NEW YORK -- The San Diego Padres have heard it all before. They were supposed to be outflanked by Randy Johnson and the Houston Astros in the Division Series. They were supposed to be overmatched by the vaunted Atlanta Braves' starting rotation in the National League Championship Series. Now this.
The New York Yankees, the team with so much destiny that it's almost disgusting, have won 121 games -- including the postseason -- and are a heavy favorite to win four more in the 94th World Series that opens tonight at Yankee Stadium.
"They are loaded," said future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who will be appearing in his second Fall Classic. "I remember when we played them in spring training, sitting on the bench and looking across at their team. We were just looking at their bench, not even the guys on the field, and they had guys like Chili Davis and Tim Raines on the bench. They are a great club top to bottom."
Good enough to win an American League-record 114 games in the regular season. Good enough to dispatch the Texas Rangers without getting a pinstripe out of place. Good enough to survive a couple of tough early losses and win the American League Championship Series going away.
"You know you're going to have your work cut out for you," Gwynn said, "but that's what the World Series is all about. You've got to climb the mountain if you want to get to the promised land. Sometimes, to get where you want to go, you've got to do something improbable."
The Padres already have done that. The Astros won 102 games in the regular season and sent the hottest pitcher in baseball against them twice without success. The Braves won 106 games and then unraveled in the NLCS for the second year in a row. But this would be a step beyond improbable.
"We're the quiet team from the West," first baseman Wally
Joyner said. "We've surprised a lot of teams. Why not surprise the Yankees?"
Leave it to Game 1 starter David Wells to make sure that the Padres are properly motivated. He said on Howard Stern's national radio show that the Yankees would dispense with San Diego in five games -- which is no small trick with San Diego ace Kevin Brown set to go in Game 1 and likely to return for Game 4.
That was just shock jock talk, of course, but one of the New York tabloids ran with it. Wells is a guy who loves to mix it up, both on the field and off, but he tried to back away from the inflammatory comment yesterday -- insisting that it was just a light-hearted exchange with Stern that was blown out of proportion.
"It's not a matter of taking it back," Wells said. "It was out of context. I told him I wasn't predicting anything. I think the San Diego Padres are an outstanding team and don't think it would be fair to myself or my teammates or the Padres to predict anything like that."
That may be true, but the Padres will take their bulletin board material where they can get it.
"He's confident I like that," said Padres pitching coach Dave Stewart, who has never been afraid to speak his mind either. "They've got a lot of reasons to be confident. Just tell them, 'Don't forget that we've beaten two teams with 100 wins already and we outpitched them.'
"We've beaten some better pitchers than David Wells. We beat [Tom] Glavine, [Greg] Maddux, Randy Johnson, [John] Smoltz, some pretty good pitchers. I'm not sure that his name comes right after them."
The only real surprise during yesterday's World Series media day was the announcement by Yankees manager Joe Torre that Cuban phenom Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez would start Game 2 instead of Andy Pettitte.
Pettitte figured to go in the second game because of the built-in edge that left-handers have at Yankee Stadium, but he has been inconsistent in the postseason and figured to be preoccupied pitching just a few days after his father underwent heart bypass surgery.
Hernandez earned the start with an outstanding performance in the pivotal fourth game of the ALCS. Torre will hold 20-game winner David Cone back for Game 3 in San Diego to avoid pitching him in cold weather. Pettitte is scheduled to go in Game 4, but that might depend on how the series stands at that point.
The Padres will follow Brown with either right-hander Andy Ashby or NLCS hero Sterling Hitchcock. Joey Hamilton could go BTC in Game 4, but manager Bruce Bochy all but conceded that he would bring Brown back on three days' rest if the situation warranted.
Torre always seems cool and collected, but he definitely isn't overconfident. He remembers how the Yankees were considered the underdog against the Braves in 1996 and came away with their first world title in 18 years.
"I'm not sure there is any less pressure on you because each team has their own goals aside from what you [the media] like to predict for us," Torre said. "And we felt we had a chance to beat Atlanta in '96 and I am sure that is the way the Padres feel right now -- that maybe other people aren't predicting a lot for them, but I am sure they are for themselves."
The Padres clearly relish the opportunity to sneak up on the world championship trophy, even if they feign disgust that they have been sold short by the rest of the baseball world throughout this postseason.
"These are supposed to be the best two teams left," said Padres utility man and designated postseason hero Jim Leyritz. "It doesn't matter who's better on paper or statistically. It's going to come down to who is playing better this week."
San Diego Padres vs. New York Yankees
Best of seven)
Today: San Diego (Brown, 18-7, 2.38) at New York (Wells, 18-4, 3.49), 8 p.m.
Tomorrow: San Diego (Hitchcock, 9-7, 3.93 or Ashby, 17-9, 3.34) at New York (Hernandez, 12-4, 3.13), 7: 55 p.m.
Tuesday: New York (Cone, 20-7, 3.55) at San Diego (Hitchcock or Ashby), 8: 20 p.m.
Wednesday: New York (Pettitte, 16-11, 4.24) at San Diego (Hamilton, 13-3, 4.27), 8: 20 p.m.
Thursday*: New York at
San Diego, 8: 20 p.m.
Oct. 24*: San Diego at
New York, 8 p.m.
Oct. 25*: San Diego at
New York, 7: 55 p.m.
TV: chs. 45, 5. *-If necessary
Facts and figure
What: World Series opener
Where: Yankee Stadium, New York
When: Tonight, 8
TV: Chs. 45, 5
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)
Weather: Clear, low 60s to start the game
Pub Date: 10/17/98