Autumnal Agony: Sox Fall Short Again

OAKLAND, Calif.--Unsung heroes had played strong supporting roles, but Oakland's season-long stars dominated a familiar script the day the Athletics won their first American League pennant since 1974.

The A's success story was painfully familiar Sunday to the Boston Red Sox. The 4-1 victory was Oakland's fourth straight in the best-of-seven AL playoffs and the 10th home win in a row over Boston.

Home-run leader Jose Canseco put the A's ahead with a homer, 21-game winner Dave Stewart allowed four hits in seven innings and major-league save leader Dennis Eckersley blanked Boston for the fourth game in a row.

Canseco offered an inside tip for prognosticators outside the A's champagne-drenched clubhouse.

"We'll be the team to beat [in the World Series]--the team with the better record, the team with the better balance," he said.

The A's slugger, who hit .313 for the series with three home runs, four runs batted in and one stolen base, has a good record on predictions in 1988. Last April, he correctly anticipated that he would be the first player in history to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases.

His line shot into the rightfield bleachers in the first inning was his fifth homer in just 26 at-bats against Boston starter Bruce Hurst, a two-time loser in the playoffs. His homer also tied the AL playoffs record set by Kansas City's George Brett in 1985.

Stewart got into his usual early jam. But just as he had in Game 1, he escaped, fanning Dwight Evans with the bases loaded to end the first and retiring 11 consecutive batters.

To Stewart's mind, the series sweep brought sweet vindication for both the pitcher who was considered washed up two years ago and a team only recently accorded much respect.

"People can see we honestly deserved to win 104 games," said Stewart, already tabbed by Manager Tony La Russa to start Saturday night's World Series opener in New York or Los Angeles.

Manager Joe Morgan of the Red Sox agreed.

"We lost to the best team in this league," said Morgan, whose team roared back from fourth place at the All-Star break to win by a game over Detroit. "There's no doubt about it."

Unlike the first three games, when Oakland won two in the late innings and a third after trailing, 5-0, the A's hung onto a lead all the way.

Walt Weiss, a hitting hero along with Ron Hassey in Game 3, scored what proved to be the winning run in the third when he singled and came in on Dave Henderson's double down the left-field line.

Boston scratched out a run in the sixth on a walk to Marty Barrett, Wade Boggs' fifth hit of the series and a pair of ground-ball outs, with Jim Rice getting the RBI.

Mark McGwire, one of five A's with five or more hits in the series, drove in Canseco with an eighthinning single as the A's added two insurance runs. Don Baylor, playing for a third straight different team AL pennant winner, followed with a sacrifice fly and a weary Eckersley replaced Rick Honeycutt in the ninth to get his record-setting fourth series save.

"I haven't pitched this much all year," said Eckersley, who notched a club-record 45 saves in the regular season. "I'm just glad we had a three-run lead--and that we're not playing tomorrow."

"It's been a dream season," he said. "I hope it keeps going."

Eckersley beat out Canseco to win the series Most Valuable Player award. He pitched six shutout innings, giving up only one hit.