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This day in 1998: Padres beat Braves to take 3-0 lead in NLCS

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20 years ago today, San Diego beat Atlanta 4-1

Sterling Hitchcock

Twenty years ago today, the Padres moved one step closer to the franchise’s second National League championship, taking a 3-0 series lead in their NLCS matchup with the favored Braves. Sterling Hitchcock earned his first win of the series by outperforming four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux just days after getting a victory over Randy Johnson in the NLDS. San Diego’s offense put up four runs but two would have sufficed as Atlanta mustered just one off of Hitchcock before being shut out by a quartet of relievers.

The Padres looked poised to take an early lead, loading the bases in the bottom of the first inning on a single by Steve Finley, error by Andres Galarraga, and walk to Wally Joyner, but Maddux got out of the jam by striking out Jim Leyritz. It would not be close to the last time Leyritz figured prominently in a crucial moment that night.

As it turned out, Atlanta broke through first by manufacturing a small-ball run in the top of the third, and would have scored at least two runs in the frame if not for a highlight-reel defensive play by Leyritz for the third out. Tony Graffanino led off with a walk, moved to second on a bunt by Maddux, and then scored on a Walt Weiss single. Weiss stole second on the pitch that struck out Gerald Williams for the second out. Chipper Jones followed with a single to left field; Weiss attempted to score by knocking loose the perfect throw from left fielder John Van Der Wal, but Leyritz held on to the ball while being upended.

The next action of note came in the bottom of the fourth inning. Coming to bat with two outs, Leyritz asked the umpire to check the ball for signs that Maddux had doctored it. After getting the “A-OK” to go about his business, Maddux shook off a full cycle of signs from Atlanta catcher Eddie Perez and buried one in Leyritz’s shoulder. Maddux got out of the inning, but Leyritz got under his skin and possibly stayed there, as the Padres took the lead in the following inning.

After retiring Weiss, Williams, and Jones for a perfect top of the fifth inning, Hitchcock hit for himself in the bottom of the inning and got the rally started with a one-out single. Steve Finley followed Quilvio Veras’s productive groundout with a double that plated Hitchcock and took him off the hook for the loss. After Maddux intentionally walked Gwynn (who retired with a .415/ .476/ .521 line in 107 plate appearances against Maddux), Ken Caminiti put Hitchcock in line for the win with a single to bring Finley home for a 2-1 lead.

The Braves threatened in the next frame, loading the bases against Hitchcock and Donne Wall, who took over after Andres Galarraga’s leadoff walk. Wall escaped unscathed, and all was quiet on both sides until the Braves again filled the bases in the top of eighth, this time against Dan Miceli and Randy Myers. Trevor Hoffman got the early call and ended the inning by striking out Javy Lopez for the first out of a four-out save opportunity.

Carlos Hernandez doubled home a run and scored another on a passed ball in the bottom of the eighth to give Hoffman two insurance runs. He wouldn’t need them.

Elsewhere in sports:

  • The Yankees beat Cleveland to even the ALCS at 2-2
    Orlando Hernandez struck out six batters over seven shutout innings and “was the story,” according to Derek Jeter. The ‘fugee phenom got four runs of support from the New York offense, which had been uncharacteristically impotent at a most inopportune stretch.
  • The NHL season got off to a full start, with openers from all the teams who didn’t drop the first puck the night before. The eventual Stanley Cup champion Dallas Stars got off to a good start, scoring four goals on that year’s Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek.
  • The unranked Cal Bears visited nineteenth-ranked USC and delivered a 32-31 upset.
  • Texas beat Oklahoma 34-3. Ricky Williams, who would win the Heisman Trophy at year’s end, gained 156 yards with a high of 57, and scored two touchdowns.

In entertainment:

  • Nothing memorable debuted in theaters that weekend, with the most noteworthy box office newcomer being the Eddie Murphy flop Holy Man. Cinemagoers avoided it en masse, opting instead for holdovers Rush Hour, Ronin, Antz, A Night at the Roxbury, and What Dreams May Come.
  • The number one single on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 was I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing by Aerosmith for the last of eight weeks in a row. It held the top spot since unseating Iris by Goo Goo Dolls in late August. The top-selling album was The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill for the fourth and final week, the top Mainstream Rock single was What’s This Life For by Creed for the fourth of six consecutive weeks, and the number one Alternative song was Celebrity Skin by Hole, taking the place of Inside Out by Eve 6.

And finally:

Since Calvin and Hobbes had already been gone for a few years, here’s this day’s Mutts strip.