Baseball-Almanac.com's Divisional Series section
1998 National League Divisional Series:
Atlanta Braves (3),
Chicago Cubs (0)
In what was becoming "all-to-predictable", the Braves once again returned for their fourth consecutive National League Divisional Series. Atlanta would later go on to participate in every NLDS since it's inception from 1995-2003 while sweeping their competition three times and losing only 11 out of their first 32 playoff games in 9 seasons. 1998 witnessed "business as usual" at Turner Field as the team won 106 games en route to its seventh straight division title. Boasting one of the most lethal pitching rotations in all of baseball, the Braves' Tom Glavine won his second National League Cy Young Award, thanks to a 20-6 record and 2.47 ERA, with teammates Kevin Millwood, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux trailing not far behind. Andres Galarragga (.305) and Chipper Jones (.313) provided offensive support and centerfielder Andruw Jones continued his rapid development with outstanding defensive play.
The Cubs season in 1998 was one of great triumph as well as great tragedy. In February, the entire baseball world mourned the loss of broadcaster Harry Caray who died at the age of eighty-four, four days after collapsing at a Valentine's Day dinner. The Wrigley Field icon, known best for leading the fans in the traditional rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" left behind countless memories from a career that spanned half a century. Fortunately, brighter days lied ahead as Major League Baseball experienced a "rebirth" of popularity thanks to a thrilling homerun race between St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire and Chicago's Sammy Sosa. On September 8th, McGwire finally topped Roger Maris' single-season home run mark by slugging his sixty-second of the year off Chicago pitcher Steve Trachsel. Fittingly, Sosa, McGwire's closest running mate in the race to break sixty-one, was in attendance on the field. Sammy later joined him (with 61 and 62) on September 13th, during the Cubs' 10-inning, 11-10 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Atlanta's John Smoltz dominated the opener to become the winningest pitcher in postseason history after allowing only five hits in 7 2/3 innings while cruising to a 7-1 victory over the Cubs in Game 1. Chicago looked to even the Series in Game 2, but wasted a two-out, ninth-inning lead after Javy Lopez homered. They then went on to surrender the winning run (2-1) thanks in part to a critical defensive mix-up on a Chipper Jones' single. The Braves were able to complete yet another sweep in Game 3 after Maddux, (who had played for the Cubs from 1986-92), tossed a 6-2 masterpiece over Kerry Wood at Wrigley Field. Maddux (16-11, 3.96 ERA) had just won his final two starts of the regular season and became the first pitcher in major league history to win at least 15 games for 16 consecutive years.
The San Diego Padres had surprised everyone in baseball after bouncing from first place ('96) to last place ('97) and then back again to play for a divisional crown in 1998. Despite the inconsistencies of the previous 2 years, the team had remained in first all but six days during the '98 season and had built a lead as big as 16 games by August 28th. They also went until mid-September without losing four straight games and became the first club since the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies to go through an entire regular season without falling victim to a single series sweep. Closer Trevor Hoffman was largely responsible for San Diego's postseason presence after becoming only the 4th major-leaguer with 50 or more saves. Hoffman had also amazingly converted 41 straight opportunities at one point. Right-hander Kevin Brown also dominated on the mound (18 wins) and finished second in the league for ERA. Greg Vaughn headed up the Padres offense be becoming only the fourth player of the year to boast 50 home runs.
Their opponents, the Houston Astros, had just won their second consecutive NL Central title with a franchise-best 102-win season. Skipper Larry Dierker was voted NL Manager of the Year by the BBWAA and Baseball America and General Manager Gerry Hunsicker was voted The Sporting News Executive of the Year. Slugger Craig Biggio joined Tris Speaker as the only two players in the century who have hit 50 doubles and stolen 50 bases in the same season and later broke Cesar Cedeno's record for the most runs scored by an Astro. Amazingly balanced, five of Houston's starting pitchers, including Randy Johnson (who was acquired just minutes before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline), finished the season with double-figure wins. Closer Trevor Hoffman also tied a National League record with 53 saves in 54 chances for the 2nd-most in Major League history.
The Opener however, belonged to the other pitching staff as Kevin Brown struck out 16 and allowed just two hits in eight innings at the Astrodome. The brilliant performance led the Padres to a 2-1 victory over the highly favored Randy Johnson and made "believers" out of the cynical San Diego faithful. If Game 1 was all about pitching, then Game 2 certainly belonged to the hitters… well two anyway, Jim Leyritz and Bill Spiers. Nicknamed "The King", Leyritz came up huge with a clutch homer off of Scott Elarton that traveled an estimated 402 feet into the left-field seats with one out in the seventh. Spiers however, came back to seal the 5-4 victory for Houston with an RBI single in the bottom of the 9th. As the series moved to San Diego for Game 3, Padres skipper Bruce Bochy took a chance by starting Brown again on just three days rest. Although left-hander Mike Hampton matched Brown inning for inning, Jim Leyritz replayed the role of hero with a game-winning homerun off reliever Elarton (again) in the 8th inning. Although San Diego managed to win, 2-1, the Astros were confident that "The Big Unit" could win Game 4 and force a return to Houston for Game 5. Anticipating a stellar effort by Johnson, the Padres sent Sterling Hitchcock to the mound who in turn, responded with the game of his life. The desperate Astros' offense was held to an embarrassing 3 hits and struck out 11 times in 6 innings against Hitchcock. The Padres then proceeded to break open an otherwise close 2-1 game with 4 excruciating runs in the 8th inning off Elarton. In the end, the Padres would go onto to their 2nd World Series, only to drop 4 straight to the New York Yankees who were winners of a record 125 regular and post-season games.
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