There was just no stopping them. In the late innings of the fourth and final game of the American League Championship Series, a conga line of fans carrying brooms swept along the aisles of Oakland Coliseum. As it passed through the stands, the procession grew longer and longer and more mind-boggling.
As had the Oakland Athletics' postseason winning streak. Their 3-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox and the 4-0 sweep of the series gave the A's 10 postseason wins in a row, and wins in 12 of their last 13. As the A's readied themselves for the Cincinnati Reds and a third straight World Series appearance, there appeared no way of stopping them.
"How do you beat them?" asked Red Sox second baseman Jody Reed. "Well, if they play real bad...but that's not going to happen, so forget that."
"How do you beat the A's?" asked Red Sox leftfielder Mike Greenwell, who went 0 for 14 in the series. "If I knew the answer to that question, I'd quit playing and become the greatest manager ever." Greenwell's own manager, Joe Morgan, compared the Athletics to Cincinnati's Big Red Machine, the world champions in 1975 and '76. "Of course, I didn't see the '27 Yankees," said Morgan.
"Sweep" doesn't quite describe what Oakland did to Boston. "Steam-clean" maybe. The Bosox were outscored 20-4 and outhit 38 (.299) to 23 (.183). The A's had nine stolen bases, the Red Sox one. The A's made one error, the Red Sox five.
Moreover, the two incidents that sealed Boston's fate last week were the result of Red Sox mistakes that would be almost unthinkable for the A's. The first was when Boston's Tony Pena was crashed into by fellow catcher Terry Steinbach and dropped the ball on a sure out at home in the sixth inning of Game 3. In spring training, Oakland coaches drill their catchers on just such collisions at the plate by using tackling dummies.
The second incident was, of course, the ejection of Roger Clemens by home plate umpire Terry Cooney in the second inning of Game 4, after the Rocket misfired and yelled several of the magic words that umpires consider grounds for dismissal. Asked if such a thing had ever happened to him, Series MVP Dave Stewart, whose Oakland record against Clemens is now 8-0, said, "If you mean, Have I ever been thrown out of a big game? the answer is no." (The dig at Roger improved Stewart's record to 9-0 in some books.)
The blowup could never have happened to Stewart, or any Athletic, for that matter. The A's are taught not to show up umpires. Said Oakland manager Tony La Russa, "Umps have a tough job to do, and you don't mess with them. In this league, you respect the umps or you don't stay around."
When the game finally resumed after 10 minutes of turmoil, Oakland's Mike Gallego promptly doubled off reliever Tom Bolton to increase the lead to 3-0. The Athletics are impervious.
But are they invincible? They did lose 59 games this year and eight of 13 to the Chicago White Sox. And two years ago, the Los Hershiser Gibsons took the World Series away from the A's in five games. So the Reds can beat them. But how?