It was half past midnight on Sunday when the San Diego Padres
filed wearily out of the press gate of Yankee Stadium, passing
under a banner showing Lou Gehrig, a plaque honoring the 1927
Yankees and, high up on the facade, a list of the 23 years in
which New York has won the world championship. Considering how
the out-of-towners spent their weekend, it's a wonder the buses
waiting to whisk them away weren't those apple-red double-decker
jobs, each with an overly cheerful tour guide blabbing into a
microphone: On your left, ladies and gentlemen, for those who
didn't recognize it, we just passed the World Series.
In this year of repentance and revivalism for baseball, the
World Series returned to its spiritual home, Yankee Stadium,
which is as close as our sports civilization gets to the
Parthenon. No other structure in this country has staged more of
its sport's championships. Sunday's World Series game was the
90th in the 75-year history of Yankee Stadium--nearly one of
every six Series games ever played and more than twice as many
as have been played at any other ballpark.
"You really haven't experienced the postseason until you've
played a postseason game at Yankee Stadium," New York first
baseman Tino Martinez said Sunday night. "Other crowds may be
just as loud, but there's a special feeling about this place
that the players are never going to forget."
Into this St. Patrick's Cathedral of baseball walked a visiting
team with a history that could fill, with some embellishment,
perhaps a pamphlet. The Yankees have had more World Series
seasons than the Padres have had seasons of any sort, most of
which have been forgettable. Only five of San Diego's players
had ever been in a World Series game, and two of
them--catcher-DH Jim Leyritz and middle reliever Brian
Boehringer--did so while with the Yanks. Among the Padres, four
every-day starters, their Game 2 pitcher, their manager and
general manager and five other players had never played in
Yankee Stadium, which explained their touristy
October 26, 1998
Before Game 1, Tony Gwynn asked to have his picture taken with
the stadium's venerable public address announcer, Bob Sheppard.
"That's the first time that's happened to me," Sheppard said.
Archi Cianfrocco, a nonroster infielder, arrived at a workout
last Friday with his camcorder running. That same day manager
Bruce Bochy toured Monument Park, where the Yankees honor their
dead heroes, with his 11-year-old son, Brett, after taking the
No. 4 subway train to the stadium. "It gave me goose bumps,"
Bochy said, inadvertently describing his straphanging
experience, as well. During that eventful ride with a dozen San
Diego players, "we got a few one-finger salutes," Bochy said.
You half expected the Padres to take the field in Bermuda
shorts, fanny packs and black knee socks. The sight of them
playing upon the most hallowed ground in sports had the
incongruous feel of a community repertory company trying to
perform on Broadway. The Padres looked as if they didn't belong
on the grandest stage.
After taking a 5-2 lead into the seventh inning of Game 1, San
Diego fell apart in a New York minute. By the time the Padres
boarded their buses for the airport, their baggage included 9-6
and 9-3 losses to go along with any tacky T-shirts and Statue of
Liberty key chains they'd picked up over the weekend. No other
team had ever surrendered so many runs in each of the first two
games of a World Series. New York had given San Diego a history
lesson, not to mention one in linguistics.
"It's hard not to press in this stadium," said Padres third
baseman and first-time visitor Ken Caminiti after a 1-for-7
weekend and a crucial Game 2 error. "I did. With the crowd
yelling at you, telling you you suck every two seconds, you try
too hard to get a hit and shut them up. You've got to focus on
letting your hair down and just relaxing. I've played in places
where the fans are loud, but I've never seen anything like this.
All I heard all night was, 'Cammy, you suck. You stink.' And
today I did."
Said San Diego pitching coach Dave Stewart, "I've been coming to
this place for 13 years. I recognize the fact that when I come
to Yankee Stadium, my last name is Suck. If you let that affect
you, you're not ready to do your job. It can't be a factor in
how you play."
Fact is, neither of the Padres' horribly ineffective losing
pitchers, Donne Wall or Andy Ashby, had ever thrown a pitch in
the House That Ruth Built. The New York offense--not to mention
the crowd--suddenly looked as lethal as the '27 Yankees'
Murderers Row. The Yankees reached base in nearly half of their
84 plate appearances. They forced San Diego to throw a whopping
342 pitches and, beginning with that pivotal seventh inning of
Game 1, to use nine pitchers in 10 innings.
San Diego's Game 1 starter, Kevin Brown, was supposed to be the
one with the killer look. Asked to describe Brown's intimidating
mien, Stewart replied, "Well, I wouldn't know what a serial
killer looks like, but...." That tough-guy image, though, took a
hit when Brown, suffering from a sinus infection, couldn't go
the distance--after losing twice as a Florida Marlin in the
World Series last year following a stomach virus. A hard
grounder off his left shin in the second inning on Saturday
night didn't help any.
A weary Brown began sending up red flares in the fifth inning,
when he told Bochy, "You might want to have somebody ready [for
relief]." Then, before the seventh, Brown told his manager to
"pay attention" to him. Thus warned, Bochy yanked his ace at the
first sign of real trouble that inning: a single and a
four-pitch walk with one out. Brown had thrown 108 pitches and
run his 1998 pitching odometer to 288 1/3 innings.
"I was a little surprised he came out [so soon]," New York
shortstop Derek Jeter said. "But I knew he wasn't going to last
all night because we made him throw a lot of pitches."
It took only six batters for the Yankees to turn a three-run
deficit into a four-run lead. No other World Series team in the
past 30 years had a bigger inning than New York's seven in the
seventh. First Chuck Knoblauch played Wall-banger, popping a
room-service fastball from the righty reliever into the
leftfield seats for a game-tying homer. Five batters later
Martinez jacked an upper-deck grand slam off Mark Langston, one
pitch after umpire Rich Garcia had called a borderline 2-and-2
heater a ball. "I've seen it a thousand times, and it's a strike
every time," Langston said. "It was right there."
Until that inning the crowd had shown unusual restraint,
probably due to the vanilla flavor of the opponent. "It was like
they were thinking, Who are the Padres? What are these guys
going to be about?" said New York pitcher David Cone. But
Martinez's blast made an audible impression upon Gwynn. "This
place is a different kind of loud," Gwynn said. "After the grand
slam, I couldn't hear myself breathing."
What little fascination this World Series held came from the
fact that interleague play happened to leave a Yankees-Padres
matchup a mystery. That benefited New York's uniquely creative
Game 2 starter, Orlando Hernandez. San Diego had to solve this
Rubik's Cube of a pitcher while getting its first look at him.
Like most everyone else who had faced that challenge, the Padres
failed. El Duque allowed one run over seven innings, giving him
a 10-2 record with a 2.98 ERA against the 16 teams who were
seeing him for the first time. The Cuban emigre has found
himself a home; he and Game 1 winner David Wells are a combined
22-2 at Yankee Stadium.
The Yanks and their invigorated fans appeared to sense San
Diego's vulnerability. Candace Brown, Kevin's wife, would allow
their seven-year-old son, Ridge, to venture unaccompanied to a
stadium bathroom only after removing his Padres garb. The
Yankees jumped on Ashby from the start, a quintessential New
York at bat in which Knoblauch worked out an eight-pitch walk
after falling behind 0 and 2. By the end of Game 2, New York had
outwalked its postseason opponents 55-26.
"First pitch I was taking all the way," Knoblauch said. "It
turned out it was good for me and everybody on the bench. We got
to see everything he had except a change--a sinker, a little
cutter and a slider."
The walk and the throwing error by Caminiti led to three
unearned runs. By the fifth the Yanks led 9-1, in part because
of two-run homers by Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, who has
become a modern-day Yankees ghost. A free agent next month,
Williams has floated through the postseason with a faraway look
one Yanks executive blamed on "a personal issue." Fittingly,
though innocently, Sheppard forgot to announce Williams during
the Game 1 introductions. Sheppard sought out Williams in the
clubhouse before Game 2 to apologize.
"Shakespeare said to err is human, to forgive, divine," the
announcer told him.
"He said that?" Williams replied.
It was Sheppard, working his 18th World Series, who opened the
Fall Classic with a get-well prayer for New York great Joe
DiMaggio, just shy of his 84th birthday and hospitalized after a
long bout with pneumonia. News of DiMaggio's illness broke in
New York on Friday, the same day Yankees outfielder Darryl
Strawberry left a New York hospital after undergoing surgery on
a cancerous colon, and two days before the six children of the
late Yankee Roger Maris took part in a pregame ceremony.
No such pathos figured to be evident when the Series relocated
on Tuesday to San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, a shrine to
telecommunications and not to dead Padres, the greatest of whom
was Eric Show, a drug casualty whose pitching and politics were
right-wing. It loomed as strictly a business trip for the 123-50
Yankees, purveyors of history. While there, none of them were
expected to tour the Chargers' locker room, the potted palms
over the outfield wall or the fish taco stand.
You half expected the Padres to take the field wearing Bermuda
shorts, fanny packs and black knee socks.
"This place is a different kind of loud," said Gwynn. "After the
grand slam, I couldn't hear myself breathe."