Bad-News Padres Make the MLB Playoffs

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The San Diego Padres will enter the National League West playoffs with one of the worst records in the league. Beth Ford-Roth of San Diego member station KPBS reports on the beleaguered Padres and their fans.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

It's playoff time in baseball. Earlier this week, the San Diego Padres clinched the National League West Division championship, but that's despite the fact that the Padres may end up being the first team to make the playoffs with a losing record. Beth Ford-Roth from KPBS in San Diego has the story.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) We're gonna have a good time tonight.

BETH FORD-ROTH reporting:

Padres fans are thrilled their team made it to the playoffs, and the team's less-than-stellar record--it's just not a big deal. That's season ticket holder Valerie Imler's(ph) story, and she's sticking to it.

Ms. VALERIE IMLER (Fan): Who cares? It doesn't matter. It's just great for the city. I'm just so happy for the city.

FORD-ROTH: Imler was among the more than 33,000 fans at PETCO Park in San Diego Wednesday night, celebrating as the Padres beat the San Francisco Giants 9-to-1 to clinch the division title. A few rows over, lifelong San Diego resident Chuck Tevitts(ph) says being in first place is all that matters.

Mr. CHUCK TEVITTS (Fan): You have to cherish it when it happens. It's almost like having a kid or something. It doesn't happen very often, and it feels great.

FORD-ROTH: In the Padres' clubhouse, the focus was on champagne and celebration, not the fact the team may be the first losing team to win the division championship. Veteran Padres pitcher Trevor Hoffman doesn't mind.

Mr. TREVOR HOFFMAN (San Diego Padres): I know there's a lot of people out there that would love to be in our situation. You can look around, nobody's real worried about how we're getting in. We're just getting in.

FORD-ROTH: Until the Padres, it was the 1973 New York Mets who had the worst regular season record for a playoff team with 82 wins and 79 losses. The Padres end this latest series against the Giants with a record of 80 wins and 79 losses, and they only have three more games to go against the LA Dodgers to improve that score. So just how did the Padres rise to first place in the National League West? San Diego Union-Tribune sports columnist Tim Sullivan says the other teams in the NL West had a really bad year. First of all, the Giants played most of their season without slugger Barry Bonds.

Mr. TIM SULLIVAN (San Diego Union-Tribune): The Dodgers have had injuries. The Diamondbacks tried a pretty dramatic rebuilding program that is really about only half done. So this was a year in which the Padres really had an opportunity to exploit the problems of their rivals.

FORD-ROTH: Sullivan says if the Padres do somehow make it to the World Series, they face an uphill battle. Any team that the Padres may face in the American League will have a stronger winning record. Sullivan says that's because they pour so much more money into their teams.

Mr. SULLIVAN: The Yankees will spend three times as much on player payroll as the Padres do. The Red Sox will spend at least twice. So when you start from that base, it's kind of easy to understand why these teams don't perform as well as those teams.

FORD-ROTH: But Sullivan says there's still something special about the Padres. Fan favorites include 37-year-old Trevor Hoffman and shortstop Khalil Greene, who some have nicknamed Spicoli because of his striking resemblance to the Sean Penn surfer dude character in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

Mr. SULLIVAN: It's kind of an appealing bunch of castoffs; bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, your banged-up second baseman, and it would be a fun story if it had a happy ending. At this point, I'm not sure it's going to.

FORD-ROTH: That's because next week in the first round of the playoffs, the Padres will face either the formidable St. Louis Cardinals, 97 wins and 62 losses, or the equally strong Atlanta Braves. But right now Padres fans are focusing on the fact every team that makes the playoffs will start their first 2postseason game with a clean slate and a 0-0 record. For NPR News, I'm Beth Ford-Roth in San Diego.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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