OAKLAND — Roger Clemens will carry the burden of the Boston Red Sox's season today on a tender right shoulder that has had only three days' rest, the result of a decision dictated by circumstances and by Clemens. The Oakland Athletics found Clemens' decree more curious than worrisome and believe it will only hasten the clinching of their third consecutive American League pennant.
"It's not that I'm planning to go fishing Thursday--I'm going fishing Thursday. It's written," said Game 4 starter Dave Stewart, who was presented the chance to complete a sweep when the A's rallied for a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox Tuesday at the Oakland Coliseum.
"I don't believe they can win four games in a row, so I just don't see any point in him pitching (today)," said Stewart, who has defeated Clemens six consecutive times and was the winner in the opener of this series, a game in which Clemens pitched six shutout innings but got no decision. "I'm very, very confident it's going to be over (today)."
The A's performance in the first three games justifies that confidence. So does history: No team has ever come back from a three-game deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
"They don't just rely on home runs. They have team speed and make a lot of contact, at least their little men do," said Mike Boddicker, who started for Boston Tuesday. "They have a lot of ways to beat you."
The A's, who last lost four games in a row May 12-15, used all their strengths to beat the Red Sox in Game 3, getting six solid innings from starter Mike Moore as they overcame an early 1-0 Boston lead for the third consecutive game.
Former Dodger Willie Randolph, inserted in the lineup after Walt Weiss injured his knee in Game 2, drove in two runs, and Dennis Eckersley earned his record 10th postseason save as the A's set a postseason record with their 20th victory.
They stole bases on cue (a double steal by Jose Canseco and Harold Baines was crucial in their two-run fourth inning); got key hits on cue (Boddicker joked that he might have fielded Randolph's run-scoring chopper in the sixth inning "if I'd been 22 and my legs weren't shot"), and even boasted on cue. "I won't say it's over," Eckersley said, rolling his eyes, "but Jose will say it's over."
Canseco obliged. "I'm saying it's over," he said. "With Stew throwing (today) you look for a shutout. It's going to be a heartbreaker for Clemens to lose, 1-0. . . . I'm not surprised (that it's 3-0 in games), not with this team and not with the pitchers on this team pitching the way they are."
The A's pitching staff has held the Red Sox to a single run in each game; two of those runs scored on sacrifice flies, and one resulted from a home run. Oakland's starters have compiled a 1.32 earned-run average, and the relievers have pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings. The Red Sox, who hit a league-leading .272 during the regular season, are hitting .198 in this series.
"They're pitching us quite well. I've never seen anyone pitch us this well," said Dwight Evans, who followed Mike Greenwell's second-inning walk with a single that moved Greenwell to third base. Greenwell scored on Tom Brunansky's fly to right field, and Evans got into scoring position when Tony Pena singled to right, but Moore ended the inning by striking out Luis Rivera.
"Not only are they throwing the ball well, but they're putting it in the right spots," Evans said. "We're recognizing it but not adjusting."
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Clemens told Morgan before the game that he wanted to pitch today if the Red Sox lost but would wait a day and let Greg Harris pitch Game 4 if Boston won. Morgan's inclination was to give Clemens another day's rest regardless of Tuesday's outcome. However, he deferred to his prize right-hander because Clemens is irreplaceable, but managers are easily replaced.
"He feels he's got to pitch. He wants to pitch," Morgan said of Clemens, who has refused to speak to reporters during this series. "I've got to go by what the man says. It's his arm, his career. I have to give him that preference."
Which is perfectly fine with the A's. "If Roger made the call, it's obvious Joe's not in control of his ballclub," Stewart said. "Maybe Rocket (Clemens) should be sitting on the sidelines and Joe should pitch. That might work."
Little else the Red Sox have tried has succeeded, even when they've attempted the right plays at the right times.
Pena's throw to third base to get Canseco as the lead runner on a double steal in the fourth arrived well ahead of Canseco, but the ball struck the bag and hopped away; Canseco was safe at third, and the trailing runner, Baines, was credited with a gift steal of second. Canseco scored on Dave Henderson's sacrifice fly to right, a ball deep enough for Baines to tag up, and Baines scored on Randolph's line-drive single to center.