Hard to believe 25 years have passed since Oct. 7, 1984 — the biggest day in San Diego Padres’ history.

On that Sunday afternoon, the Padres completed their comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-5 NL playoff series against the big, bad, overrated Chicago Cubs team that was supposed to cruise into the World Series.

The Cubs won the first two games of the series in Wrigley Field before heading west to San Diego for the final three games. The Padres breezed in Game 3, won in the bottom of the ninth of Game 4 on Steve Garvey’s famous home run off Lee Smith (I can still see Henry Cotto desperately climbing the right-center field fence) and then smacked the supposedly unbeatable Rick Sutcliffe (16-1 in the regular season) around in the decisive Game 5.

The noise level during that 6-3 victory by the Padres has seldom been matched since at a San Diego sporting event. It was a party time at The Murph (the stadium’s nickname at the time) as the Padres stunned the nation by winning the series.

I recall that things didn’t start well — the Padres starting pitchers were horrible throughout the series — and Chicago was up 3-0 in the second inning and Padres manager Dick Williams was already pulling Eric Show. Yet the San Diego bullpen was unhittable as Andy Hawkins, Dave Dravecky and Craig Lefferts combined for 5 2/3 hitless innings.

The stellar relief outings kept the Padres in sight of the Cubs, a good thing since Sutcliffe allowed just two hits over the first five innings. But in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Padres loaded the bases with none out — Alan Wiggins’ leadoff bunt single was the instigator — and plated two runs on sacrifice flies by Graig Nettles and Terry Kennedy.

Then came the bottom of the seventh, the most exciting half-inning in Padres’ annals. Carmelo Martinez was on second base with one out when pinch-hitter Tim Flannery hit a routine groundball toward Cubs first baseman Leon Durham. But instead of an easy second out, the ball went right through Durham’s legs and Martinez scored the tying run.

Meanwhile, Sutcliffe was tiring on the hot October afternoon and the already-frenzied crowd somehow made more noise. Wiggins followed with another single and then Tony Gwynn put the Padres ahead with the hard-hit, bad-bounce double that almost took off the head of Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg. Two runs scored and the Padres knocked Sutcliffe out of the game when Garvey singled in Gwynn with a liner to center.

The Padres brought in closer Goose Gossage in the eighth inning (yeah, closers weren’t babied all the time 25 years ago) and the Cubs had two on with two out before Gossage stuck out Gary Matthews to end the threat. In the ninth, the Cubs got a man on base and Jody Davis came up with two outs and hit a one-hopper to Nettles at third, who threw to Wiggins at second for the force .

Radio announcer Jerry Coleman let fly with one of the loudest Oh, Doctors! of his long broadcasting career while Padres’ fans deliriously sung the song “Cub Busters” (written to the tune of Ghostbusters) over and over again.

Most of the nation seemed stunned at the Padres’ dramatic comeback (the Chicago columnists took homerism to a new level, particularly the hated Mike Royko) and were saddened that the dominant Detroit Tigers would be playing the Padres in the 1984 World Series.

Not surprisingly, the Tigers won the World Series in five games (Detroit would have pounded the Cubs in similar fashion — the Tigers were a team for the ages) but it really wasn’t that big of a disappointment to Padres’ fans. And the ’84 Padres are still talked about fondly and viewed as the most favorite team in the franchise’s not-so-gloriously history.

Hard to believe that 25 years have passed since Oct. 7, 1984. And perhaps that afternoon isn’t remembered at all if Leon Durham doesn’t let an easy five-hop grounder go right through his legs. Durham’s error opened the floodgates and allowed the Padres to win their first NL pennant.

The Padres have made only one other World Series appearance (swept in 1998 by the New York Yankees) but you always remember your first more than your second, no matter what the topic or the memory.

That’s why Oct. 7, 1984 remains the most memorable day in franchise history.


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