Padres Pitchers Credit Stewart
The House That Ruth Built now braces itself for the 'Tude that Stew brewed.
OK, so it's not quite the same. The 'Tude hasn't been around as long as Yankee Stadium. But what San Diego Padres postseason pitching lacks in tradition -- beginning its third week -- it makes up for in results.
Clearly, Padres pitching coach Dave Stewart is the man behind the metamorphosis. In one year, San Diego pitching has gone from being awful (4.99 ERA in '97) to being in the World Series.
Just ask Padres pitchers. Attitude. Intensity. Focus. Stew-tude. These are the main ingredients that have gone into allowing San Diego pitchers to outduel their counterparts from the NL's Nos. 1 and 2 ranked pitching staffs -- Atlanta and Houston, respectively -- en route to the '98 World Series.
Stewart, who himself was pitching in the major leagues just three summers ago, moved from the Padres' front office (assistant to the general manager) to the Padres' dugout as a favor to his boss, general manager Kevin Towers, who had this crazy notion that adding ace right-hander Kevin Brown (acquired in the Florida Marlins fire sale) and re-assigning Stewart might work.
So, former Padres pitching coach Dan Warthen was fired after the '97 season.
The result? Padrs pitchers Andy Ashby, Sterling Hitchcock and Joey Hamilton, these three starters in particular, have carried out the Stewart mantra to perfection. He talks. They listen. He motivates. They run through walls.
At 41, Stewart aspires to be a major-league general manager. And what Dave Stewart wants, Dave Stewart usually gets.
One of the most touching (and telling) moments of the NLCS came when Hitchcock used a routine news conference to beg Stewart not to follow his dream.
"Please don't go!" Hitchcock said when asked what his reaction would be if his pitching coach left San Diego to take a GM job. "He has had a huge impact on this pitching staff ... particularly Ashby, Hamilton and myself."
The irony here is Stewart -- hungry to give major-league baseball a black general manager again -- goes to the scene (Yankee Stadium) of where the last black GM (Bob Watson) became the first black GM to win a World Series ('96 Yankees).
Watson resigned in February because he no longer could work for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
Stweart is serios about his GM pursuit, explaining, "I'm going to college and working a part-time job." This pitching-coach gig is just extra-credit.
Stewart preaches the same attitude that he used in becoming one of the best crunch-time pitchers of his time, during a 15-year major-league career (1981-95) with the Dodgers, Rangers, Phillies, A's and Blue Jays.
October was always Stew's month. (Nobody calls him Dave.) He was 8-0 with a 2.03 ERA in ALCS play, becoming the only two-time ALCS Most Valuable Player ('90 and '93). He left the game with three World Series rings ('81 Dodgers, '89 A's, '93 Blue Jays), and was MVP of the '89 World Series.
And he did it all with an attitude. Stewart didn't just pitch -- he attacked the plate. He pulled his cap down around his eyes, glared in for the sign ... then dared the batter to get a hit.
This is now part of the mantra that he's given to these born-again Padres pitchers.
Stewart taught Ashby how to change speeds. Ashby became the NL's first 16-game winner, then went into a seven-game slump, only to fight out of it and make two strong NLCS starts (Games 1 and 5) against the Braves. Ashby didn't get a decision in either NLCS game but posted a 2.08 ERA in his 13 innings.
Stewart showed Hitchcock -- a Yankees castoff -- how to focus and how to work the ball in and out.
"Each batter, each pitch," Stewart would implore. "Focus."
As a result, Hitchcock went 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in the NLCS (Games 3 and 6), earned MVP honors. He has won all three of his starts in the postseason.
Hitchcock beat Houston's Randy Johnson in the Division Seies clincher and beat Atlanta's Tom Glavine to wrap up the NLCS Wednesday.
"I figured (the Braves batters) would come out swinging," said Stewart, who knows strategy. "But they came out taking pitches, so I told Hitch it was best to get ahead with his heater and get them out with off-speed stuff. And that's what he did."
Stewart recognized that Hamilton always seemed to have better stuff than success as a Padres starter. Stewart taught him to bear down, try harder. Hamilton, the Game 4 starter in the NLCS, takes a 3.86 post-season ERA into the World Series.
Brown? Stewart is smart enough to leave Brown alone.
Stewart is also very intuitive. He had a hunch about right-handed reliever Brian Boehringer in Game 6 of the NLCS, and went to manager Bruce Bochy with it.
"Stew was on me to use Boehringer," Bochy said. "He had a lot of confidence in him ... felt (Boehringer) could do the job."
Bochy listened. Boehringer followed Hitchcock in Game 6 with 1 1/3 hitless/scoreless innings. The Braves never were able to get their bats started.
Too much pitching. Too much 'Tude.
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