Unlike the National League show, the Oakland-Boston series will probably be full of offensive fireworks. The A's make Fenway Park look like something from an H-O train layout. With those Green Monsters in the middle of the Oakland order—Dave Henderson (220 pounds), Jose Canseco (230), Dave Parker (230) and Mark McGwire (225)—and four players with 20 or more steals, the A's are clearly the American League's best offensive team. Most scouts will tell you that Oakland's Walter Weiss and Glenn Hubbard form one of the two best double-play combinations in the league ( Boston's Jody Reed and Marty Barrett are the other), and the A's catching duo of Terry Steinbach and Ron Hassey is vastly underrated. As for the pitching, the big three of Dave Stewart, Storm Davis and Bob Welch are 52-27, and the A's bullpen—anchored by Dennis Eckersley—set a major league record for saves (63 through Sunday, 44 of them by Eckersley).
This Boston club isn't of the slugging, thugging genre you remember from the 1940s, '50s and '70s. The current version was next to last in its division in home runs but outscored its opponents by more than 100 runs in Fenway, These stats best define the Sox: Their pitchers lead the league in strikeouts; their hitters are first in walks and last in strikeouts.
"The Sox are very difficult to pitch to, especially in Fenway Park," says A's manager Tony La Russa. "I've never seen a team with more disciplined, professional hitters. Their .360 on-base percentage is unbelievable. They're at the bottom of the division in homers? So what? They lead the division in runs."
Boston's attack starts with Wade Boggs. "He gets to two strikes and starts fouling off pitches, waiting for one he likes," says Miller. "He reminds me of a guy sorting through his mail looking for a check." A's pitchers walked Boggs 17 times in 12 games; and Stewart, who gets into trouble mainly when his control falters, issued nine of those walks.
However, the Red Sox haven't hit nearly as well on the road. Not only did they go 0-6 in Oakland this year, but they've also lost eight straight and 13 of their last 14 there. And if the Red Sox don't clinch until late this week, that could keep manager Joe Morgan from setting up the Hurst-Clemens-Boddicker rotation he would like to throw at the A's. ( Hurst is 11-5 with a 2.88 ERA against Oakland, so Morgan wants to be able to use him three times.) If Morgan can't juggle his staff, Clemens will open, establishing the key to the series. Clemens is 1-4, with a 4.40 ERA lifetime against the A's and has won only three times since July. But if he can catch his breath and regain his powers, Clemens could set the winning pattern Boston needs. Boddicker is just 4-4 lifetime in Oakland, but given his ability to handle Canseco, who is 2 for 20 against him, Boddicker is a worthy Game 3 match for Welch (11-4 at home this year). Wes Gardner may have to start the fourth game for the Sox, though Morgan would prefer to have him in the bullpen helping Bob Stanley set up Smith, who this year allowed the A's one hit and no runs in five innings.
"If the A's can beat Clemens, they can win," says one scout. "But any time you face Hurst, Clemens and Boddicker seven times in nine days, you can lose four games."
Adds Eckersley, "The Red Sox match up against us better than any Eastern team." But then, there's what La Russa calls the Reggie Jackson-Carlton Fisk Factor. "Some players rise to the occasion," he says. "They want to be there when it's all on the line. The '72 to '74 A's and '76 to '81 Yankees were loaded with those guys."
So, too, are these Athletics. The Red Sox should remember how Henderson responded to the pressure in the 1986 playoffs, which he saved for the Sox with a dramatic home run. Canseco and Parker also love the heat. McGwire was terrific in the spotlight last year.
And the Red Sox? They have been in two World Series in 13 years, and both times Evans was their best player. Hurst and Boddicker, too, have been brilliant money pitchers. But, in the end, the A's might have a little more Reggie in them.
And we know the Mets are loaded with Reggies. Which is why New York and Oakland should end up where everyone predicted they would be: center stage, in the Big Apple.