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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS | BASEBALL

A Rallying Cry From Fans: Don't Break Up the Padres

October 22, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN

SAN DIEGO — The blazing repertoire and resolve of Kevin Brown was not enough Wednesday night to extend what might have been a last hurrah for this group of San Diego Padres.

The New York Yankees stamped their credentials as one of the best team's in history--it is difficult to argue with a 125-50 record--by completing a four-game World Series sweep of the Padres as Andy Pettitte outdueled Brown, combining with Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera on a seven-hit, 3-0 victory.

With four key Padres, including Brown, eligible for free agency and the economic future of the team tied, in large measure, to a Nov. 3 vote here on funding for a new, baseball-only ballpark, it is uncertain how many of the National League champions will be back in 1999.

There was evidence after the final out that the Qualcomm Stadium crowd of 65,427, largest in San Diego baseball history, wants them all back.

The Padres responded to the thunderous pleas by returning from their clubhouse to wave appreciation for the support during what was a record year for attendance.

"With most clubs that had just been swept in four games, the fans would be out, trying to beat the traffic," General Manager Kevin Towers said.

"You can see what these guys mean to the fans here. Regardless of the way the vote goes, we're not going to conduct a fire sale.

"It's doubtful we can bring them all back, but we're not going to do what the Florida Marlins did."

In addition to Brown, the Padres eligible for free agency include Ken Caminiti, Wally Joyner, Steve Finley, Carlos Hernandez and John Vander Wal.

"I'd like to see everybody come back so that we can make a run again next year, but we have a big vote coming up and that will have a lot to do with it," said Tony Gwynn, who had two hits Wednesday night and batted .500 in his second Series and first since 1984, when the Padres lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games.

To that point, the Tigers were the best he had seen.

Now 38, Gwynn said he couldn't place the Yankees in history, but "they are definitely the most balanced I've seen. They can beat you in so many ways. They have so many weapons.

"I hate to get beat 4-0, but I don't think we have anything to be ashamed about. We had a special year. Not many people gave us a chance, but we won 98 games and beat two outstanding teams to get here. This isn't the way you'd want it to end, but we had a hell of a year and we have to tip our caps to the Yankees."

A long season and the three-tiered playoffs wore down a San Diego bullpen that lacks the depth of New York's. The Padres failed to hold seventh-inning leads of 5-2 in Game 1 and 3-0 in Game 3. There was criticism of Manager Bruce Bochy for removing Brown too soon from Game 1 and Andy Ashby too late from Game 2. He took heat for not bringing Trevor Hoffman in sooner in Game 3 and for his bench deployment in the ninth inning of that game.

The bottom line is that his middle relief collapsed while his offense was outscored, 26-13, and his pitchers compiled a 5.82 earned-run average.

The Yankees, it will be recalled, won a record 114 regular season games and were 11-2 in the postseason.

"I'd have to say they're the best team of the '90s, if not more," Towers said. "It's an expansion year and all that, but I don't think you're going to see anyone win 125 games again for awhile."

Padre batting coach Merv Rettenmund said he considers the 1989 Oakland A's the best World Series team he has ever seen (Rettenmund was a coach with that team), because "they hit the World Series rolling, at the top of their game. I'm not saying they were a better team [than the Yankees], but they were at that particular point in time."

Rettenmund added, however, that the Yankees "can beat you in ways that make it look easy. They expect to win and do. It's a great club. Incredible, really. The best? Well, right now it is."

No one in the Padre clubhouse would dispute that, including Brown, who is No. 1 on the priority list of free-agent re-signings.

Brown has said that he would like to return to San Diego, all things being equal, but he refused to discuss that situation Wednesday. He came back from the sinus infection that resulted in his pivotal departure in Game 1 to light up the Qualcomm speed gun with readings in the mid-90s while delivering 119 pitches in an eight-inning stint marred by a series of infield and bloop hits. The Yankees scored once in the sixth and twice in the eighth.

"It would have been nice if they had hit a couple of line drives right at someone instead of 56 infield choppers, but that's not to take anything away from the Yankees," the intense right-hander said. "They have a great lineup, a quality team from top to bottom. I don't know about history, but they're the best team I've seen this year.

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