Padres up to their necks, but history throws a line Dodgers won in '81 from 0-2 hole, though comparisons perilous

October 20, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- It looks like an impossible situation. The San Diego Padres are two games down in the 94th World Series. Two games down to a team that has a major-league-record 123 regular-season and postseason victories. Two games down after a heartbreaking loss in Game 1 and a lopsided defeat in Game 2.

The likelihood of a comeback, even as the Fall Classic shifts here for Game 3 tonight at Qualcomm Stadium, seems extremely remote.

"It's been done before," said Padres manager Bruce Bochy late Sunday night, though he might have been hard-pressed to name the time and date.

Padres pitching coach Dave Stewart can tell him. So can first base coach Davey Lopes.

They were members of the last National League West team to play the New York Yankees in the World Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost the first two games of the 1981 World Series in the Bronx and came back to win the next four in a row for an unlikely Series title.

"We lost the first two here and went back to L.A. and destroyed them," Stewart said. "Three at Dodger Stadium and one here."

Seems like ancient history now, but the Dodgers had come back from a difficult September -- just like the Padres. They had won two emotional playoff rounds, the first an early, strike-prompted precursor to the Division Series. They had come into the lion's den and left with their tails between their legs. It seemed hopeless.

Stewart is here to tell the Padres that it is not.

"I haven't said anything yet," he said as the dejected Padres packed up and headed home early yesterday morning, "but I will."

He probably will not mention the differences between 1998 and 1981. The Dodgers were a team loaded with World Series veterans, and they had a budding superstar named Fernando Valenzuela to pitch Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.

The 1981 Yankees were loaded with big-name players -- Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage -- but they were an aging team that had finished 11 games over .500 in the strike-shortened season. They had blasted through the first two playoff rounds without losing a game, but they were never going to be confused with the greatest teams of all time.

The Padres can take some comfort in the knowledge that the Yankees have lost the World Series the last two times they have taken a 2-0 lead. They also fell to the "Boys of Summer" Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955 after winning the first two games at Yankee Stadium.

Unfortunately for San Diego, the precedent that might be more relevant for this Padres team is 1984, when they made their only other World Series appearance. They matched up that year against another well-balanced AL club that had designs on history.

The '84 Tigers were the most dominating team of that decade, just as the '98 Yankees are the most dominating team of this one. The Tigers opened the season by winning 35 of 40 games -- the best start in major-league history -- and closed it by trouncing San Diego in the World Series. The Padres opened at home and split the first two games, but were no match for the well-balanced, intimidating Tigers in Detroit.

They were just happy to be there that time. They have reason to feel the same way in 1998, but that could change if left-hander Sterling Hitchcock can pick up where he left off in the NL Championship Series. He has been the Padres' most effective postseason pitcher and has the playoff MVP trophy to prove it, but he'll be pitching through a case of the flu tonight.

Every member of the Padres' postseason starting rotation has experienced cold or flu symptoms this week, which might explain why the club looked overmatched during its brief and unhappy stay in New York. But Bochy isn't ready to concede the world title just yet.

"I thought [Saturday] we played a good game up until the seventh inning," he said. "I think you saw the club playing very, very hard. [Sunday], no, we didn't play well. You give credit to the Yankees.

"I mean, they kept coming after us and they kept putting pressure on us, but sometimes when you get down in a game, you look flat or like you're not playing well. That's what it looked like.

"You're going to have games like this. If we win [Saturday night], we come out of here with a split. We know that. Now, our backs are to the wall. We've got to get back and play well now."

Perhaps the Padres' best hope is that the Yankees get so full of themselves that they forget to show up in San Diego.

New York third baseman Scott Brosius, lost in the excitement of the moment late Sunday night, suffered an inadvertent slip of the tongue and told a national television reporter that the Yankees were hoping to go to "Seattle" and continue playing the way they did in the Bronx.

The Yankees shouldn't really have any trouble guarding against overconfidence. They also have some first-hand knowledge that a 2-0 lead is not as safe as it might appear.

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