The Last Word
Sports Illustrated baseball writer Jeff Pearlman gives the Padres a standing ovation
Posted: Thursday October 22, 1998 01:21 PM
Like mourners at their own funeral, members of the San Diego Padres sagged through the brick bowels of Qualcomm Stadium late last night-heads drooped, eyes down, mouths dry. Tony Gwynn, one the first to emerge, was a soldier on the wrong side of the flag. Both legs were bandaged in ice wraps. His scalp was covered with sweat. Others -- Trevor Hoffman, Mark Langston, Wally Joyner -- followed. San Diego had been swept ... humiliated, and each and every Padre knew it. This was the lowest of lows. The worst of worsts.
And yet ... There was this roar. This thunderous, unstoppable roar. It came from outside-the same place where, for nearly three hours, the Padres took a disheartening 3-0 beating. Slowly, player after player hobbled and wobbled back down the runway. The noise got louder. And louder. And louder. When Gwynn, now limping in obvious agony, reached home plate, Qualcomm's 50,000 (or so) remaining guests went berserk. He waved, then walked back toward the Padres' clubhouse. On the way, he took off his hat and handed it to a boy sitting in the stands above the dugout.
Later, back inside, Hoffman had tears in his eyes. "The most memorable moment of my career," he said. "I'll never forget it."
"The best," added Langston. "This, I've never seen."
Throughout the season, we have heard much of what is again good about baseball. McGwire's 70 and Sosa's 66. Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens and David Wells and Flash Gordon. The Yankees winning 114 and the Braves 106. Jim Bouton at Old Timer's Day. Don Sutton in the Hall. Fans filling seats.
Add another item to the list. Last night, the people of San Diego-being used as pawns in the fight for a new stadium -- didn't care about Ws and Ls. They just cared, period. "The people have been amazing," said Gwynn. "I'm disappointed we lost. But this experience has been the best I could ask for. Our fans are the best in baseball."
Hello, Darryl: As the bubbly spilled all over the Yankee clubhouse, player after player slipped into a back room, where each one took a turn talking to Darryl Strawberry, home recovering from cancer. The phone passed from hand to hand. Chuck Knoblauch went in with tears welled up in his eyes. David Cone came out that way. "It's emotional," Cone said. "You could tell he was crying."
In my day ... : ESPN's Joe Morgan, a Hall of Fame second baseman and one of the world's flashiest dressers, continues to say the Big Red Machine was better than this year's Yanks. Hey, Joe -- pitching. Cincy had Billingham and Gullett, New York has Cone, Wells, Pettitte and Hernandez, plus a closer with 99-mph cheese. Case closed.
The nicest man alive: There is no better person in baseball than Gwynn. None. He is a star who doesn't act like one. Last night he sat and answered two hours of terrible questions, most repeated at least five times. Both knees were iced. He was tired. This was not a great season for him and, except for the four World Series games, his playoff hitting was awful. But in a game full of Albert Belles and Frank Thomases and Rafael Palmeiros, he is a shining light. "I've played in two World Series," he said after the biggest loss of his life. "How can I complain?"
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