Baseball’s All-Star break is here, and for me it’s fitting that the Atlanta Braves and the San Diego Padres, my two favorite teams, finished their pre-break schedules against each other. The teams, now struggling, met in a memorable series under much different circumstances in 1998.
I was in Qualcomm Stadium for Game Three of the 1998 NLCS when the Braves, the National League’s dominant team of the 1990s, rolled in to meet the Padres. San Diego was something of a Cinderella team that year, and the franchise had only been to the playoffs twice previously. However, the Padres had won the first two games in Atlanta in that series, and the stadium was a deafening din of home-field fervor.
The Padres continued their magic, winning Game 3 en route to taking the entire series before losing to the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Now, the teams remind no one of those top-notch outfits. The Braves, third-place division finishers the past two seasons, are 6 1/2 games out of first, but with a record that would rank them 12 out in the NL Central. They have two players on the All Star Team, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. But in the ’90s, pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were All Star regulars, as were such position players as Fred McGriff, Andres Galarraga as well as Jones.
The Padres are in even worse shape, with just one player (Adrian Gonzalez) on the All Star team. Maddux, the Game 3 starter in 1998 and a multiple Cy Young winner, now is under .500 as a Padres pitcher. (He was re-acquired by the Dodgers in August 2008.) The 1998 Padres team featured Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and powerful pitchers Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman.
All teams’ fortunes run in cycles, so it’ll be fun to see if both teams can build future pennant winners. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.