NEW YORK -- In this, the most perfect of pinstriped seasons, the New York Yankees are in danger of making it look too easy. They already are halfway to a resounding victory in the 94th World Series, and the San Diego Padres are looking less and less like a team with any chance to stop them.
There was a point late in Game 1 when the Padres held a three-run lead and an opportunity to make it a Fall Classic to remember, but by the third inning of Game 2 last night, it seemed evident that the 1998 Yankees would indeed stake their claim to baseball immortality.
The Padres wilted on an unseasonably warm evening in the Bronx and fell, 9-3, before a joyful -- and sometimes obnoxious -- ++ sellout crowd of 56,692 at Yankee Stadium. The best-of-seven series moves to Qualcomm Stadium for the next three games, but the Padres now need to sweep the home segment of the series to have a reasonable chance of preventing the Yankees from putting the finishing touches on an amazing 1998 season.
That doesn't seem very likely, not with 20-game winner David Cone set to go in Game 3 tomorrow and San Diego native David Wells eager to pitch in front of his hometown folks if the series gets to a fifth game. The Padres had their chance to assert themselves in Game 1. The rest -- barring a shocking turnaround -- is Yankees history.
"We don't take anything for granted," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "The San Diego Padres are a good team. They had a 5-2 lead on us last night and they came through a couple of tough series to get here and we know they are going home, where they play very well."
The suspense mounted for all of about 10 minutes last night. The Padres put two men on against Yankees starter Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez in the top of the first inning and Wally Joyner launched a drive to right field that appeared headed for extra bases or more, but Paul O'Neill climbed the wall to make a leaping catch.
It was all Yankees after that. They scored three times off Padres starter Andy Ashby in the bottom of the first with the help of a throwing error by third baseman Ken Caminiti and added three more in the second -- the game-breaking swing a two-run home run by Bernie Williams that staked "El Duque" to a six-run lead.
The Yankees, who had gotten through the Division Series and the American League Championship Series largely on the strength of their talented pitching staff, finally are presenting the balanced all-around attack that carried them to an American League-record 114 regular-season victories.
Tino Martinez broke out of a deep postseason slump in Game 1, launching a two-out grand slam in the seventh inning that figures to go down as the biggest blow of the Series. Williams was batting a meager .216 with no homers when he offered up his biggest contribution of this postseason.
Suddenly, everybody is on the same wavelength. Martinez followed up Saturday's heroics with three hits last night. Leadoff hitter Chuck Knoblauch, who brought the Yankees from behind with a three-run homer in Game 1, reached base four times.
"My hitters have done this all year," Torre said. "After we won Game 4 [of the ALCS], I thought we got a lot more quality at-bats. That puts a lot of pressure on the opposition."
It may also have been a factor that Ashby, like Game 1 starter Kevin Brown, was feeling some flu symptoms before the game.
Every hitter in the Yankees' lineup had an RBI or a run scored in the first five innings as the offensive onslaught approached overkill. The Yankees had scored 14 unanswered runs -- dating back to Knoblauch's three-run homer on Saturday night -- before the Padres got on the scoreboard in the fifth inning on an RBI double by Quilvio Veras.
Hernandez could have gotten by on a lot less. He settled down after the rocky first and dominated the Padres lineup with his confusing assortment of pitches and arm angles.
"I think the first time you see somebody, it's tough on the hitters," said Padres manager Bruce Bochy. "He threw well. Hopefully, we'll get to face him again and we'll do better next time."
The 29-year-old right-hander, who escaped from Cuba in a rowboat last December, seemed largely oblivious to the pressure of pitching in his first World Series.
He gave up just six hits over seven innings in an impressive follow-up to his strong performance in Game 4 of the ALCS. Despite going more than two weeks between his final regular-season start and his postseason debut, he threw seven shutout innings against the Cleveland Indians in the pivotal game of the playoffs, then sat for eight days before returning to the mound last night.
The Padres, who scored two runs off the Yankees' bullpen in the eighth, never made Hernandez sweat. They scored a run in the fifth and threatened again in the seventh, but the game had long since become a blowout.
Rookie outfielder Ricky Ledee had driven in the Yankees' seventh run with an RBI double in the third -- his fourth hit of the Series -- and catcher Jorge Posada added a two-run homer off Brian Boehringer in the fifth.
Game. Set. Mismatch.
Now, it is up to Padres Game 3 starter Sterling Hitchcock, the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series, to pick up where he left off and keep the Yankees from moving to the brink of a four-game sweep.
Hitchcock also has been struck by the flu symptoms that have hampered some of his teammates, but he has a couple of days to recover for tomorrow night's game. The Padres have a couple of days to figure out how to bounce back from a two-game deficit.
"This is not the situation you were hoping for," Bochy said, "but it's been done before. We're just glad it's a best-of-seven series. We'll bounce back. We've got a good team, but we didn't want to lose two ballgames here."
World Series: San Diego vs. N.Y. Yankees
Series: Yankees lead 2-0
Last night, Game 2: New York 9, San Diego 3
Tomorrow night: Game 3
Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Time: 8: 20
TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' David Cone (20-7, 3.55) vs. Padres' Sterling Hitchcock (9-7, 3.93)
Cuban right-hander Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez hasn't been your average rookie in his two postseason starts for the Yankees, shutting out Cleveland in a pivotal ALCS game before last night's stellar outing. A look:
G .. Opp .. IP .. H .. ER .. BB .. SO .. Res
4 .. Cle. .. 7 .. 3 ... 0 ... 2 ... 6 .. W 4-0
2 .. S.D. .. 7 .. 6 ... 1 ... 3 ... 7 .. W 9-3
Tot. .... ..14 .. 9 ... 1 ... 5 .. 13 .. 2-0
Pub Date: 10/19/98