For quite a while all you could read about the A's was Mark McGwire, Mark McGwire and Mark McGwire, who despite a post-All-Star Game swoon, still has 42 homers, 100 RBIs and a .279 average. But two other rookies, catcher Terry Steinbach (.290, 13 homers, 51 RBIs) and outfielder Luis Polonia (.290, 44 RBIs, 24 stolen bases), have helped keep Oakland afloat, and last year's phenom, Jose Canseco, has quietly put together some nice numbers—like 28 homers and 96 RBIs.
Tonight the A's erratic Steve Ontiveros holds the Yanks in check through six innings, while Dwayne Murphy, Canseco and Steinbach each homer. Eric (Ker) Plunk shuts down a threat in the ninth, and Oakland wins 8-3. The Twins have lost 9-0 to the Red Sox, which means the A's are now just half a game out.
With several heroes to choose from, the press gravitates toward the retiring, but hardly shy, Jackson, who has had to sit out his farewell swing through New York because of a pulled hamstring. "Even though the Twins are in first place, I believe we're the team to beat," says Jackson. "Baylor might help them, but scoring hasn't been the Twins' problem. I respect Gene Mauch, and it worries me that George Brett might hit .500 for the month, but with our new pitchers, I really think we're in the driver's seat." Reggie's eyes look tired, though.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 2
TORONTO—In the visitors' dugout one hour before the start of the 12:35 p.m. game, Mauch, the California manager, is using an emery board for its intended purpose. You might think that 25 years of managing without winning a pennant would have ground Mauch down, but it hasn't. He's almost indignant that the Angels are three games behind the Twins with a month to go.
"When the season started, I figured that by September 1st we'd be five or six games in the lead," says Mauch. "In fact, I thought we were the only team capable of winning 90 or more games. But we lost some pitchers, [Kirk] McCaskill for three months, [John] Candelaria for two months, [Donnie] Moore for almost five months. I hate making excuses, though."
The Angels have other excuses. They're last in the league in hitting. They're long in the tooth—if Mauch wanted to, he could field a 10-man lineup that would total 355 years of age and 137 years of big league experience. If designated hitter Bill Buckner and pitchers Jerry Reuss and Don Sutton can hang on for just a little longer, each will have appeared in the majors in four different decades. (For all you Red Sox fans, we're happy to report that Billy Bucks is hitting .280 for California, back to wearing low-tops and reminding nobody of the Gateway Arch.)
This afternoon the Angels lose 7-6 to the Blue Jays in a game marked by disaster. With runners on first and third and none out in the third inning, Reuss fields a bunt, looks the runner back to third, turns to throw to second, hears someone yell "Home!" turns to home, sees that he has no play and then throws wildly past first. His comic ballet leads to a four-run inning, Coupled with the Twins' 5-4 win over Boston that night, the Angels fall to four games back.
"If that had happened at Fremont High," Mauch says, referring to the error and his alma mater, "we would've been running laps until dark." In the clubhouse there are no eyes to read. They are all looking at the floor.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 3