It's too hot to decide a pennant," California Angels pitcher Dan Petry said last week. "There should be a bite in the air for a big series. It should at least feel like October." With seven weeks left in the season and the temperature in Anaheim near 90�, the Angels and the Oakland A's, the teams with the best records in baseball, were about to have their last scheduled meeting of 1989. It was billed as "The Series" by two Los Angeles newspapers.
By the time it ended, Anaheim Stadium had set an alltime major league attendance record (175,058) for a three-game series, and the A's had won two of the three to emerge with a one-game lead in the American League West.
"The timing of this series was unfortunate because it had the prospect of being something to remember if it were played in late September," said Oakland manager Tony La Russa. "The winner of this series wins nothing. All it does is make a statement, then moves on to the final quarter of the season."
While La Russa was offended by the schedule maker's flawed sense of dramatic pacing, Oakland's slugging first baseman, Mark McGwire, seemed far more satisfied with the outcome. "I think we did make a kind of statement," said McGwire. "They saw what this team is all about. We just go out, grind away and find a way to win, no matter how ugly we look doing it."
What the Angels learned is that the '89 Athletics are no longer the Bash Brothers. Going into the series, Oakland was only 11th in the American League in homers and 11th in runs scored, and 1988's Rambos I and II, McGwire and Jose Canseco, had combined for only half as many homers as they had at this time last season. Of course, Canseco missed the first 88 games of the season with an injury to his left wrist, and McGwire missed 14 in April with a herniated disk in his lower back. But their absence served to demonstrate that, as La Russa says, "What we have is a lot of ways to win individual games."
This season the A's are the Gnash Brothers, winning by teeth-grindingly close margins and doing it with pitching. "Last year we'd have some easy wins, big 13-3 routs with a lot of that forearm stuff," says McGwire. "We recently had a series with Chicago that summed up our season—win 3-2, win 2-0, win 2-0. We've lived with that for four months."
For the Angel series, the A's would again be without Canseco, except for one at bat. His wrist was hurting, and he had pulled a muscle in his right thigh on Monday in Seattle. Relief pitcher Dennis Eckersley, though, was fully recovered from his six-week bout with a strained muscle in his right shoulder, and shortstop Walt Weiss was working his way back into the lineup after a lengthy stay on the disabled list with a damaged right knee. "We're not hitting, but that's O.K.," said La Russa. The A's had scored only 33 runs in 11 games, but had gone 7-4 as last weekend's series began, and they had moved into a first-place tie with the Angels.
Pitching coach Dave Duncan manipulated his rotation to enable his big three of Mike Moore, Bob Welch and Dave Stewart to start the games in Anaheim. Moore, a refugee from Seattle whom the A's had signed as a free agent in the off-season, set the tone for the weekend. "There's nothing you can do when he's right," said Angel manager Doug Rader.
Moore opened this midsummer classic by overpowering the Angels with an easy eight-hit, 5-0 win. He walked not a single batter and struck out eight. Now 15-6 with a 2.38 ERA, Moore says, "I'm really the same pitcher I was in Seattle [where he was 65-96 over seven seasons]. It's just a different atmosphere. It's fun."
"The reason I think Moore will prove to be a great money pitcher is that he's very unemotional," says Duncan. "He's cool under fire. The reason he lost some tough games in Seattle was because he needed an off-speed pitch, he didn't have a bullpen, he had to shoulder the burden of facing the other team's best pitchers, and the ballpark is tough to pitch in."