It was half past midnight on Sunday when the San Diego Padres filed wearily out of the press gate of Yankee Stadium, passing under a banner showing Lou Gehrig, a plaque honoring the 1927 Yankees and, high up on the facade, a list of the 23 years in which New York has won the world championship. Considering how the out-of-towners spent their weekend, it's a wonder the buses waiting to whisk them away weren't those apple-red double-decker jobs, each with an overly cheerful tour guide blabbing into a microphone: On your left, ladies and gentlemen, for those who didn't recognize it, we just passed the World Series.
In this year of repentance and revivalism for baseball, the World Series returned to its spiritual home, Yankee Stadium, which is as close as our sports civilization gets to the Parthenon. No other structure in this country has staged more of its sport's championships. Sunday's World Series game was the 90th in the 75-year history of Yankee Stadium—nearly one of every six Series games ever played and more than twice as many as have been played at any other ballpark.
"You really haven't experienced the postseason until you've played a postseason game at Yankee Stadium," New York first baseman Tino Martinez said Sunday night. "Other crowds may be just as loud, but there's a special feeling about this place that the players are never going to forget."
Into this St. Patrick's Cathedral of baseball walked a visiting team with a history that could fill, with some embellishment, perhaps a pamphlet. The Yankees have had more World Series seasons than the Padres have had seasons of any sort, most of which have been forgettable. Only five of San Diego's players had ever been in a World Series game, and two of them—catcher-DH Jim Leyritz and middle reliever Brian Boehringer—did so while with the Yanks. Among the Padres, four every-day starters, their Game 2 pitcher, their manager and general manager and five other players had never played in Yankee Stadium, which explained their touristy crane-your-neck-at-the-skyscrapers look.
Before Game 1, Tony Gwynn asked to have his picture taken with the stadium's venerable public address announcer, Bob Sheppard. "That's the first time that's happened to me," Sheppard said. Archi Cianfrocco, a nonroster infielder, arrived at a workout last Friday with his camcorder running. That same day manager Bruce Bochy toured Monument Park, where the Yankees honor their dead heroes, with his 11-year-old son, Brett, after taking the No. 4 subway train to the stadium. "It gave me goose bumps," Bochy said, inadvertently describing his straphanging experience, as well. During that eventful ride with a dozen San Diego players, "we got a few one-finger salutes," Bochy said.
You half expected the Padres to take the field in Bermuda shorts, fanny packs and black knee socks. The sight of them playing upon the most hallowed ground in sports had the incongruous feel of a community repertory company trying to perform on Broadway. The Padres looked as if they didn't belong on the grandest stage.
After taking a 5-2 lead into the seventh inning of Game 1, San Diego fell apart in a New York minute. By the time the Padres boarded their buses for the airport, their baggage included 9-6 and 9-3 losses to go along with any tacky T-shirts and Statue of Liberty key chains they'd picked up over the weekend. No other team had ever surrendered so many runs in each of the first two games of a World Series. New York had given San Diego a history lesson, not to mention one in linguistics.
"It's hard not to press in this stadium," said Padres third baseman and first-time visitor Ken Caminiti after a 1-for-7 weekend and a crucial Game 2 error. "I did. With the crowd yelling at you, telling you you suck every two seconds, you try too hard to get a hit and shut them up. You've got to focus on letting your hair down and just relaxing. I've played in places where the fans are loud, but I've never seen anything like this. All I heard all night was, 'Cammy, you suck. You stink.' And today I did."
Said San Diego pitching coach Dave Stewart, "I've been coming to this place for 13 years. I recognize the fact that when I come to Yankee Stadium, my last name is Suck. If you let that affect you, you're not ready to do your job. It can't be a factor in how you play."
Fact is, neither of the Padres' horribly ineffective losing pitchers, Donne Wall or Andy Ashby, had ever thrown a pitch in the House That Ruth Built. The New York offense—not to mention the crowd—suddenly looked as lethal as the '27 Yankees' Murderers Row. The Yankees reached base in nearly half of their 84 plate appearances. They forced San Diego to throw a whopping 342 pitches and, beginning with that pivotal seventh inning of Game 1, to use nine pitchers in 10 innings.