After winning 121 games through the regular season and playoffs, the magic number is four for the New York Yankees to be coronated as world champions for the second time in three years.
But while the Yankees are trying to stake their claim as one of the greatest teams of all-time, the San Diego Padres believe they very well may be a team of destiny after beating a pair of 100-victory National League clubs in the playoffs.
The World Series begins Saturday night in New York with the Yankees heavily favored to win their 24th world title. The Padres are appearing in the Fall Classic for just the second time in the 30-year history of the franchise. The Yanks are appearing in their 35th World Series and last won the championship in 1996, when they beat the Atlanta Braves in six games.
The Yanks won an American League-record 114 games in the regular season, swept Texas three straight in the Division Series and then beat Cleveland 4-2 in the ALCS.
"The biggest difference between this year and '96 is this year everybody expected us to be here," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "This year the expectation was we had to get here, or else the season was a failure."
The Padres recorded a franchise-record 98 victories during the regular season, but were topped in the National League by both the Braves and Houston Astros, who won 106 and 102 games, respectively.
SaDiego then proceeded to defeat the Astros in four games in the Division Series and ousted the Braves in six in the Championship Series to earn a shot at the Yankees.
| Kevin Brown has a 1.44 ERA in 25 postseason innings this year. (AP) |
The Padres became just the second club to oust a pair of teams that won more than 100 games, joining the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, who defeated the New York Mets in the National League championship series and the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.
The Padres will send Kevin Brown to the mound for the Series opener and the Yankees counter with left-hander David Wells. Brown was the ace on the Florida Marlins' world championship team last year and traded to the Padres in the off-season as part of a payroll purge.
In his first year with the Padres, Brown recorded a career-high 257 strikeouts in 257 innings and compiled an 18-7 record with a 2.36 ERA. He was dominant in three postseason starts before being roughed up in relief by Atlanta Monday in Game 5 of the NLCS. In 25 innings, Brown has allowed four runs (1.44 ERA) and 10 hits while striking out 33.
As a former member of the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles, Brown developed a reputation as a Yankee-killer with a 12-3 lifetime record and 2.50 ERA against New York.
Meanwhile, Wells has been the dominant pitcher in the American League in the postseason. He was 2-0 with a 2.87 ERA in the ALCS against Cleveland and earned MVP honors. The left-hander is 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA in three postseason starts.
Playing a juggernaut in the World Series will be nothing new for the Padres. In 1984, the team's only prior World Series appearance, San Diego met up with the Detroit Tigers, who raced to a 35-5 record at the beginning of the regular season en route to a 104-win campaign and won the American League East by 15 games.
"We've all waited a long time," said outfielder Tony Gwynn, the lone holdover from the 1984 team. "I'm going to tell you now, we want to win it."
The World Series will mark a homecoming for several Padres, most notably for Jim Leyritz, whose dramatic home run in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series turned the tide for the Yankees against the Braves. Sterling Hitchcock, the NLCS MVP, Ruben Rivera and Brian Boehringer are also ex-Yankees returning, with Rivera and Boehringer members of the '96 championship squad.
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