answered back in the bottom of the ninth thanks to a walk, single and sacrifice fly, which tied the game 2-2.
The Padres would do a little answering back of their own in the top of the 10th thanks to Caminiti home run, which put the Padres up 3-2 for good.
In Game 2, the Padres once again sent Brown to the mound and all he proceeded to do was pitch a complete game, striking out 11 in route to picking up his second series win, as the Padres won 3-0.
In Game 3, this time back at the Murph, Hitchcock would face off against Braves ace Greg Maddux. Joyner would add two RBIs, and Finley and Caminiti would add an RBI a piece in helping Hitchcock and four other pitchers limit the Brave to one run, as Padres won the game 4-1.
In Game 4, one win away from only their second World Series appearance, the Padres dropped the game 8-3. despite holding a 3-2 lead heading into the top of the seventh.
In Game 5, the last at Jack Murphy, the Padres again dropped a tight one. In a back-and-forth game that saw the Padres leading 4-2 heading into the top the eighth, the Braves answered with five runs. The Pads would two more in the bottom of the ninth, but fell short 7-6.
With the series now heading back to Altanta, and the Padres holding a 3-2 edge, Bochy and the boys decided to give the ball to Sterling Hitchcock, who would be facing Cy Young Award winner Tom Glavine. And, in hindsight, what a decision it was. Hitchcock pitched five strong innings, striking out eight and giving up no runs. Boehringer, Langston, Hamilton and Hoffman followed — none allowing a run.
All the offense the Padres would need came in the sixth. Vaughn singled off Glavine. Caminiti followed with a single to center. Leyritz hit into a fielder’s choice, which scored Vaughn. Joyner singled to center, scoring Caminiti. Finley singled to center. Gomez walked. Hitchcock reached on a error, scoring Finley and Joyner. Finally, Veras singled to center, scoring Gomez, making the score 5-0, which was also the final score of the game.
It was a special season, especially considering the Padres are a team that has only seen the playoffs five times in the last 45 years.
And Prior to 1998, the Padres had participated in the postseason only twice in the last 28 years. And as winners of the National West in 1995, that team was quickly dispatched courtesy of a three-game sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series.
While what is deemed special may ultimately be subjective, for the second time in 28 years, the San Diego Padres were once again called National League Champions.