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Padres knock off Johnson, Astros again to win series

SHARE Padres knock off Johnson, Astros again to win series

The San Diego Padres are going back to the NL championship series after a 14-year absence, thanks in large part to new hero Jim Leyritz.

And the Big Unit is not going to make it to the World Series as many thought, because the Padres beat Randy Johnson and the Houston Astros 6-1 Sunday night to clinch the tense division series three games to one.With the crowd of 64,898 hanging on every pitch, Leyritz hit his third homer in as many games and 27-year-old Sterling Hitchcock was dominating in his first playoff start, using a devastating split-fingered fastball to strike out 11 in six innings.

Johnson lost his fifth straight decision in the postseason, tying a major league record. He left for a pinch-hitter in the seventh, and reliever Jay Powell gave up pinch-hitter John Vander Wal's two-run triple and Wally Joyner's two-run homer in the eighth.

Trevor Hoffman closed out the ninth for the Padres, who move on to face the Atlanta Braves in the NL championship series starting Wednesday night at Turner Field. Atlanta won five of nine from the Padres this year.

This is the first time the Padres have been this far since 1984, when they beat the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS only to lose the World Series 4-1 to Detroit. Tony Gwynn is the only player left from that team, although Bruce Bochy is the manager and Tim Flannery the third base coach.

The Astros go home frustrated for a second straight year, having been swept by Atlanta in a 1997 division series. Houston have been in five postseason series, and lost all of them.

Johnson was brilliant after being traded from Seattle to Houston on July 31, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA. But the Padres beat him twice this series.

Leyritz homered for the third straight game and for the sixthtime in 34 postseason at-bats.

He sent the crowd into a frenzy with his 422-foot homer to left-center on a 3-1 pitch from Johnson leading off the second.

The Padres scratched out an unearned run in the sixth to go ahead 2-1. Greg Vaughn hit a high fly with two outs and left fielder Moises Alou had to run in.

Alou tried to make a sliding catch and missed, giving Vaughn a double. Ken Caminiti followed with a chopper to third baseman Sean Berry and stumbled coming out of the box, but Berry made a bad throw that bounced past Bagwell at first base, allowing Vaughn to score.

The Astros loaded the bases without a hit off Joey Hamilton in the seventh. Dan Miceli came on and retired the side on four pitches, striking out Brad Ausmus and getting Carl Everett - pinch-hitting for Johnson - to pop up to third.

Miceli came on with the bases loaded and two out Saturday night and struck out Bill Spiers on three pitches.

Jeff Bagwell walked leading off the seventh and eventually reached third, but was caught in a rundown after Joyner fielded Spiers' grounder to first.