Padres coast into Series 5-0 win in Game 6 halts Braves' comeback try

Yankees are up next

'Ready for next challenge'

Postseason frustration still haunts Atlanta


ATLANTA -- Tucked off in the southwest corner of the country, in a city known more for its burritos than its baseball, the San Diego Padres were the game's most overshadowed success story this season.

While Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy played home run derby, while that team from the Bronx torched everything in sight, and while David Wells and Cal Ripken took well-deserved bows, the Padres just kept galloping smoothly to a 98-win season.

Now, after six months in the shadows, they have stepped out into the October air and shown everyone just how good they are.

They became the champions of the National League last night when they walked into raucous Turner Field and hammered the Atlanta Braves, 5-0, to win the NL Championship Series, four games to two.

Having eliminated two 100-win teams (the Houston Astros and Atlanta) from this postseason party, the Padres now turn their sights on the mightiest team of all -- the New York Yankees -- and the World Series, which begins Saturday night in the Bronx.

"We're a good club, we've been a good club all year, and we deserve to be going to the World Series," said a champagne-soaked Wally Joyner amid the madness of Padres' post-game celebration. "We've beat two teams no one thought we had a chance to beat, and now we're ready for the next challenge."

The Padres, teeming with former Yankees, including Sterling Hitchcock, the Most Valuable Player of this NLCS, have ace Kevin Brown ready to start Game 1. He'll face Wells, a native San Diegan who pitched a perfect game earlier this season.

The Braves, meanwhile, will head home wondering where all their bats went. After scoring 15 runs and pounding out 26 hits to stave off elimination with stirring wins in games 4 and 5, they were limited to just two singles yesterday.

"We didn't hit the ball," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team hit just .160 (21-for-124) and scored only three runs in the four losses. "One ball to center, one ball to left, that was our attack."

No team has ever won more games than the Braves' 106 and not advanced to the World Series. The most successful team of this decade, they remain unable to consistently win the big one. They've gone to the past seven postseasons but only won one World Series.

Having won games 4 and 5 in hostile environs, the Braves liked their chances yesterday. They had a boatload of momentum and a vocal crowd of over 50,000 behind them.

But Hitchcock, starting on three days' rest after winning Game 3 in San Diego, stifled the Braves' momentum. He pitched five scoreless innings before the Padres' bullpen, presented with a five-run sixth inning, closed it it out.

"Hitch wanted the ball, and we just kind of rode his coattails," Joyner said.

Tom Glavine, a 20-game winner during the regular season, was charged with all five runs, although only two were unearned. Left fielder Danny Bautista made a costly error on a soft liner by Hitchcock and that resulted in three runs.

Before the error, the Padres strung together four singles and a walk against Glavine, who has lost two straight NLCS clinching games and is 3-8 in NLCS starts.

"Everything just came to a head in the sixth inning," Glavine said. "But you have to give the Padres credit. They played a better series than us and made fewer mistakes."

Glavine mentioned that his team was the victim of some bad luck in the sixth, and he may have been right.

Greg Vaughn started the rally with a soft, end-of-the-bat single to center. With Vaughn moving on a 3-2 count, Ken Caminiti fisted one through the hole between first and second. Jim Leyritz delivered the first run on a groundout that was too soft for a double play. Wally Joyner then flicked an RBI single up the middle that both Glavine and shortstop Walt Weiss barely missed flagging.

"There was a little bad luck in there, but that's the nature of the game," Glavine said. "I made good pitches. Caminiti's ball just squirted through. I missed Joyner's ball by three inches and Walt missed it by a foot. I made a lot of good pitches, but I got no results."

Cox came under a bit of fire for starting the lineup he usually does against left-handed pitching. Bautista, Gerald Williams and Tony Graffanino started in place of Ryan Klesko, Michael Tucker and Keith Lockhart. Tucker had driven in five runs in the Braves' dramatic Game 5 win.

Chipper Jones, the Braves' No.3 hitter, hit just .208 with one RBI in the series. Cleanup man Andres Galarraga had one glorious moment -- a grand slam in Game 4 -- but finished the series 2-for-21 (.095).

In the end, the Padres said the best thing that happened to them was getting back to Atlanta, where they won games 1 and 2.

"I think we were trying too hard at home," Vaughn said. "I thought all along getting back here would be good for us."

The Padres were brought into the league 30 years ago by McDonald's founder Ray Kroc. Their original uniforms were yellow and brown, chosen because those are the colors of a cheeseburger.

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