Padres take Astros out of orbit, 6-1 They edge Johnson, batter bullpen for first NLCS berth since '84

Leyritz HRs 3rd game in row

"They said we couldn't beat Johnson twice"


SAN DIEGO -- The Houston Astros traded for Randy Johnson hoping that he could lead them to a World Series.

But the Astros' vaunted offense scored just two runs for him in two Division Series games, and last night the San Diego Padres defeated him again, 6-1, to advance to the National League Championship Series.

The Padres, who had beaten Johnson by 2-1 in Game 1, won the best-of-five series, 3-1, and will face the Braves in Atlanta on Wednesday in Game 1 of the NLCS.

Jim Leyritz continued his postseason heroics with a second-inning home run off Johnson, and the Padres nicked him for an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie in front of 64,898 at Qualcomm Stadium.

And after John Vander Wal tripled and Wally Joyner homered off Jay Powell in a four-run eighth, the Padres had reached their first championship series in 14 years.

"Everybody counted us out," said Padres starter Sterling Hitchcock, who was a dominant left-hander in his own right, allowing one run on three hits with 11 strikeouts (three more than Johnson) in six innings. "They said we couldn't beat Johnson twice in a five-game series. Well, we beat him twice in a four-game series. These guys never let up."

Each of the first three games in this series were decided by one run. On Saturday, San Diego manager Bruce Bochy had gambled by starting Kevin Brown, who pitched in Game 1, on three days' rest. San Diego won that game on Leyritz's seventh-inning homer.

Houston manager Larry Dierker had saved Johnson for an elimination situation. And Dierker was hoping yesterday that Johnson could get the series back to Houston for a deciding game tonight, where Shane Reynolds had already flown home in anticipation.

In his six innings, Johnson allowed just three hits and one walk. But Johnson's defense failed him in the sixth.

With two outs and the score 1-1, a two-play Astros' lapse allowed San Diego to take the lead. Greg Vaughn was given a double when Houston left fielder Moises Alou and shortstop Ricky Gutierrez couldn't decide who would catch the bloop and it fell between them.

Johnson then got Ken Caminiti to ground to third. But Sean Berry bounced a throw past first baseman Jeff Bagwell, allowing Vaughn to score the go-ahead run.

Trailing 2-1, the Astros loaded the bases without a hit off Joey Hamilton in the seventh. Dan Miceli came on and retired the side on four pitches, striking out Brad Ausmus and getting Carl Everett -- pinch-hitting for Johnson -- to pop up to third.

Now, Johnson is 0-5 in his last six postseason starts, tying the record of Doyle Alexander (1973-87) and Joe Bush (1914-23).

Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker, who acquired Johnson minutes before the trading deadline on July 31, said before last night's game: "That's the guy we were missing, that dominating go-to guy when your back is to the wall and your season's on the line. If we can beat them today, the momentum clearly shifts back to us."

And if not?

"If we don't win this series, I won't have enjoyed this year," said Hunsicker, even though the Astros won their second consecutive NL Central title with a franchise-record 102 victories.

The Padres had acquired Leyritz from Boston on June 21, for two relievers and a catcher, to fill a lesser void -- an absence of right-handed hitting.

Leyritz has a sparkling postseason history. But yesterday afternoon, after Leyritz's second homer of the series had propelled San Diego to a Game 3 victory Saturday night, Padres manager Bruce Bochy said: "Never in my wildest dreams did I think he would be doing what he has done for us this past week."

And then, in his first at-bat yesterday against his old nemesis Johnson, Leyritz went out and did it again.

"This time of day, it's hard to see the ball," said Leyritz, who was struck in the face by a Johnson pitch on May 31, 1995, precipitating a brawl in Seattle. "I just swung in the right place and, with his velocity, was able to hit it out.

"I'm numb right now," added Leyritz, who has six homers in 34 postseason at-bats after one in each of the past three games. "I can't believe all that's gone on. I don't even want to think about it. Let it just keep rolling, man!"

This is the first time the Padres have been this far since 1984, when they beat the Chicago Cubs to win the pennant only to lose the World Series to Detroit, 4-1.

NL Division Series


Houston vs. San Diego

(Padres win series 3-1)

Game 1

San Diego 2, Houston 1

Game 2

Houston 5, San Diego 4

Game 3

San Diego 2, Houston 1

Last night: Game 4

San Diego 6, Houston 1

Final four

(Best of seven)

AL Championship Series

Game 1: Cleveland at New York. Tomorrow, 8: 07 p.m., Jaret Wright (12-10, 4.72) or Dwight Gooden (8-6, 3.89) vs. David Wells (18-4, 3.49), Ch. 11

NL Championship Series

Game 1: San Diego at Atlanta. Wednesday, 8: 15 p.m., Kevin Brown (19-7, 2.29) or Andy Ashby (17-9, 3.39) vs. John Smoltz (18-3, 2.82), Ch. 45

Mr. October Jr.

Padres catcher Jim Leyritz's second-inning home run yesterday off the Astros' Randy Johnson was just his latest clutch postseason homer:

Saturday: Tiebreaking shot in seventh off Scott Elarton boosted Padres to 2-1 win in Game 3.

Thursday: Pinch-hit, two-run, opposite-field homer off Billy Wagner with two outs in the ninth tied game at 4.

1996 World Series: Three-run, eighth-inning shot for Yankees against Braves' Mark Wohlers tied Game 4 at 6. The Yankees won in 10 innings and won the next two to take the Series.

1996 AL Championship Series: Hit first of three Yankees homers in third inning of victory over Orioles that clinched AL pennant.

1995 AL Division Series: 15th-inning homer off Tim Belcher won Game 2 of Yankees' first-round series against Mariners.

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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