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Padres Not Off Scott-Free

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The New York Yankees embarrassed the San Diego Padres in the opening of the World Series--providing a typically rude Big Apple welcome.

The National League champions couldn’t escape from New York fast enough, returning to the sunshine and comfort of their laid-back surf city. The Padres believed things would improve in Game 3 Tuesday night, at least enough for them to get off the ground.

They were wrong.

The American League champions rallied for a 5-4 victory and took a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

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Yankee third baseman Scott Brosius--who had the 41st multi-homer game in World Series history--hit a dramatic, one-out, game-turning, three-run shot against San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman in the eighth inning to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead.

The blast to dead center deflated a frenzied sellout crowd of 64,667 at Qualcomm Stadium, giving the Yankees an advantage they would not surrender.

San Diego scored a run in the eighth, but could get no closer against Yankee closer Mariano Rivera. With two out and runners on first and third, Rivera struck out Andy Sheets to end the game and nail down his second save in the series.

Ramiro Mendoza pitched an inning in relief to earn the victory, putting the Yankees on the verge of winning their 24th World Series championship, and second in three seasons. The end could come as soon as today for the Padres.

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The Yankees set an AL record with 114 victories during the regular season, and they are now 10-2 in the playoffs. And the Padres haven’t slowed their postseason push.

“They’re obviously a very good team and we all knew that,” Padre outfielder Tony Gwynn said. “If the Yankees keep doing what they’re doing, and we don’t do something quick, we’re going to have a tough climb.”

They already do.

Regardless of when the series ends, the future appears bleak for the Padres, who must now overcome history as well as the Yankees. No major league team has won a series after trailing, 3-0.

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The Padres are falling fast and hard--and the Yankees don’t plan to lend a helping hand.

“This was the one we needed, we needed to come in here and make sure they didn’t get comfortable,” said Chili Davis, who drove in the Yankees’ second run while pinch-hitting for starter David Cone in the seventh. “They were coming back here with the crowd cheering for them, and this was when they could have really got something started.

“But [Brosius] came through with another big hit, like he’s been doing all year, and we really took the crowd out of the game right there. Now, the pressure is really on them. And we aren’t going to let up.”

Brosius’ shot turned the screws.

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Hoffman relieved Randy Myers with one on and no out in the eighth. He got Bernie Williams on a fly to right, then walked Tino Martinez. On a 2-and-2 count, Brosius crushed a 91-mph fastball over the wall in center. That came on the heels of Brosius’ leadoff homer in the seventh against Padre starter Sterling Hitchcock, which cut San Diego’s lead to 3-1.

“There’s no way to describe how much he means to this team,” first baseman Martinez said of Brosius, who is six for 12 with runners in scoring position in the postseason.

“He’s done it all year for us with his bat and with his glove, but he really kind of gets overlooked because of the people we have in this clubhouse. But believe me, we appreciate him.”

Brosius feels appreciated.

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“I just feel really lucky to be part of this team,” said Brosius, who shortstop Derek Jeter says is the Yankees’ most valuable player. “There’s just a great group of guys on this team, and to come out and to do something to help the team win feels really good.

“This is the type of thing that you dream about as a kid. This is something I’ve done in my backyard a hundred times, and you never know if you’re going to get an opportunity to do it.”

That Brosius did it against Hoffman adds to its significance.

Hoffman tied a NL record with 53 saves--in 54 opportunities--in the regular season with a 1.48 earned-run average.

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Hoffman last pitched in the pennant clincher against the Atlanta Braves last Wednesday. That’s six days, and that’s a lot of time between appearances for a closer.

“It’s obvious that he didn’t have his best stuff,” San Diego Manager Bruce Bochy said. “But he’s gone this long without pitching before.

“We talked about this before, because he hadn’t pitched in a while, he’d rather get his work in the bullpen, and come in in his usual situation. So I don’t know if that played a part in his location or not.”

For a while, it appeared that the Padres wouldn’t need Hoffman. After Cone no-hit them through five innings, they took a 3-0 lead in the sixth on a run-scoring single by Gwynn, a throwing error by right fielder Paul O’Neill and a sacrifice fly by Ken Caminiti.

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But the Yankees are known for keeping hope alive.

“We’re relentless,” center fielder Williams said. “Even when we were down, guys were walking around saying, ‘We’re gonna win this, we’re gonna win this game.’

“The thing about this team is that you might have us down, but we keep battling to our last out. A lot of teams say that, but it’s the truth with us. We just keep coming after you.”

And the Padres are their final target.

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