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Padres take time to celebrate banner '98 season

Club won NL title behind Gwynn, Hoffman, Vaughn, Caminiti
San Diego Padres

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

It was arguably the greatest season in Padres history.

Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.

It was arguably the greatest season in Padres history.

1998.

The Padres set a franchise record with 98 wins to win their third National League West title then defeated two 100-win teams -- Houston and Atlanta -- to claim their second NL pennant.

Alas, the fairytale didn't end as hoped. The Yankees, considered by many to be one of the top three teams in Major League history, swept the Padres in the World Series.

But that didn't dull the celebration or dim the accomplishments of the 1998 Padres -- whose success led to the passage of the bond issues for the construction of Petco Park.

"In 1998, we were good," the late Tony Gwynn said several years later when looking back on the Padres' record run. "And we knew we were good. We had a chip that we carried. We wanted to show everyone how good we were. We could win with offense. We could win with pitching. We won because we were determined to win."

Twenty years later, the Padres will take time this week to celebrate and remember their 1998 championship team during the four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Petco Park.

Fans attending the four games will receive a commemorative bobblehead representing four key players from the 1998 team -- Gwynn, (May 10), Ken Caminiti (May 11), Trevor Hoffman (May 12) and Greg Vaughn (May 13). Sycuan Casino will be the Padres' presenting sponsor for the bobbleheads, which will have connecting bases.

Additionally, Hoffman is sharing his bobblehead day with Kevin Towers, the general manager of the 1998 Padres who died this past Jan. 30. Towers will be inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame on May 12, becoming the 15th member of the Padres' shrine.

"This has to be one of the greatest seasons in San Diego sports history," then Padres president Larry Lucchino said after the 1998 National League champions were saluted with a downtown parade following the World Series.

And he was right. The 1998 campaign was just as special as the Padres' first pennant in '84.

Gwynn, as the only player who played on both those teams, knew it. So did 1998 manager Bruce Bochy, who was a player on the 1984 National League champions.

Gwynn and Hoffman went to the Hall of Fame off that 1998 team.

"In 1998, it was someone different stepping up almost every day," said Bochy. "That's the kind of season it was."

Several Padres did have career years.

Hoffman converted 53 saves in 54 chances -- then a Major League record for conversions. Included was a then-record run of 41 straight saves set on July 25 -- the same day that AC/DC's Hells Bells became Hoffman's entry song. His earned run average for the season -- a career-best 1.48.

Vaughn set a Padres' record with 50 home runs. The slugging left fielder also led the Padres with 119 RBIs, 112 runs scored, 156 hits and 82 extra-base hits.

Gwynn hit .321.

Kevin Brown won 18 games and Andy Ashby won 17 -- respectively, the fifth- and seventh-highest single-season win totals in Padres history.

Four of the top 16 players in the voting for the NL Most Valuable Player Award were Padres -- Vaughn (fourth), Hoffman (seventh), Gwynn (15th) and Brown (16th).  

Hoffman finished second in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award. Brown finished third.

Bochy finished second in the NL Manager of the Year Award voting.

The foundation for the 1998 run was set in '96, when the Padres won 91 games and their second NL West title. But injuries kept the Padres from repeating in '97.

"I always thought we should have been better in 1997 and we weren't," said Gwynn. "I think that got to a lot of guys who thought the same thing. That fired us up for 1998 and carried through the National League playoffs."

Few players had career years for the 1998 Padres. As a team, the Padres hit only .253. But Padres pitchers turned in a division-leading 3.63 ERA. Seventy-three of the Padres 98 wins were either complete games or saves.

"The bullpen was the secret weapon of 1998," Towers said years later. "We were in a lot of close games late and that didn't really concern us because the bullpen was that good."

Padres relievers not only saved 59 games, they recorded 30 wins.

The Padres were underdogs going into both rounds of the NL playoffs. And they went 7-3, including a 4-1 mark on the road, to eliminate first the Astros (three games to one) then the Braves (4-2). The MVP of the playoffs was left-handed pitcher Sterling Hitchcock, who was 3-0 in three starts with a 1.13 ERA -- allowing eight hits and a walk with 25 strikeouts in 16 innings.

Again, it was someone new stepping up -- although the cast remained much the same from Opening Day to the end of the World Series.

The Padres' Opening Day lineup was: 1. Quilvio Veras, 2B; 2. Steve Finley, CF; 3. Tony Gwynn, RF; 4. Ken Caminiti, 3B; 5. Greg Vaughn, LF; 6. Wally Joyner, 1B; 7. Carlos Hernandez, C; 8. Chris Gomez, SS; 9. Kevin Brown, P.

When the playoffs began, there was only one change. Jim Leyritz started at first rather than Joyner, because famed left-hander Randy Johnson was starting for the Astros. Leyritz drove in Gwynn with the first run and Vaughn homered in a 2-1 Padres win in one of the greatest games in Padres history. Brown allowed only two hits with 16 strikeouts over eight scoreless innings.

That's the kind of season it was in 1998.

It deserves being remembered.

For further ticket information, please visit padres.com/promotions.

San Diego Padres