MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

One pitch turned 1998 World Series

Former Yankees-Padres players recall pivotal at-bat in Game 1

One pitch turned 1998 World Series

SAN DIEGO -- For those who played in and remember the 1998 World Series between the Padres and Yankees, it's still known as the pitch.

Mark Langston threw it for the Padres during the seventh inning of Game 1 at the old Yankee Stadium and Tino Martinez took it. It looked like the 2-2 pitch was right over the plate, but home plate umpire Rich Garcia called it a ball.

Martinez hit the next one deep into the right-field seats for the grand slam that wound up burying the Padres, who began that inning leading the Bombers by three runs. The Yankees went on to sweep the series.

"Yeah, it changed the whole series, that's for sure," said former Padres right-hander Andy Ashby, the No. 2 starter on that team, in a recent phone interview. "But you look back on it, I didn't pitch well in Game 2. We needed to win one of those first two games in New York, but we didn't do that. And that changed the whole series."

Langston, now a radio voice for the Angels, still shakes his head in bewilderment every time he's asked about that pitch.

The two clubs renewed their nearly 20-year-old rivalry with a three-game series at Petco Park that opened on Friday night.

It's only the third time since the '98 Series that the Yankees have traveled to San Diego to play the Padres. They won Games 3 and 4 of the series at what was then called Jack Murphy Stadium in Mission Valley and then played again there in 2002.

New York's previous visit to Petco was just three years ago. The Yanks are 3-3 in San Diego, but they won the two biggest games in the World Series.

"It was a big series for Scott Brosius, who was dealing with the illness of his father," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, the backup catcher behind Jorge Posada on that team. "It was a World Series that we felt like if we didn't win we wouldn't validate our year. And we were able to do that."

Brosius was the MVP of the series as the Yankees also came back from a 3-0 deficit to win Game 3. Brosius hit a three-run homer off Padres closer extraordinaire Trevor Hoffman to provide the margin of a victory in a 5-4 win. His father, Maury, died of colon cancer in 1999.

1998 Interview with Brosius

To Girardi's point, the Yankees won 114 games that regular season after opening 1-4. Their 125 wins overall are the most of any Major League franchise, coming during the era of the extended playoff format.

In contrast, the Warriors just set a record by winning 73 games during the regular NBA season but lost the championship to the Cavaliers in seven games.

"They talked about the Warriors needing to do that to validate their year," Girardi said. "But they still had an unbelievable year. You don't know if anyone's ever going to win that many games again during the course of the season, but the real prize is at the end."

Those 125 wins are probably going to be pretty tough to match.

"That's a lot of wins," Girardi added. "Seattle had a chance. They won 116 a couple of years later but weren't able to win the World Series."

The Mariners won those 116 games during the 2001 season, but they were eliminated by the Yankees in a five-game American League Championship Series.

Here's the thing about long-term success: The Mariners haven't been back to the postseason since then and have never played in the World Series. Since 1998, the Padres haven't played again in the Fall Classic and they've never won one in their 47-year history.

The Padres also lost to the Tigers in the 1984 World Series and are 1-8 in their two World Series trips. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2006.

Since 1998, the Yankees have played in the World Series five more times, winning for the last time in 2009, Girardi's second year as manager. They went to the playoffs under Joe Torre 12 consecutive years from 1996-2007 and have won 27 titles overall.

Time passes and that 1998 Padres team takes on an almost mythical quality. That era was the only one in which two of the greatest players in the club's history -- Hoffman and the late Tony Gwynn -- were playing on all cylinders.

"That was a fun team," said Cole Hamels, the Rangers left-hander who grew up in San Diego. "I was old enough to understand the stats and understood what the players were trying to do. I was in eighth grade and just starting to get a good idea of the game of baseball."

That season, Hoffman had 53 saves in 55 opportunities and Gwynn batted .321 with 16 homers and 69 RBIs. By the end of the 2001 season, Gwynn was finished. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. Hoffman pitched until 2010 and fell 34 votes short of election to the Hall earlier this year, his first on the ballot.

Both are immortalized in the spanking new Padres Hall of Fame that opened on Friday in a 2,000 square-foot space behind the Western Metal Supply Co. building in the ballpark's left-field corner. The late Ken Caminiti, the third baseman in 1998 and National League MVP two years earlier, will be inducted next month.

The '98 Padres team won 98 games, by far the most in franchise history, but they ran into a buzzsaw in the Yankees.

"We went into that '98 season saying we wanted to go to the playoffs, we wanted to win the NL and we wanted to win the World Series," Ashby said. "It just felt different, and the attitude was different. We fell short because we didn't win the World Series. We almost accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted more, but we ran into a pretty good Yankees team."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.