ATLANTA (AP) — The New York Yankees and San Diego Padres have played each other only once, and that was just a rain-shortened exhibition this spring that ended in a tie.
Still, there are plenty of intriguing matchups as the teams prepare to meet in the World Series starting Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.
There’s San Diego native David Wells, pitching Game 1 for New York. There’s Jim Leyritz, the former Yankees postseason hero now playing the same role for the Padres.
There’s Hideki Irabu, who refused to pitch for the Padres and held out until he was traded to New York. And San Diego slugger Greg Vaughn, nearly sent to the Yankees until they nixed the deal last year.
Not to mention the other former New Yorkers playing for the Padres — Sterling Hitchcock, Brian Boehringer and also Ruben Rivera, whose cousin is Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. And even Homer Bush, sent from San Diego to the Yankees in the Irabu trade.
Plus, don’t forget ol’ Zim. Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer was the second manager in Padres’ history, wearing one of those those ugly mustard-and-brown uniforms in the early ’70s.
All that, and a lot more.
Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters in history, at 38 visiting baseball’s most famous stadium for the first time in his life. Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman trying to tame the majors’ highest-scoring team. The Padres going after their first World Series championship.
October vets David Cone and Derek Jeter, plus rookies Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Shane Spencer. New York hoping to do it for cancer-stricken Darryl Strawberry and enhance its reputation as one of the best teams ever. The Yankees trying to win their record 24th title and second in three seasons.
Wells, the MVP of the six-game AL championship series win over Cleveland, can hardly wait to face his hometown team. He’ll almost certainly face Brown in the opener.
“That is where I am from,” Wells said early Wednesday, before San Diego beat Atlanta 5-0 in the clinching Game 6 of the NLCS. “That is where I grew up. It would be exciting for me, a challenge for me as well. I am pulling for the Padres.”
The Padres earned their way to Yankee Stadium, beating a pair of 100-plus win teams, Houston and Atlanta, in the NL playoffs. San Diego, which went 98-64, now becomes the first club ever to play three 100-game winners in the postseason.
“They’ve got a good ballclub. The Atlanta Braves were supposed to have a great ballclub, also,” Leyritz said after Wednesday’s win. “We feel like we can compete with them. If our pitchers pitch like they have in this series, I think we’ve got a great shot at it.”
In manager Joe Torre’s Yankees, the Padres take on a team that set an AL record with 114 victories — a total of 121 wins, counting the playoffs.
“I think the Padres have a really good chance of beating them,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “I like San Diego’s chances.”
The combined 212 wins of the Yankees and Padres represent the most by World Series opponents. The previous mark was 210 by Baltimore (108) and Cincinnati (102) in 1970.
San Diego’s only other trip to the World Series was in 1984, when it was wiped out in five games by Detroit. Gwynn is the lone remaining member from that team, though manager Bruce Bochy went 1-for-1 against the Tigers.
The Yankees were full of postseason experience even before they added Chuck Knoblauch and Chili Davis last winter. Like the Padres, New York features strong pitching; Led by AL batting champion Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill, the Yankees’ hitting seems to be much more potent, having scored 965 runs to San Diego’s 749.
Vaughn, however, hit 50 home runs for the Padres, 22 more than Yankees’ leader Tino Martinez. Vaughn almost was wearing pinstripes in 1997 — that summer, the Yankees turned down a deal that would have sent Kenny Rogers and Mariano Duncan to the Padres because they did not think Vaughn’s throwing shoulder was healthy.
A few months before that, the Yankees and Padres completed a major deal involving Irabu. San Diego acquired his rights from his Japanese team, but the pitcher would not sign with the Padres and insisted he would play only for the Yankees. A few testy months later, the deal was completed.
As recently as this August, San Diego and New York did business. In a swap of four minor leaguers, the Padres sent reliever Jim Bruske to the Yankees, though he was not put on the playoff roster.