Padres Take 2-1 Series Lead


Jim Leyritz doesn't have the swagger of Reggie Jackson -- just the knack for big postseason home runs.

Leyritz's homer with one out in the seventh inning gave San Diego a 2-1 win over the Houston Astros on Saturday night, moving the Padres within one victory of their first NL championship series since 1984.

Leyritz hit a cut fastball out over the plate from Scott Elarton an estimated 402 feet into the left-field seats. Fielder Moises Alou didn't even move.

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  • "It's just one of those things," Leyritz said. "I've been at the right place at the right time. I don't want to think about it. If you think about it, it might not happen again. I go out there just looking to get something started."

    Houston manager Larry Dierker said Elarton's pitch "looked like a good pitch to me, a pitch that normally stays in the ballpark."

    Leyritz's fifth postseason homer came a half-inning after Padres ace Kevin Brown walked Craig Biggio with two outs and the bases loaded, tying the game at 1. Brown was brought back on three days' rest after his 16-strikeout masterpiece in Game 1 on Tuesday.

    "My performance obviously was not what it was the other night," Brown said. "You're going to have days when you're better than others."

    San Diego leads the best-of-5 series 2-1 and will try to wrap it up Sunday, when Game 1 loser Randy Johnson faces San Diego left-hander Sterling Hitchcock.

    Jim Leyritz
    Jime Leyritz celebrates after connecting for his seventh-inning homer. (AP)

    Leyritz, acquired from Boston on June 21, had a pinch-hit, two-run homer off Billy Wagner with two outs in the ninth inning to tie Thursday's game at 4. The Astros came back to win 5-4 in the bottom of the inning.

    While with the New York Yankees in 1996, Leyritz hit a dramatic three-run, eighth-inning homer against Atlanta's Mark Wohlers to tie Game 4 of the World Series at 6. The Yankees went on to win in 10 innings and defeated the Braves in six games.

    The previous year, his 15th-inning home run off Tim Belcher won Game 2 of the Yankees' first-round series against Seattle.

    Leyritz wore the number of his former Yankee teammate, Darryl Strawberry, on his hat. Strawberry underwent surgery for colon cancer on Saturday.

    With the Padres facing left-hander Mike Hampton, Leyritz got the start at first base over left-handed hitting Wally Joyner. But facing the right-handed Elarton started the seventh, and "I was actually looking over my shoulder thinking that Wally might be hitting for me there," Leyritz said.

    "I just went up there and swinging and fortunately, I got a pitch that I could handle," Leyritz said. "I'm not thinking home run there."

    Leyritz will also start Game 4 because he's been the personal catcher for Hitchcock going back to their Yankees' days.

    San Diego, held hitless for five innings by Hampton, must beat Johnson in order to avoid going back to Houston for a Game 5 Monday night at the Astrodome.

    Sunday's 4:30 p.m. PDT starting time means Padres batters will have to peer out of the shade and into sunlight to try and pick up pitches from the 6-foot-10 Johnson for the first couple of innings.

    Tony Gwynn, the only player left from the Padres' 1984 World Series team, drove in San Diego's other run on a sixth-inning fielder's choice and also threw out Moises Alou at third base in the seventh.

    Before 65,235 -- a division series record and the largest ever for a baseball game in San Diego -- Trevor Hoffman struck out the side in the ninth for his second save of the series.

    These teams have played six straight one-run games against each other, including all three in this series, and eight total this year.

    Brown loaded the bases in the seventh by allowing a single to Carl Everett, on which Moises Alou was thrown out at third on a close play; hitting Ricky Gutierrez on the right calf and walking pinch-hitter Dave Clark before walking Biggio on his 100th pitch.

    "You're going to have days when you're better than others," Brown said.

    "It was a battle out there," Brown said. "The key fact was that I had a couple of good plays behind me. Tony's throw was big there that inning."

    The Padres lso turned two double plays.

    Right-hander Dan Miceli, who got the win, came on and struck out lefty Bill Spiers on three pitches.

    Earlier in the inning, Alou was called out on a throw from Gwynn to third baseman Ken Caminiti on Everett's single in right. Caminiti caught the one-hop throw and dove into Alou to apply a hard tag.

    "It was the ballgame," Dierker said. "I don't know if it was out or save. Cubby (third base coach Mike Cubbage) thought he was safe, thought he got his hand under the tag, and he hardly ever argues a call."

    Umpire Wally Bell called Alou out, and Dierker briefly argued.

    "I knew it was close, but I knew it was safe," Alou said. "He thought he saw it the other way, but I was probably in a better position than he was."

    Brown allowed one run and three hits in 6 2/3 innings, struck out five and walked five. Hampton gave up one run and two hits in six innings.

    Chris Gomez singled leading off the sixth, the Padres' first hit off the lefty Hampton, and Brown sacrificed. Quilvio Veras singled just beyond the reach of shortstop Ricky Gutierrez, but Gomez took a few steps back toward second to make sure the ball got through, and was held up at third. Gwynn grounded to shortstop, and Veras' slide into second influenced Craig Biggio's throw, with Gwynn beating it out and Gomez scoring.

    Notes

  • A moment of silence was held for former Royals reliever Dan Quisenberry, who died of a brain tumor on Wednesday, and Gene Autry, the Angels' first majority owner who died Friday.
  • Walter Cronkite threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
  • The Chargers refused to let the Padres use their locker room for pre- and post-game news conferences, even putting a chain and lock on one set of doors. The Chargers, who use the locker room only on game days, also locked the Padres out of the room when they found out it was being used for daily Sammy Sosa news conferences when the Cubs were here last month. But the superstitious Sosa wouldn't go back in anyway after striking out five times in the first two games of the four-game series.

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