Money in the bank
An overlooked Padres team on the road to start the playoffs, facing a 100-win team with a Hall of Fame ace on the mound. For San Diego, it feels familiar.
An overlooked Padres team on the road to start the playoffs, facing a 100-win team with a Hall of Fame ace on the mound.
For San Diego, it feels familiar.
The Padres pounced on Mets pitcher Max Scherzer Friday, smashing four home runs on the way to a 7-1 victory in the best-of-three Wild Card Series (that’s evidently what we’re calling this thing … they could really call it Money in the Bank, or Moneyball, or Show Me the Money, or just put a big “Squid Game” money counter on the scoreboard to track the revenue because in the end this is really all about cash).
It was surprising to see Scherzer—one of baseball’s finest pitchers—struggling. He was made for this moment and brought to Gotham specifically to win. He was outdueled by Yu Darvish, who pitched seven strong innings and kept Mets hitters off-balance.
It reminds me a little bit of San Diego’s NLDS series against Houston to open the 1998 playoffs, when the Astros gave the ball to Randy Johnson, who’d been traded midseason from Seattle and promptly went 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA.
My book Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever is available wherever books are sold.
The Padres—which had Kevin Brown pitch that opening game—won 98 games that year but went 9-15 in September, fueling concerns that the team would have an early October exit. Ahead of the playoffs, the Padres players called a team meeting, and catcher Jim Leyritz—who’d earlier authored some postseason heroics of his own as a member of the Yankees—urged his teammates to stay calm and remain focused on the task at hand.
“When that clock strikes the new season, which is the postseason, throw everything out the window,” Leyritz said. “That’s what you need to be ready for.”
San Diego’s GM, the late, great Kevin Towers, believed in his pitcher.
"I will take Kevin Brown head-to-head with Randy Johnson in any game, on Astroturf, cement, asphalt, grass, you name it,” he said ahead of the game. “I'll take my chances with Kevin Brown anywhere. I don't care where it's at."
Brown was brilliant in Game One, striking out 16 batters.
Johnson was brilliant, too.
The hurlers traded zeroes until the top of the sixth, when San Diego loaded the bases with no outs—Tony Gwynn doubled, Greg Vaughn and Ken Caminiti singled—and then it was time for Leyritz, the King, who lofted a fly ball to center to score Gwynn and give the Padres a 1–0 lead.
“Any other ballpark besides that damn dome, I would have had a grand slam,” Leyritz told me a few years ago in an interview for my book on Caminiti.
Vaughn homered in the eighth to make it 2–0, and San Diego hung on to win the game 2-1, giving the Padres lots of momentum.
Houston and San Diego split the next two games, and Game Four saw Johnson back on the mound to face off against the Padres' Sterling Hitchcock.
The game was scoreless when Leyritz came to bat in the second inning.
In 59 regular season plate appearances against Johnson during his career, Leyritz only hit one home run. But this was October, the time for The King.
And The King went deep against the Big Unit. Leyritz’s home run keyed a series-clinching 6-1 Padres win.
Who knows where San Diego goes from here?
But it all starts with one game.