Red/blue all same to A's


OAKLAND, Calif. -- Tastier lobster, hitting coach Merv Rettenmund said. Fairer ballpark, pitcher Dave Stewart said.

Bumpier infield, according to shortstop Walt Weiss. Too cold, outfielder Jose Canseco assessed.

All of the Oakland A's had their reasons to be happy or unhappy about playing the Boston Red Sox instead of the Toronto Blue Jays. Few reasons had anything to do with Oakland's chances to win the best-of-seven American League playoffs, which begin tomorrow at Boston's Fenway Park (8 p.m., Ch. 11).

"I think we'd be confident no matter who we played," Canseco said.

"It just wouldn't have made that much difference to us," Stewart said.

And Bob Welch, father of a newborn son, said, "I don't care where we go. I'm just looking forward to getting some sleep."

The A's departed for Boston at noon yesterday following an optional workout that manager Tony La Russa didn't even attend.

Many A's had looked forward to playing at Toronto, because the SkyDome guarantees pleasant weather. They'd won five of their six regular-season games there and fashioned a 16-9 record on artificial turf.

The A's went 8-4 against the Red Sox and 7-5 against Toronto this season. Although they outscored Toronto 48-33 and the Red Sox 56-42, six of the games against the Blue Jays were decided by a run. Only two games against the Red Sox were as close: a 7-6 loss and Stewart's 1-0 victory over Roger Clemens in the season's first series at Fenway.

Then there's the pronounced edge provided by Stewart, who takes the mound for the A's opposite Clemens in Game 1. Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner, went 1-1 against the Blue Jays and 4-0 against the Red Sox.

This is a man who once hated pitching in Boston, at Fenway Park and in front of Red Sox fans. Today he enjoys the park, at least.

"I still don't like Boston, and I still don't like their fans," said Stewart, who has heard a variety of personal and racial insults in his appearances there. "I just don't mind pitching in their ballpark now. You just have to put out of your mind that a high fly ball can go out of the park."

Clemens has beaten the A's just once this season, and that was only when he didn't start opposite Stewart. He shut out the A's and Mike Moore 2-0 in Oakland on Aug. 14.

"We've done pretty well facing Clemens, but it's never nice facing him," Weiss said. "It's always a tough game. I don't think I know anybody who likes facing him. But they're probably saying the same thing about Stew."

The A's were third from the bottom in AL hitting and third-best in runs. They should match up well against Boston's pitching, fourth-best in the league but perhaps worn thin from a down-to-the-wire division race.

The A's outhit the Red Sox in the season series, but they wouldn't want to brag about these numbers: .239 for the A's, .224 for the Red Sox.

Then again, said Rettenmund, "This is playoff time. I remember in 1979. Pittsburgh had the same glaring weakness as the Red Sox -- pitching -- and [Pirates manager] Chuck Tanner handled it so well that the team came back and won the thing [over Baltimore]."

Rettenmund said he's eager to see scouting reports on Clemens and Red Sox closer Reardon.

"I want to know Clemens' velocity when he came back [from his tendinitis] Sunday," Rettenmund said. "And the last time we faced the Red Sox, Reardon wasn't pitching."

Reardon underwent back surgery in early August and wasn't available to pitch in Oakland's last six games against the Red Sox. The A's won five of those games, the exception being the Clemens shutout.

The last time they played the Red Sox in the postseason, 1988, the A's swept them 4-0. That series also began in Boston.

"People only remember that we swept," La Russa said. "They don't remember how close those games were."

Stewart outpitched Bruce Hurst in the opener, and the A's won 2-1. Clemens started the second game against Storm Davis, but the A's won 4-3. Homers -- five of them -- flew out of the Coliseum in the third game, won 10-6 by the A's after Boston built a 5-0 lead off Bob Welch. And the A's led 2-1 in Game 4 before scoring twice in the eighth to clinch it.

That Red Sox team had a deeper pitching staff than this one, because the lefthanded Hurst was tougher on the A's than Clemens has been.

But the A's are trying to put on a straight face anyway.

"We're not cocky," Canseco said. "When you're cocky, you underestimate your opponent. And we never underestimate our opponent."

The A's learned that lesson later in 1988 at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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