The Padres’ Five Greatest Games
October 7, 1984: The Padres Win the Pennant! The Padres Win the Pennant!
As the new kids on the block, the Padres entered their first postseason as the “other team” trying to ruin the romantic revival of the Chicago Cubs, whose sudden burst to the National League’s Eastern Division title had many long-suffering Windy City fans hoping for their team’s first World Series appearance in 39 years—and their first championship since 1908. After losing the first two games of the NLCS at Chicago by a combined 17-2 score, the Padres looked ready to oblige. But dejected San Diego players came home to find a large, unexpected burst of support from local fans still enthusiastic in their own hopes—and it gave the Padres an emotional lift, winning the next two games at Jack Murphy Stadium to set up the Game Five decider.
The Cubs bolted out to a 3-0 lead after two innings and knocked starter Eric Show out of the game. Any chance for an early Padres comeback fell flat against Cub starter Rick Sutcliffe—17-1 since an early-season trade to the Cubs from Cleveland—and it began to look as if the Padres were finally running on empty to the finish. But it was actually Sutcliffe’s tank that began to run low; the Padres rallied for two runs in the sixth to narrow the Cub lead to one—and an inning later, with Carmelo Martinez on second with one out, pinch-hitter Tim Flannery hit a sharp, low grounder right at—and right through—the legs of first baseman Leon Durham, scoring the tying run; after an Alan Wiggins single, Tony Gwynn made more trouble for the right side of the Cub infield when his grounder eluded second baseman Ryne Sandberg and skimmed into the gap, scoring both baserunners and giving the Padres a 5-3 lead. Gwynn himself scored when Steve Garvey next singled him home.
San Diego closer Goose Gossage took care of business in the final two innings, extending the Padre bullpen’s shutout string on the day to 7.2 innings and finishing off the Cubs to give San Diego its first-ever NL pennant.
April 9, 1974: What a Kroc
After five years of moribund baseball in San Diego, a deal to move the Padres to Washington D.C. appeared so certain that Topps printed its first batch of trading cards in the winter with Padres players listed under the name, “Washington, National League.” But to the rescue came Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, who stepped in, bought the Padres and kept them in San Diego with the promise of making them a winner.
Despite a newfound influx of enthusiasm and cash from their new owner, the Padres didn’t jump out of the gate to start the season. In fact, they crashed; they were outscored in their first three games of the year at Los Angeles by a 25-2 count. Arriving back in town for their home opener before a crowd of just under 40,000—the second largest in Padres history to date—didn’t serve as a jumpstart for the team, quickly trailing Houston after two innings, 6-1. After the Astros scored twice more in the top of the eighth to make it a 9-2 game, Kroc had enough. He jumped into the public address booth and grabbed the mike.
“Ladies and gentleman, I suffer with you,” he began, before being interrupted by the roar of the crowd—not in response to Kroc, but to a streaker who invaded the field. “Throw him in jail!” an incensed Kroc yelled, before continuing: “There is good news and bad news. First, the good news. You loyal fans outdid Los Angeles. They had 31,000 for opening night and we have nearly 40,000. God bless you. Now for the bad news. I have never seen such stupid ballplaying in my life.” Then he was done.
The Padres scored three times in the bottom of the inning to make the 9-5 loss sound close, but Kroc’s words far from motivated them. On the contrary, they were furious to the point that they considered boycotting the next game. Kroc heard it from everybody—not just his own team’s players but those of the Astros, as well as players’ union head Marvin Miller, NL president Chub Feeney, commissioner Bowie Kuhn and even his wife Joan, who barked at him on the phone shortly after the game.
A contrite Kroc spread his sorrows the next day, but the locals began to see the positive in his rant by realizing that he at least cared deeply for the Padres. As for the team, they finally won after losing its first six games—and finished the year at 60-102, its last 100-loss campaign until 1993.
October 14, 1998: Might Over Mightier
The Padres finished the 1998 regular season with their best record ever, at 98-64—and still played the road warriors in the playoffs against two teams (Houston and Atlanta) who themselves logged the best performance in their histories as well. San Diego knocked out the Astros in the first round and, after taking the first three against the 106-56 Braves in the NLCS, lost the next two at home—meaning a return to Atlanta, sweating out the need to play two to win one and advance to the World Series.
Because Padres ace Kevin Brown had pitched relief two days earlier, the starting assignment on the mound was handed to Sterling Hitchcock, a memorable name with an unmemorable career—except in this postseason, where he had already won impressive battles over future Hall-of-Fame aces Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux; now he was up against yet another likely member of Cooperstown, the crafty Tom Glavine. Sure enough, another pitcher’s duel evolved through the first five innings, with both pitchers keeping the other team off the scoreboard. In the sixth, the Padres broke through, then exploded, on Glavine. Eleven Padres came to the plate and five runs scored, the first on a productive ground out by Jim Leyritz—the same man who skewered the Braves two Octobers earlier as a member of the Yankees. The Braves didn’t help themselves when Hitchcock hit a liner at left fielder Danny Bautista for what should have been the inning’s final out—but Bautista lost it in the lights for a two-run error.
Hitchcock pitched two batters into the sixth inning before being removed, allowing just two hits with eight strikeouts. Four relievers, capped by closer Trevor Hoffman in the ninth, finished clamping down on the Braves for the easy 5-0 win and a surprise NL pennant—the Padres’ second and last to date.
August 1, 1972: A Double Date With Nate the Great
Nate Colbert was the Padres’ first slugging star, an oasis of offense amid a sweeping desert of hitting futility throughout the team’s first five seasons. His role in single-handedly carrying the Padres on their back was no more exposed than in 1972, when he knocked in a quarter of the team’s runs to set a major league record, and no more exemplified on a single day than when the Padres came to Atlanta for a doubleheader against the Braves.
In the first game, Colbert collected a two-run home run in the first inning, a run-scoring single in the third, another single in the fourth a second two-run blast in the seventh, wrapping up a 4-for-5 performance with five RBIs in the Padres’ 9-0 win. He was just warming up.
In the nightcap, Colbert went into overdrive. He was wisely walked in the first by Atlanta starter Tom Kelley, who an inning later unwisely served up a hittable pitch—with the bags loaded—that Colbert connected on for a grand slam. Colbert wasn’t through; in the seventh, he tagged Jim Hardin for a two-run homer, and in the ninth, he brought home three more runs with his third blast of the game, giving him a total of five homers and 13 RBIs for the day—tying Stan Musial for the home run mark and breaking the RBI record for a doubleheader.
August 6, 1999: Tony at 3,000
The setting wasn’t ideal and neither was the level of baseball played that night, but the most beloved player ever to don a Padres uniform made history when Tony Gwynn rapped out his 3,000th career hit in San Diego’s 12-10 win at Montreal before a typically underwhelming Olympic Stadium crowd of 13,000.
Gwynn didn’t waste any time achieving the milestone, singling in the first inning off rookie Expo starter Dan Smith—who was gone before the end of the first inning after allowing five runs on five hits. The 39-year-old Gwynn was not about ready to take the rest of the evening off or rest on his laurels; he singled again in the second, sixth and eighth innings to complete a four-hit night, his first in over a year—and the second-to-last of his Hall-of-Fame career. Because of his contributions, the Padres were able to stay ahead of Montreal for the length of the game, though it had its moments—besides the 22 total runs, there were five doubles, two triples, four home runs, four grounders turned into double plays, eight errors, a wild pitch and a balk. Closer Trevor Hoffman had to put the lid on a ninth-inning fire ignited by the Expos that closed a five-run deficit to two, giving the Padres victory—and giving Tony Gwynn one more reason to smile in the clubhouse.
San Diego Padres Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Padres, decade by decade.
The Padres' Five Greatest Hitters: A list of the five greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Padres' Five Greatest Pitchers: A list of the five greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
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