Padres know trouble they're in

Monday, October 19, 1998

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW YORK -- This one, at least, was painless. No suspense. No agony. The San Diego Padres didn't need to play, "What If?" They could instead entertain themselves with the popular hit-and-run game: "Did you get the license number on that truck?"

The World Series continued in the South Bronx Sunday night, but the drama came to an abrupt halt. The New York Yankees, determined to keep an appointment with immortality, seized a 2-0 lead in baseball's ultimate best-of-seven with a 9-3 victory as methodical as Game One's had been magical.

One night, the Yankees break your heart. Next night, they bend your will. As the Padres headed home Sunday, their resistance was low, their odds were long and their pitchers were being lashed like a drunken sailor on the H.M.S. Bounty.

"They're an impressive team," Padres third baseman Ken Caminiti said of the Yankees. "It's going to be tough (to beat them) because our back is to the wall and your natural reaction is to press. You've just got to let your hair down and play."

Things could change. More than in other sports, baseball momentum can be reversed by a single player's dominating performance. If the Padres pitch at home as they did throughout the National League playoffs, they may yet pose a roadblock to the Yankee steamroller.

Reversals happen

Just two years ago, the Yankees were outscored 16-1 in the first two series games against Atlanta, and recovered to douse each other with champagne. That said, the biggest edge San Diego gets at this point in these proceedings is in the Zoo category.

Sunday night, it looked as if the Padres were being fed to the lions.

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Except for a single anxious moment in the first inning -- when Yankee right fielder Paul O'Neill robbed Wally Joyner of a three-run homer -- the evening's peak tension was probably achieved when six of Roger Maris' children showed up for the ceremonial first pitch with only one ball.

The Yankees scored three unearned runs in the bottom of the first -- Caminiti's throwing error prolonging the rally -- and New York starter Orlando Hernandez would never again be required to face a hitter who represented the tying run.

"We don't score three runs (on Joyner's drive) and they score three unearned runs," San Diego manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's a six-run swing. And that was the difference in the game."

Technically, this was true, but this assumes the Yankees would not have scored more runs had they needed them. In building their big lead, they demonstrated profound patience -- Bernie Williams' two-run homer in the second inning came on Padre starter Andy Ashby's 50th pitch of the game. Later, they started swinging more frequently at first pitches and shut down their running game, coasting when they might have continued to score.

Even so, every Yankee starter had at least one hit, and only rookie Ricky Ledee failed to score a run. Ashby yielded 10 hits while recording only eight outs. The viral infection that undermined Kevin Brown's command in Game One has evidently been contagious.

Ashby insisted his health did not pose a hazard to the Padres' cause, and pitching coach Dave Stewart was similarly stoic.

"He didn't sound too good before the game," Stewart said. "He was a little under the weather. But if you take the ball, you're saying, "I'm going to get the job done.' "

The Padres' challenge looked fairly formidable before the series started. Their task just keeps getting tougher.

"We're down two games, and we don't want to make it four," Caminiti said. "We've got to go out and play like it's even. The important thing is to not press. It's an easy thing to say, but it's going to be a hard thing to do."

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

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