There is only one way to follow this wacky pennant race in the American League West. Build a satellite dish the size of the Kingdome, purchase a remote control unit and click from game to game.
Take your eye off this division even for a day and anything can happen. All seven teams have been in first place at some point this year, and all but two—the Oakland A's and the Texas Rangers—have been in the basement. Through Sunday, five teams were within 6½ games of first place, and all seven were .500 or better. Not since divisional play began in 1969 has every team in a division wound up above .500. All in all, the 1991 American League West race promises to provide one of the most exciting finishes in years.
When asked to name the team to beat, first baseman Kent Hrbek of the first-place Minnesota Twins laughs and says, "Seven teams." Indeed, with almost two months left in the season, no team can be written off. "Look at all the people who picked us to finish last," says Hrbek. "They can take their pens and pencils, and they can...."
Last weekend marked the unofficial beginning of the Wild West Show. The feature series was staged in Oakland, where the Twins, who have led the division since the All-Star break, played the A's, who are finding the road to a fourth straight American League West title exceedingly bumpy. In fact, throughout the division it was a bizarre weekend, during which a pitcher hit, a catcher pitched, an All-Star sang, umpires dropped like flies, teams brawled and a home run record was set.
Get your remote control. Click.
On Friday night in Oakland, the temperature was 59°. No, this wasn't the postseason, but it sure felt that way. The Twins looked exhausted, having played in Minneapolis on Monday night and Tuesday and in New York on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon. "After this, maybe we'll go to Japan," said Minnesota catcher Junior Ortiz. The A's were also weary. They completed a 10-game road trip on Thursday night in Boston, flew all night and got to bed at dawn. "Who makes the schedule?" asked one of the A's. "Mr. Magoo?"
Three hours before the game, Oakland shortstop Walt Weiss took infield practice for the first time since tearing ligaments in his left ankle on June 6. The A's sorely miss him, but he might be back by Sept. 1. Across the field, Twins ace Scott Erickson, who hadn't been effective since straining his right elbow in early July, threw in the bullpen. His pitches didn't have their usual zip. "I have to just throw the ball instead of thinking about [the injury]," said Erickson.
His manager, Tom Kelly, said, "He's confused, he's scared." The Twins can't win without a good finish from Erickson, who, one teammate said, "has gone from He-man to She-man."
The A's had been looking like their old he-men selves of late, having won nine of their last 11 games, and on this night they scratched out a 3-1 victory. Bob Welch pitched his sixth complete game—four more than last year, when he won 27 games—to improve his record to 9-6. Even more impressive, Oakland catcher Terry Steinbach went 4 for 4—he threw out all four Twins who attempted to steal. "I've had four guys steal on me before," said Steinbach, "but I don't think I've ever thrown out four before."
The victory moved the A's to within three games of first place. "This is our time of year," said Oakland pitcher Dave Stewart afterward. "We're primed to make our move."