Some called it a miracle, some called it destiny.
All the San Diego Padres, however, agreed that the law of averages had to catch up with Chicago starter Rick Sutcliffe.
"You can't go 16 or 17 wins without getting hit," said outfielder Tony Gwynn.
And so the Padres had their first pennant in 16 years, defeating the Cubs, 6-3, today to conclude one of baseball's great comebacks. The Padres dropped the first two games in Chicago before sweeping the final three here -- the only NL team to make such a comeback.
Sutcliffe stunned the Padres with a two-hitter in the 13-0 victory in the opener. Sunday he had a three-run lead until San Diego scored two in the sixth and four in the seventh.
"We wanted to put the ball in play and keep it in play," said first baseman Steve Garvey, the NL playoffs' most valuable player. "I think our tenacity was the key. We forced the mistakes."
"I hoped we would get to him," Padres Manager Dick Williams said. "He has really stymied us in the past."
Others in the jubilant locker room -- jubilation tempered a bit by knowledge that center fielder Kevin McReynolds' broken hand, incurred in Saturday night's game, will keep him out of the World Series -- talked about character.
"We have been coming back a lot this year," said catcher Terry Kennedy. "We knew we could do it again."
Said Gwynn: "We are for real. It didn't seem like it coming back from Chicago. The fans supported us and it gave us a lift."
It was quite a lift. In the last 2 1/2 games of the playoffs, with a man in scoring position, the Padres batted .529 (nine for 17). In the same period and the same circumstances, the Cubs hit .167 (three for 18).
Infielder Tim Flannery, whose ground ball between the legs of Leon Durham started the Padres' rally in the seventh inning, is one of two Padres left from the 1980 team taken over by Jack McKeon, the General Manager. He stepped into another room to compose himself as his teammates yelled themselves hoarse and took turns holding the league championship trophy aloft.
"I controlled my emotions, then let it all out," he said. "Now I am back to normal. Miracles only happen to those who believe in them. That's what I've been telling these guys since the first game.
"It's something I'll never forget. This team means so much to me . . . we mean so much to each other."
Garvey watched in disbelief as Flannery's grounder eluded Durham, usually a sure-handed fielder.
"We were looking for the one break, and that was it," Garvey said.
Garvey hit an RBI single up the middle off Sutcliffe, forcing Chicago Manager Jim Frey to take his outstanding pitcher out of the game.
"In my opinion, he's the Cy Young award winner," Garvey said of Sutcliffe. "Our thought was just to put the ball in play against him, and it worked out."
McKeon said he felt the presence of the man to whom the Padres dedicated their season. "I turned to Mrs. Kroc and said, 'Joan, I have a feeling the big guy is looking down on us,' " McKeon said. "I feel like he's been with us all year."
Ray Kroc bought the Padres in 1974, , but for 10 seasons they never finished higher than fourth.
Kroc died earlier this year.
"It's (pennant) something that he always dreamed of," McKeon said. "Me, too . . . Up until the fifth inning, I thought we were going to be shortchanged again. But God, these guys came back."
Said Dick Williams, who managed the Boston Red Sox in 1967 and the Oakland A's in 1971, '72 and '73 into the World Series: "This is the sweetest. This is the best. Nobody gave us a chance, but we believed in ourselves."