So much for all that talk about the San Diego Padres blowing it.
The surprising Padres reached the World Series for the first time since 1984, shutting down the Atlanta Braves' comeback bid behind MVP Sterling Hitchcock for a 5-0 victory Wednesday in Game 6 of the NL championship series.
The Braves had won two in a row, fueling speculation they might become the first team in baseball history to overcome an 0-3 deficit in the postseason. But the Padres wrecked that plan, winning the series 4-2 with a five-run sixth inning off Tom Glavine. October hero Jim Leyritz drove in the go-ahead run.
"I felt this club was special," Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn said. "Even though we won the first three games of the series, then turned around and lost two, I still had a lot of faith in these guys. Coming here tonight, we were really confident. We really felt we could win this game tonight."
Now it's the underdog Padres, given little chance at the start of the playoffs, who will travel to meet the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series on Saturday night.
At 38, Gwynn is the last remaining member from the Padres' only other trip to the Series, a five-gam wipeout by Detroit. The eight-time batting champion contributed two hits in the clincher against Atlanta.
| San Diego upended the Braves to advance to the World Series. (AP) |
"For me it's a big thrill. I've never been to Yankee Stadium," he said. "I'm going to celebrate tonight."
For the Braves, the loss meant the end to yet another disappointing year. Despite having reached the postseason a record seven straight times, they have just one World Series championship to show for it. And with 106 victories, they are the winningest team to fail to reach the Series.
"This team is good. We don't need to reevaluate much," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "If you don't get hot in these things, you're just not going to win them. We don't have anything to be ashamed about."
Hitchcock, forced to move up a day in the rotation because of Kevin Brown's relief appearance in Game 5, came through again. Just 9-7 in the regular season and with a history of pitching poorly on three days' rest, he improved to 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in postseason wins over Houston's Randy Johnson and Atlanta's Greg Maddux and Glavine.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing," said Hitchcock, a former Yankees pitcher. "It's going to be the time of my life."
Hitchcock allowed only two hits in five innings and struck out eight. Leading 5-0, he left after a pair of leadoff walks starting the sixth and then Brian Boehringer - also formerly of the Yankees - relieved and got three quick outs.
With the game scoreless, Glavine and the Braves ruined themselves in the sixth.
The inning began innocently enough when Gwynn grounded out. Greg Vaughn, back in the starting lineup for the first time since leaving the opener because of a strained left quadriceps, singled and ran to third when Ken Caminiti grounded a broken-bat single through the vacant hole on the right side.
Up stepped Leyritz, whose three-run homer for the Yankees in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series at Atlanta sent them on to the title. He didn't hit the ball out of the park, though his RBI groundout put the Padres ahead.
Wally Joyner followed with a single and Glavine pitched around No 8 hitter Chris Gomez, loading the bases with a two-out walk. Hitchcock hit a low liner that seemed to confuse Danny Bautista, and the left fielder got a bad break in toward the ball.
Bautista made a late dive and it was no good. The ball clanged off his glove and the Braves could only watch as two runners scored. That finished Glavine, and Quilvio Veras greeted John Rocker with an RBI single for a five-run lead.
The big inning quieted the crowd of 50,988, which had come hoping the Braves could force a Game 7 showdown between Maddux and Brown, who instead will oppose David Wells in the Series opener.
The Padres relied on their strong bullpen to close it out the combined two-hitter, with relief ace Trevor Hoffman getting the final three outs.
Having already beaten Houston (102 wins) and Atlanta (106), the 98-win Padres will try to do it again against the Yankees, who set an AL record with 114 victories.
"To go against two great ballclubs like Houston and Atlanta, it doesn't get any greater than this," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said.
"I never knew I'd like New York so much," he said. "I'm looking forward to this."
With a combined 212 wins, the Yankees and Padres have the most victories among World Series opponents. The previous mark was 210 by Baltimore (108) and Cincinnati (102) in 1970.
Neither team did much in the first five innings.
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