Ducksnorts Book Excerpt: The Miracle That Almost Happened

Ducksnorts 2007 Baseball Annual The following excerpt is taken from the Ducksnorts 2007 Baseball Annual, tentatively scheduled for March 2007 publication. This is part of a chapter that focuses on the San Diego Padres’ World Series season of 1998.

The Padres kicked off the season in style, dismantling the Reds, 10-2, in Cincinnati behind new ace Kevin Brown, who surrendered just one run over 6 1/3 innings. Brown also contributed at the plate, knocking a bases-loaded double to account for half of a 6-run outburst in the seventh inning. Tony Gwynn accounted for the other half, hammering a three-run homer to right-center. Wally Joyner added a home run of his own, and the Padres were off and running.

By the end of April, on the strength of an eight-game winning streak, the Padres had a 19-7 record and a 5-game lead over the second place Dodgers. After 26 games the previous season, the Padres had been 10-16, comfortably in last place. They now found themselves two games ahead of the pace they’d set in 1996, and three ahead of 1984.

Many contributed to the success of this early run. Surprisingly, however, the Padres received very little production from the likes of Ken Caminiti, Greg Vaughn, and Steve Finley.

Top Padres Batters in April 1998
Joyner 78 .338 .410 .544
Veras 116 .312 .431 .375
Gwynn 103 .362 .398 .479

On the pitching side, Brown set the tone. Despite the 2-2 record, Brown’s ERA over six starts was a stingy 2.45, and opponents hit just .238/.275/.298 against him. Andy Ashby, perhaps inspired, began the season 4-1 and held batters to a .247/.284/.329 line.

The bullpen remained uncertain behind Trevor Hoffman. Newcomers Dan Miceli and Carlos Reyes had gotten off to promising starts, but Donne Wall, Brian Boehringer, and Don Wengert were struggling. Still, the Padres played four extra-inning games in the season’s first month and won them all, so they must have been doing something right.

Particularly impressive were two games against Esteban Loaiza and the Pittsburgh Pirates. On April 18, with the Padres trailing 5-3 at Three Rivers Stadium, catcher Carlos Hernandez hit a two-run homer with two out in the eighth inning to tie the game. Left-hander Sterling Hitchcock, who began the season in the bullpen, and Miceli held the home team in check until the Padres were able to push across two unearned runs in the top of the 10th. Hoffman nailed down the victory with a 1-2-3 bottom half for his fifth save.

A week later, at the recently rechristened Qualcomm Stadium, the Padres victimized Loaiza yet again. Hitchcock, making his first start of the season, was chased from the game early, having surrendered three runs in three innings. The Padres, though, chipped away at Loaiza’s lead, scoring a run in the fourth and another in the fifth to tie the game. The score remained 3-3 for the next 10 1/2 innings, until Finley hit the third of three straight singles in the bottom of the 16th to plate Veras and give San Diego its seventh win of the young season. The bullpen, for its part, worked 13 innings that evening, allowing just four hits and two walks.

The other notable game in April took place against the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks. Ex-Padre Andy Benes shut down his former team for eight innings and Arizona, with the help of two errors by Caminiti that led to three unearned runs against Brown, held a 4-2 lead going to the ninth. After issuing a leadoff single to Vaughn, Diamondbacks closer Felix Rodriguez retired the next two batters. He then walked Mark Sweeney and Quilvio Veras, bringing Finley to the plate. Finley proceeded to drive Rodriguez’ second pitch into the right-field bleachers for a walk-off grand slam. This would prove to be one of the defining moments of the 1998 season.

32 Responses »

  1. Saw on the UT site that the Pads signed our boy B-Law to a minor league deal. Wonder if he’ll be able to regain his old form…could be a great deal if he can.

  2. Re:1 hmmm 5th starter if wells does not sign? Will he be ready by ST?

  3. Signed or made an offer? I don’t see any stories about Lawrence accepting, the only news I see is that Seattle has emerged as a slight favorite.

  4. Offer is all I’ve read. I’d heard that Colorado, Pittsburgh, and possibly Philadelphia were looking at offering a big-league contract.

  5. Aagh! Best season by the best shortstop in team history is .282/.332/.377. Is there any way I can justify not putting Garry Templeton in the top spot?

    Who knew that Ozzie Smith one day would become a better hitter than Tim Lollar? And why did we have to trade Tony Fernandez for a steaming pile of shaving cream?

    Sorry, I’m having a moment…

  6. GY-

    Was that Opening Day win vs. the Reds the game where the Reds shortstop (it wasn’t Barry Larkin — maybe it was Pokey Reece?) made four errors?

    Should I be more excited about the offer to David Wells? ‘Cause I ain’t.

  7. And why the dis on the Fernandez trade? We acquired a much needed running back (D.J. Dozier).

  8. I probably misread…thought it said “signed” for BL. Sorry, the 3month old keeps Dad from getting all the sleep he’s used to…

  9. The farther along we go the more unimpressed I am with our 5th starter options, which seem to be:


  10. Despite being English and living in Oxford, I’ve followed the Padres intently ever since my brother, then in San Diego, took the family and me to the home opener against Cincinnati in ’98. So I was disappointed, Geoff, to have no reference here to a rousing victory, and one that persuaded me that baseball was as worthwhile as cricket. 2-0 down in the bottom of the ninth, two out (I think) and one man on and nothing much happening when Carlos Hernandez (him again) hit a home run out to centre: the 50,000 remaining stood and cheered like no crowd I’ve been in before or since. And Tony Gwynn scored on a sacrifice fly (first time I’d met one of those) in the 10th.

    When we got home, I discovered that one of the British stations carried games Sundays and some Wednesdays, that baseball is probably the best internet sport (the tension waiting for the refresh when it’s a full count and the bases are loaded); and the rest is … some very late nights.

    Discovered Ducksnorts and the Blog community at the end of last season. Keep up the good work. And my brother now lives a mile from whatever PacBell is called this month, so it may be a long time before I manage to see the Padres again.

  11. Bill Werndl says B Law did sign a minor league deal with the Padres. If Philly Billy said it, you can take it to the bank!

    I always thought B Law would be a good #5 but he may not have much left in the tank after his arm woes. Nice low risk signing anyway.

    10: Great story Steve. You have a good memory, here’s the recap of that game:

  12. Maybe BLaw likes Portland. Who knows?

  13. Re: 10 I thought I lived in San Diego?

  14. Steve #13. It’s been a figment of your imagination. BTW, are you the Steve that’s Sean’s friend?

  15. Re: 13 Sorry, I’ve recast myself. Unless you want to be NOS [Non Oxford Steve]?

  16. I am, Mr Brown.

    We can share I Can Change to Steve C.

  17. That’s not as good as Non Oxford Steve…

  18. Sorry but its hard under this name due to a one off the worst rappers to ever hit the airwaves!

  19. Wait, so Steve is now NOS and Steve from Oxford is Oxford Padre?
    Who’s Steve C? And Mr. Brown?

  20. Mr. Brown is that tall, good-looking blonde guy. Turns out, by coincidence that NOS, aka Steve C, formerly known as “Steve,” is a friend of mine and my son’s, who has been to my house more than once, and until today we never confirmed or for a long time, suspected, that we were both posting here.

  21. Anyone interested in continuing the debate on Bert Blyleven, please note that Buster Olney wrote another couple paragraphs on his candidacy today.

    He brought up a very interesting point that I had not considered…So many people (including those arguing against me here at Ducksnorts) cite his strike-out numbers as a major reason to let him in. As Buster points out “The way the game is played has changed dramatically, and if you use strikeouts as the major barometer, it should always be noted that only one of the top 15 pitchers in this category pitched before the 1960s.”

    Now, I think K’s are a very important stat and I don’t want to devalue them. I think they are a HUGE reason to consider Pedro, Unit, and Rocket sure fire HOF’ers, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless…

  22. Also, Pat…I am still considering your post(s) regarding Bert’s Hall worthiness…I just can’t get over one fundamental problem…the same one that Olney used today…

    There is no question that he was a very good pitcher for a very long time, and eventually he’ll get into the Hall of Fame, through the Veterans Committee. How you view Blyleven’s candidacy depends largely on how you define your Hall of Fame standard. If you use the lowest common denominators, the borderline Hall of Famers like Phil Rizzuto, then Blyleven is a lock. If you think the Hall of Fame should generally be a place reserved for the most elite players who meet the standards of Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, etc., then you run into a problem.

  23. Sorry, cut out the first part…

    “the sticking point for me (and apparently, for a lot of voters) is that unlike almost all of the pitchers in the Hall of Fame, Blyleven did not have an extensive run in his career, of at least four or five seasons, in which he was regarded as one of the top two to three pitchers in his league. “

  24. #6: Yes, BG, it was. I believe he made them all in the same inning.

    #10: Thanks for the story, Steve. I’ll have to take a closer look at that game and see if I can work it in somehow.

    More useless info from my research today: Sean Burroughs is third all-time in Padres history in HBP (26, behind Gene Tenace and Tim Flannery). Khalil Greene is the active leader in strikeouts with 293; Nate Colbert’s record of 773 should be safe for a long time.

  25. Re: 21 Good summary, I actually just asked Sean the other day if you posted on here.

    Re: 25 Its odd that Greene has the second longest active tenure for a positions player with the team.

  26. Hey Guys,

    I just heard KT on the radio and BLAW has NOT signed yet. He is waiting to see if Boomer signs before he commits to the Padres. KT said that if we sign Wells he expects BLaw to sign with another team because he wants the 5th spot. Anyways hope you guys have a good weekend. I am currently trying to make some arrangements for spring training, my girlfriends grandmother is in Phoenix and wants us to come visit so I am trying to squeeze together a 2 for 1. I really need baseball to start NOW, I am in the early stages of being able to move on from that Chargers loss and something/anything that can make me forget about the Bolts for more than 2 seconds would be spectacular!

  27. I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing B law back. That is, unless his arm is completely shot — then it wouldn’t be as pleasant of a reunion.

  28. More from KT this morning:

    Wells: Expects to hear a decision today. Made two offers, one with decent guarantee and some incentives, the other much less guarantee and higher incentives.

    Lawrence: Ditto what KRS1 said. Also said they watched him throw, the velocity is not all the way back but the sinker is moving. What he didn’t say is if Wells leaves does that mean B Law is the #5 or are they going to pursue other options.

    B Law at a reduced velocity is a scary thought but maybe he’ll be ok since he never relied on velocity anyway.

  29. Re: 29 B-Law with reduced velocity? so are we talking an 85-87 mph fastball? It will be a long night if his locaton is a little off.

  30. B-Law could eat up alot of innings, but if Wells doesn’t sign I rather see CHP in the 5th spot. CHP is more versitle, he can pitch out of pen if needed.

  31. If BLaw has reduced velocity, we have to be talking low 80-s to high-70′s…I know he was hurt before the trade, but I remember him throwing innings at 81-83mph before he went to Washington…

    Please say they are referring to the days of him throwing in the mid-high 80′s…