If one game captured the Padres’ resilience in 1998, it was a September game in which they were losing 7-0.
With the Padres advancing the NLCS for the first time in 24 years, I’m taking a look back at the 1998 team. The following text is adapted from my book Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever.
The 1998 Padres started out the season hot.
But by June they were sputtering, losing four of five to fall to second place behind the Giants and Barry Bonds, quietly having one of his best seasons — 37 home runs, 122 RBI, .303 batting average, 130 walks, 1.047 OPS, walked intentionally with the bases loaded.
The Padres and Giants entered June 12 tied for first and beginning a three-game series against each other. In the first game, the Giants jumped to a 3-2 lead behind a Bonds homer (of course), and Ken came up to bat in the seventh with a runner on second and hit a double to tie the game. He got the job done, and San Diego opened it up from there, scoring seven straight runs for a 10-3 victory (Ken was intentionally walked his next at bat).
Joey Hamilton and Andy Ashby handcuffed Giants hitters for the rest of the series, and Trevor Hoffman closed the door for the sweep, the beginnings of an 11-game win streak that saw San Diego advance its division lead to 5.5 games.
The Padres wouldn’t trail in the division for the rest of the season.
If one game captured the Padres’ resilience in 1998, that never-count-them-out mentality, it was on September 12 against the Dodgers. San Diego was listless, and Matt Luke, the Dodgers’ left fielder, was playing the game of his career, driving in five runs to pair with an Eric Karros dinger to make it 7–0 Los Angelinos in the fifth inning.
But Wally Joyner hit a solo homer to make it 7–1 in the bottom of the fifth, and Greg Myers and Andy Sheets reached base behind him, and Chris Gomez doubled to left to make it 7–3, and then in the bottom of the sixth, the Padres went station to station to make a mess of your scorebook and take an 8–7 lead, and the bullpen shut the door, and the Padres were your 1998 National League West champions.
The players celebrated in the clubhouse and then streamed back onto the field to celebrate with the fans, all 60,823 of them, or however many were left. Caminiti, his hair soaked in sweat and champagne, hugged and celebrated with teammates. It was a rough year, but this was what it was all about. Reaching the postseason.