The Last Word
Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jeff Pearlman reports from the NLCS
Posted: Thursday October 15, 1998 10:40 AM
Because this is, of sorts, a diary, and because Linda Tripp has forced diaries and intimate conversations and books and letters and briefings to either be shockingly shocking or totally insignificant, I will admit to the most heinous of crimes:
Last evening, at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, I cheered in the press box.
Actually, worse. Michael Tucker destroyed every Padres fan this side of Ray Kroc's crypt, and I laughed. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed. I laughed some more. There were 58,988 fans at Qualcomm -- screaming and yelping and buzzing the entire night -- and 58,988 turned cold silent as Tucker's three-run, eighth-inning shot cleared Tony Gwynn and the rightfield wall. The Braves, roadkill-dead just two days earlier, would win Game 5, 7-6. The series would return to Atlanta. There would be no champagne. No World Series baseball caps and Bob Costas moments. John Vander Wal's MVP dreams and caviar wishes were expunged. Again, he was just John Vander Wal. Everything was ruined -- everything.
Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
I found this funny because baseball, even in the bleakest hours of '94, almost never disappoints. Unless Roger Salkeld is pitching, it pays to stick around ... to keep one eye on the field, no matter if the score's 16-2 and TNT is running a Pam Dawber marathon.
There was reason to laugh. San Diego, denied of bliss ever since the '84 World Series, was this close. The Padres had a 4-2 lead. Kevin Brown --unbeatable and unhittable -- relieved Andy Ashby in the seventh inning. He would pitch two, then hand the ball over to Trevor Hoffman. That should've been enough. That had to be enough. "It was too easy for them," John Smoltz said after the game. "They had a plan."
That wasn't enough.
As Tucker, the oft-overlooked Longwood College product, rounded the bases, I turned to Paul Gutierrez, a colleague at Sports Illustrated. He was not smiling. Certainly not laughing. His face was in a shock-like glaze. Michael Tucker? Michael Tucker!?
"Paul," I said. "You have to at least see the humor in this ..." He nodded. Smiled. Baseball is not the most predictable sport around. It sure is funny.
DURING THE THREE games in San Diego, Gutierrez and I have gotten to talking. Baseball, after all, takes a l-o-n-g time. At points, the games -- essential or not -- drag like a bad weave. Banter is important. Insignificant banter is key. So, to be debated at will, here are a couple of mid-game questions we pondered during the series (our answers below):
BEFORE GAME 5, Tony Gwynn sat in the Padres' dugout, surrounded by a dozen or so reporters. Except for his hitting exploits, Gwynn's name doesn't really pop up too often outside of San Diego. This is a shame, because the 38-year-old is clearly one of sport's great story tellers. An example:
During a road trip earlier this year, the Padres' team bus was weaving aimlessly through the streets of Montreal, trying to find the hotel. Finally, frustrated and annoyed, first baseman Wally Joyner -- according to Gwynn -- had the vehicle pull up to a kid walking along the side of the road. Joyner asked directions, then made an offer. If the guy boarded the bus and directed it to the hotel, he'd get $100. "Sure!" the kid yelled. "No problem." Five minutes and three turns later, the Padres were at the destination.
"So Wally passes a hat around, tells the guys to put in some money for the kid," said Gwynn. "Well, he must've gotten about $15,000. Then Brownie (Kevin Brown) called him over. He said, 'I'll give you an extra $20 if you call the bus driver an a--hole.' "
The loot was collected.
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