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From the Sidelines

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / October 19, 1998

In this season of 70 home runs by Mark McGwire and 158 runs batted in by Sammy Sosa, most so-called baseball experts batted .500 on theirpredictions for the World Series this season.

Just about everybody had the New York Yankees representing the American League in the Fall Classic. But the San Diego Padres were about asexpected to win the National League pennant as Cal Ripken ending his consecutive games streak or Kerry Woods striking out 20 batters in a game.

Most expected the Atlanta Braves – with their pitching staff of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle – to be the Yankees’ opposition. Some said it would be Houston, especially after the Astrospicked up Randy Johnson to go along with their Killer B’s offense of Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Derek Bell. The Padres were not even supposed towin their division. That honor was going to down to a dogfight betweenColorado, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

But here they are after dispatching two 100-victory teams this year, the Astros in five games in the Divisional Series and the Braves in six in the National League Championship Series. The Padres have done it behind thepitching of Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock and the timely hitting of Jim Leyritz and Ken Caminiti.

The Padres will be trying to down another 100-win team in the Yankees.

New York swept Texas in the Divisional Series before knocking out the defending American League Champion Cleveland Indians in the League Championship Series.

The history of the teams could not be any different. The Yankees aremaking their 35th World Series appearance and their second in the past three years. San Diego is making only its second appearance and its firstsince 1984.

New York might be a team on a mission. The Yankees won an AmericanLeague-record 114 games during the regular season, beating the record held by Cleveland in 1954 and just two shy of the Major League record set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs. But both the Cubs and Indians failed to win theSeries in those seasons, Cleveland getting swept by the New York Giants and the Cubs falling in six games to the cross-town White Sox. TheYankees do not want to see history repeat itself.

Both the Yankees and Padres fell short of expectations a year ago. NewYork was defeated in the Divisional Series by Cleveland while San Diego failed to make the playoffs. In fact the most news the teams made waswhen the Padres traded Hideki Irabu to the Yankees.

This year, both teams have gotten outstanding pitching of late, New York from David Wells, David Cone and Orlando Hernandez, and San Diego from Brown and Hitchcock. Both teams have a number of gamers who willprovide leadership throughout the Series – New York’s Cone, Paul O’Neill and Chili Davis and San Diego’s Brown, Leyritz, Greg Vaughn, Caminiti, Tony Gwynn and Wally Joyner. Brown and Leyritz (a former Yankee) provideWorld Series experience for the Padres while just about every Yankee has played in a Fall Classic.

Both teams have emotional storylines heading into the World Series. NewYork playing for Darryl Strawberry who has been diagnosed with cancer, and San Diego’s Tony Gwynn, perhaps the best pure hitter of his generation, returning to the World Series for the first time in 14 years.

The smart money seems to say to go with the Yankees. But in this mostunpredictable of seasons, when two players break Roger Maris’ season home run record and a pitcher who is known more for his appreciation of the game’s history than one that would expected to make it (Wells) pitches a perfect game, who knows? Maybe the Padres, and the 1998 season, have one more surprise left in them.

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