The 1998 National League Championship Series (NLCS), to determine the champion of Major League Baseball's National League, was played from October 7 to 14 between the East Division champion Atlanta Braves and the West Division champion San Diego Padres.
The Braves entered the playoffs for the seventh straight season with a franchise-record 106 regular season wins, an offense that hit 215 home runs, and a pitching staff made up of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Denny Neagle, and Kevin Millwood to the playoffs. However, they also carried the baggage of their embarrassing NLCS loss to the Florida Marlins the previous season. In the NLDS, the Braves swept Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs.
After a 76–86 season in 1997, San Diego stormed out and took control of their division, finishing with a 98–64 record, their best in team history. The offense was led by the 50 home run club's newest member, Greg Vaughn, and by Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. The San Diego rotation was anchored by eighteen-game winner Kevin Brown, who helped Florida defeat Atlanta in the 1997 NLCS, along with All-Star Andy Ashby and the series MVP Sterling Hitchcock. Closer Trevor Hoffman saved an astounding 53 games in the regular season. The Padres defeated the favored Houston Astros in four games in the NLDS.
It was the seventh-consecutive NLCS appearance for the Braves and they would be heavily favored against the Padres.
San Diego won the series, 4–2.
Wednesday, October 7, 1998, at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia
With John Smoltz on the mound, the Braves were staked out to a 1–0 lead when Andruw Jones hit a solo home run to lead off the third inning off Andy Ashby. The Padres tied the game in the fifth when Tony Gwynn, appearing in his first NLCS since 1984, hit an RBI single. An error by first baseman Andrés Galarraga helped San Diego take a 2–1 lead in the eighth. In the bottom half of the inning, closer Trevor Hoffman came into the game early to end a Braves' scoring threat. However, in the ninth, the Braves got the tying run off him when Ryan Klesko scored on a sacrifice fly. In the tenth, Ken Caminiti belted a home run off reliever Kerry Ligtenberg to give San Diego their winning margin. The Braves put two men on the bottom of the inning, but Galarraga flew out to end the game.
Thursday, October 8, 1998, at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia
After the tightly-contested Game 1, Kevin Brown, who was developing a reputation as a "Brave killer", absolutely shut down the Atlanta offense, pitching a three-hit shutout with eleven strikeouts. Tom Glavine matched Brown until the sixth, when Quilvio Veras brought in a run with a single. San Diego added two insurance runs in the ninth before Brown remained in the game to pitch a perfect ninth and put the Braves down two games to none.
Saturday, October 10, 1998, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California
The Braves offense was held quiet again as San Diego won Game 3 and took a commanding 3–0 series lead. This was the only game that was won by the home team in this series, with the road teams going 5–1. Atlanta sent Greg Maddux to the hill and he led 1–0 after four innings, but the Padres tagged him for two runs in the fifth with Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti driving in runs. The Braves loaded the bases in the sixth with only one out, but Donne Wall struck out Michael Tucker and Greg Colbrunn to end the threat. An error by Ryan Klesko and a passed ball on Javy López helped the Padres add two runs in the eighth. Trevor Hoffman struck out the side in the ninth and San Diego took Game 3 by a score of 4–1. Starter Sterling Hitchcock got the win with five innings pitched and one run allowed. Atlanta now appeared to be in an insurmountable hole—no team had ever come back from a three games to none deficit in baseball history.
Sunday, October 11, 1998, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California
San Diego was looking for a sweep and they took the first step by taking a 2–0 lead in the third. The Braves tied it in sixth on a Ryan Klesko RBI single, but San Diego retook the lead in the bottom of the inning when Jim Leyritz, two years removed from his crucial home run against the Braves in the 1996 World Series, hit a solo shot off Denny Neagle. The Braves would refuse to go quietly, exploding for six runs in the seventh inning. Javy López led off with a home run, followed by an Andruw Jones single that ended the night for Padres starter Joey Hamilton. Ozzie Guillén brought the go-ahead run home with a single before Andrés Galarraga launched a prodigious grand slam that left Atlanta ahead 8–3. The Braves, who used six pitchers in the win, avoided the sweep. They also became the first team since the 1937 New York Giants to win a post-season game after being down 3 games to none in the series.
Monday, October 12, 1998, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California
After Atlanta's offensive outburst in Game 4 to stay alive, the Padres hoped to close out the Braves in front of their home fans in Game 5. They sent Andy Ashby to the hill against Atlanta starter John Smoltz. Ken Caminiti got things started with a two-run shot off Smoltz to give San Diego the early lead. Andruw Jones, who was caught stealing home in the fourth, stole second base in the fifth with two outs, allowing himself to score on a Michael Tucker single to tie the game 2–2. However, John Vander Wal, who had five home runs all year, hit a two-run homer off Smoltz that put San Diego back on top 4–2. After a single by Ozzie Guillén to start the seventh, manager Bruce Bochy brought starter Kevin Brown into the game. Brown retired the first three Braves he faced. The Padres threatened in the bottom of the seventh, but John Rocker came in for Smoltz and retired Tony Gwynn. Still holding a 4–2 lead, Brown was set to pitch the eighth for San Diego. He allowed the first two batters to reach but got Andruw Jones to pop out, bringing the Padres five outs away from a championship. Then Michael Tucker got a hold of a Brown fastball and launched a flyball to deep right center field that left the park and put Atlanta ahead 5–4. Bochy got Brown out of the game, replacing him with Donne Wall, but Tony Graffanino doubled, scoring another run, then crossed home himself when Chris Gomez committed a throwing error on the relay. Behind 7–4 and stunned, the Padres attempted to rally in the ninth. Greg Myers belted a pinch-hit two-run homer with no one out to make it 7–6, prompting Bobby Cox to bring in Greg Maddux in relief. Maddux retired the side, with nemesis Tony Gwynn grounding out to finish the game, and earned his first ever career save. The save would be the only save in Maddux's career. This wild game cut San Diego's series lead to one game, and with the series returning to Atlanta with Tom Glavine set to pitch, many believed that the Braves had a serious chance of coming back. This Braves win marked the first time in baseball history that a team had come back from a three games to none (in a best of seven series) deficit to reach a Game 6.
Wednesday, October 14, 1998, at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia
After Kevin Brown's disastrous outing in Game 5, he was unable to come back for Game 6, forcing the Padres to instead start Sterling Hitchcock. The Braves had become the first team to force a Game 6 after dropping the first three games, but any dreams of a historic comeback were to be crushed. Hitchcock pitched five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts. Glavine looked good but ran into trouble in the sixth. Jim Leyritz had an RBI groundout that scored the first run before Wally Joyner added a single that made it 2–0. Sterling Hitchcock reached on a costly error by left fielder Danny Bautista that opened the floodgates. Glavine left the game and John Rocker promptly gave up RBI singles to Quilvio Veras and Tony Gwynn. The unearned runs made it 5–0 and the San Diego bullpen would pitch a hitless final four innings. The Braves only managed two hits the entire game. Hitchcock, who won two games, was named the series MVP.
1998 NLCS (4–2): San Diego Padres over Atlanta Braves