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T-Shirts Aren’t Only Giveaway as Padres Win West

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They came to be part of history Saturday night--and get some cool free T-shirts.

San Diego Padre fans packed Qualcomm Stadium, hoping to watch the National League West leaders clinch their second division title in three seasons. And the Padres gave away T-shirts adorned with all-star outfielder Tony Gwynn’s name and number, helping to boost attendance.

The Padres and their fans got what they wanted, celebrating the third NL West championship in the club’s 30-year history after an 8-7 come-from-behind victory before a sellout crowd of 60,823.

“You’re seeing two sides of this,” Dodger Manager Glenn Hoffman said. “One emotion is high, and ours is low. As far as the game is concerned, when you have a 7-0 lead, you’re supposed to hang on, and we didn’t. We couldn’t throw the ball over the plate. They’re a good team, and you can’t let them back in it. And we did.”

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As fans cheered and waved their T-shirts in the ninth, all-star closer Trevor Hoffman struck out Matt Luke with runners on first and second to nail down the Padres’ title, and his NL-leading 49th save. The second-largest crowd to attend a baseball game in team history watched the Padres increase their franchise-best record to 94-55.

The Dodgers? They also did something historic, squandering their largest lead of the season.

They led, 7-0, after five innings behind starter Dave Mlicki. On July 23, the Dodgers led, 6-0, against the Houston Astros before losing, 8-6, in 11 innings.

On Saturday, the Padres scored three runs in the fifth and five in the sixth against Mlicki and two relievers. San Diego sent 10 batters to the plate in the sixth, scoring on five walks, two hits and a hit batter.

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Mlicki collapsed in the sixth after allowing only one baserunner--on one hit--through the first four innings. With the Padres trailing, 7-3, Greg Vaughn opened the inning by singling to center.

Then Mlicki lost his control. He walked the next three batters to force in a run to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 7-4.

Mlicki was replaced by rookie right-hander Sean Maloney (0-1), who forced in another run by hitting Andy Sheets with a pitch. Chris Gomez’s run-scoring walk made the score 7-6, and ended Maloney’s work.

Enter rookie left-hander Jeff Kubenka. Quilvio Veras, pinch-hitting for reliever Scott Sanders (3-1), tied the score, 7-7, with a sacrifice fly.

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With two out and the bases loaded, Vaughn, batting for the second time in the inning, singled to left, driving in Sheets to put the Padres ahead, 8-7. Left fielder Luke threw out Gomez at the plate to end the inning.

The Dodgers wasted a career-high five runs batted in by Luke. First baseman Eric Karros closed the Dodgers’ scoring in the fifth with his 23rd home run, a two-run shot to center against Stan Spencer.

The Dodgers staked Mlicki to a 3-0 lead in the first on a bases-loaded, two-out triple by Luke.

Leadoff batter Eric Young opened the game by singling to center against Spencer. The right-hander was making only his fourth major league start--and it quickly showed.

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After Young singled, Trenidad Hubbard and Karros struck out swinging. But Bobby Bonilla and Raul Mondesi walked as Spencer appeared rattled.

Luke then tripled to left-center. The triple was Luke’s first in 209 major league at-bats. And Luke wasn’t finished getting clutch hits against Spencer.

With two out in the third, Bonilla doubled to right-center and went to third on Mondesi’s infield single. After Mondesi stole second, Luke singled to right, increasing the Dodgers’ lead to 5-0.

The hit enabled Luke to set a new personal best in RBIs. He had driven in at least three runs three times before Saturday.

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“Everything is a learning experience,” Luke said. “You learn so much every day just by being around the game, and being in different situations.

“This year has been a great experience for me because of the opportunities I’ve had, and the things I’ve been able to do. But you have to keep working hard and keep concentrating, because things can change fast in this game.”

His teammates can attest to that.


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