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Yankees Go Back to Ruthless Ways

Padres took a sling and missed against Goliath-like Yankees. Now their world has been rocked.

October 18, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE

NEW YORK — The truth is as clear today as it was more than 2,000 years ago, in that other famous mismatch.

The little guy gets one rock.

The little guy gets one chance.

For a few moments of beautiful silence here Saturday, the San Diego Padres had that chance.

They led the Goliath-like New York Yankees by three runs. They had baseball's best pitcher on the mound. They needed eight outs to knock this 94th World Series on its ear.

"We had them all stunned," Tony Gwynn said.

They had their rock.

And they slung it into the Harlem River.

By the time the Padres were scraped off the Yankee Stadium field Saturday, they were at the feet of a Yankee team that appears even bigger, more powerful and more confident after its 9-6 comeback win in Game 1.

Just like that, even after just one game, the Yankees are seemingly destined for history, while the Padres are seemingly history.

The Padres can't say they didn't have their chance, that they didn't have their rock.

"What a boost," said Yankee reliever Jeff Nelson, shaking his head. "What a big, big boost."

Over in the other room, the Gwynn was shaking his head for a different reason.

"Our next game is going to be a real test of our character," Gwynn said. "Because I see a lot of people in this clubhouse who are not very happy."

Nor should they be.

The Padres should be mad at Manager Bruce Bochy for taking out starting pitcher Kevin Brown in the seventh inning with one out and two runners on base.

Brown had thrown 108 pitches, which is nothing for a starting pitcher working on four days' rest.

In two of three starts in this postseason, he had pitched at least eight innings. In six of his last seven regular-season starts, he had pitched at least seven full innings.

He later said he was sick, suffering from a sinus condition. He had been hit with a batted ball early in the game. He gave up a only single and walked a batter on four pitches.

Said Brown: "I was really struggling, I was very tired."

Said Bochy: "He did his job."

No, he didn't. He was at least two outs from doing his job.

The Padre middle relievers are so unsteady, even half of Kevin Brown is better than a full Donne Wall, who needed only three pitches to ruin the previous two hours.

It was surprising that Bochy did not see this. After being so courageous by using Brown in relief in Game 4 of the National League championship series, it was stunning that he would be so tentative now.

The Padres also should be mad at home plate umpire Rich Garcia. This is the same ump who helped the Yankees win the World Series championship in 1996 when he allowed a home run on a Derek Jeter fly ball that was picked out of fair territory by a little kid.

He clearly blew another call Saturday, after Chuck Knoblauch's homer off Wall had tied the score, after Mark Langston had loaded the bases with one intentional walk and unintentional walk.

Plain and simple, Langston's fifth pitch to Tino Martinez was strike three at the knees. Under unwritten postseason rules that anything in the same ZIP code as the batter's box is a strike, this was easily a strike.

"It was obvious we would like to have had it," Bochy said.

But they didn't.

Finally, they should be mad at Langston for grooving the next pitch to a batter who had five hits in 32 at-bats with 11 strikeouts in this postseason.

If anybody was going to swing at a ball that was not down the middle, it was going to be Martinez, who jumped on the down-the-middle pitch for the game-winning grand slam.

"It's 3-and-2, you have to execute in that situation, and I didn't," Langston said.

This is the difference between players who have been in a World Series, and players who have not.

This is the difference between great teams, and those who would chase them down.

"The Yankees have a lot more speed than we do, a lot more power than we do," Gwynn said. "The only similarity between us is that we are both in the World Series."

Afterward, the Padres blared music in a clubhouse and put on a great face.

"We got nothing to lose," said Greg Vaughn, whose two homers went to waste. "All you guys picked us to get blown out anyway."

He added, "We had a couple of these games in the Atlanta series, and we came back from it. This is why these things are seven games."

This being the first time they have lost a first game of a series this postseason, though, this feels a little different.

"We haven't been in this situation before," Gwynn said. "We'll just have to see."

In the Yankee clubhouse there was no music, hushed tones, the noise of relief.

"You have to feel we dodged a bullet," Nelson said.

A potentially deadly one.

Maybe the last one.

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