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Steve Wulf
October 15, 1990
The Oakland A's lived up to their billing by stifling the Red Sox in Boston
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October 15, 1990

'one Helluva Team'

The Oakland A's lived up to their billing by stifling the Red Sox in Boston

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It was 1:30 Monday morning, not long after the stragglers had left Fenway Park, most of them sure it was for the last time this season. In a folding chair near one of the stadium exits sat a dummy in an Oakland Athletics uniform, wearing Rickey Henderson's number 24. Ushers and a few other Boston Red Sox employees were taking out their frustrations on the doll by hurling objects at it and whacking it with a broomstick. They at least had found one way to beat the A's.

The only way to beat them may be in effigy. In person, and in Boston, the Athletics knocked the stuffing out of the Red Sox and their fans, 9-1 last Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday, to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. Oakland appeared headed toward its third straight World Series, while Boston appeared headed toward its usual fate.

What made the victories so impressive was that the A's won with none of their bash and just a touch of their dash. This was more like lash ( Oakland had 26 hits, just three of which went for extra bases) and squash (starters Dave Stewart and Bob Welch held Boston to only 10 hits in 15? combined innings). Said Oakland relief ace Dennis Eckersley, who closed out both games, "We've got one helluva baseball team, don't you think?"

Actually, most people thought that long before the ALCS started. But hope persists even in Boston, which hasn't had a world champion since 1918. (A banner in the stands on Saturday read EVERY 72 YEARS, JUST LIKE CLOCKWORK.) Even though the Red Sox had won 15 fewer games than the A's, they seemed to have destiny on their side this time. On Wednesday night of last week, rightfielder Tom Brunansky had made a miraculous catch with two outs in the ninth inning of the last regular-season game to seal a 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox and the American League East title.

On the other hand, there were the ghosts (and goats) of Red Sox past. In fact, wandering around the field before Game 1 were two of them: fungo hitter Johnny Pesky, who held the ball in '46, and Channel 7 sports reporter Bill Buckner, who missed the ball in '86. Jim Burton ('75) and Mike Torrez ('78) would have made it a complete set. Boston manager Joe Morgan—who is Walpole, Mass., through and through—professes not to pay attention to such history. Before the game, he was as relaxed as could be, talking about the peppers in his garden and the fall foliage and the Walpole High football team. In the meantime, the spiritual leader of his baseball team, catcher Tony Pena, was telling a reporter, "When human beings play human beings, anything can happen."

The opener pitted two seeming superhumans against one another: Stewart, coming off his fourth straight year of 20 or more victories (22-11 in '90), versus Roger Clemens, 21-6 this year with a 1.93 ERA. Since Stewart joined the A's in 1986, the two have faced each other six times, with Stewart winning all six and Clemens losing all six. In their last confrontation, on Sept. 4, Clemens hurt his shoulder so badly that he didn't pitch for another 24 days. Beating Stewart has become an obsession for Clemens, so much so that Boston pitching coach Bill Fischer was worried his ace would try to overdo it on Saturday. "Maybe I should put blinders on him," Fischer said.

For six innings, the duel was exactly as advertised. Neither team had a hit in the first three innings. The mitts of catchers Pena and Terry Steinbach were popping. The glares of Clemens and Stewart were burning holes in the backstops. Stewart blinked first, allowing Wade Boggs a wind-aided solo homer into the net above the Green Monster in the fourth inning. A lesser man might have been upset with himself, but Stewart said, "I just stared at the wall for a moment and thought, That would not have been a home run anywhere else. So I chose to disregard it."

Clemens, who retired the first 11 men he faced, began to tire after working out of jams in the fourth and fifth. In the sixth, he walked the first two men he faced, but was saved when Harold Baines lined into a double play. After the inning, Morgan told Clemens he was through for the evening. "He was dead," said Morgan later. "He wouldn't have gotten through the seventh."

The Red Sox had a 1-0 lead after six, but unfortunately for Boston, the lead was entrusted to a weary bullpen with the highest ERA in the league. As Larry Andersen toed the slab in the seventh, the fans became quiet and dread hung in the air like the neon CITGO sign in left. Oakland pitcher Mike Moore later said, "It was like church, and all you could hear was the organ music."

Andersen immediately walked Mark McGwire, and one out later Jamie Quirk was sent to the plate as a pinch hitter. Henderson, standing in the on-deck circle, turned to some of his hecklers and said, "It's only a matter of time." In a matter of moments, Quirk lined a single over the middle, and Henderson tied the score with a sacrifice fly to center.

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