OAKLAND, Calif. -- There was little the Boston Red Sox could do yesterday to keep the Oakland Athletics out of the World Series. The best they could hope for was to steal some of their thunder, but the A's didn't need any thunder this time anyway.
The Roger Clemens controversy accomplished one thing. It made the final game of the American League Championship Series memorable. But it was Dave Stewart who made it the final game.
Stewart gave up four hits over eight-plus innings to carry the A's to a 3-1 victory and a four-game playoff sweep. He beat Clemens again. It has become habit-forming.
The two of them went head-to-head twice in the series. Stewart )) came away with two victories and the engraved silver plate that goes to the Most Valuable Player. The way he's pitched in postseason competition the past three years, he should soon have enough of those plates for a dinner party. But Clemens probably will not be invited.
This has turned into a rivalry of the first degree, and Stewart did not hesitate to question Clemens' motives after the Boston ace got himself thrown out of the game in the second inning yesterday for cursing plate umpire Terry Cooney.
"I was very surprised," Stewart said. "I'm sure he has a good idea of how important a ballgame it was for his ballclub. It was not a good time to get thrown out."
Or it was a perfect time to get thrown out. Clemens had been in the game long enough to know that he didn't have it and Stewart did. If it was the last act of a desperate man, it did nothing to interrupt the A's workmanlike march to the World Series.
Clemens already had fallen behind, and he was in trouble. His tantrum forced Stewart to cool his heels for a half-hour on the bench, but his replacement -- left-hander Tom Bolton -- quickly gave up a two-run double to Mike Gallego to turn it into a three-run inning.
Three runs might not seem like much in the second inning, but the Red Sox had scored a total of only three runs in the previous three games. They had to score a run in the ninth just to avoid tying the League Championship Series record for fewest runs in a series -- a record set in a best-of-five series by the 1983 Chicago White Sox against the Baltimore Orioles.
Three runs had to look like Mount Everest against Stewart, who is 7-1 and has a 2.02 ERA as a starter in postseason play. He pitched 16 innings in this playoff series and gave up two runs on eight hits.
"Stew has shown that kind of quality so many times in the last four years," A's manager Tony La Russa said. "You don't ever take it for granted, but you come to expect it."
The A's outscored the Red Sox, 20-4, in the series and have run off eight straight playoff victories over them dating back to 1988. Stewart has three of those eight victories, and has dominated the Red Sox throughout his career. Nothing Clemens could do or say in the second inning was going to change that.
"I just concentrated on getting three outs when I got back out there," Stewart said. "I do my job. I take care of Stew. That's what I always do."
The Red Sox bullpen actually fared pretty well after Clemens' departure. Bolton gave up the two-run double to Gallego, then combined with Jeff Gray and Larry Anderson to shut out the A's the rest of the way.
But it was too late by then. The A's didn't hit any home runs, but they batted .299 in the series. Catcher Terry Steinbach had two hits yesterday and led the club with a .455 average. Carney Lansford was next at .438. Harold Baines, Rickey Henderson and Willlie Randolph handled much of the run production, with three RBI each.
The pitching was just as impressive. You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that Boston's one run per game worked out to a 1.00 ERA for the Oakland staff. The Red Sox batted a combined .183. It wasn't very pretty.
"They are a terrific ballclub," Red Sox manager Joe Morgan said. "They are a machine."
The Red Sox finally threatened in the ninth inning, scoring a run on a leadoff double by Ellis Burks and an RBI single by Jody Reed, but left-hander Rick Honeycutt came on to get Wade Boggs to ground into a double play and Mike Greenwell on a ground out to short.
That was that. First baseman Mark McGwire threw his hands up in triumph and lifted Honeycutt into the air, but the clubhouse celebration was relatively subdued. The A's are getting used to this sort of thing.
They never raised a forearm in anger, but they dispensed with the American League East champion with such ease that it seems unthinkable that anyone can keep them from repeating as world champions.
Now, they will get six days to prepare for the World Series. No doubt, Stewart will be ready to start Game 1 Tuesday. The only questions revolve around Jose Canseco and Walt Weiss, both injured.
Weiss missed the final two games with a twisted knee. The club announced Monday that the injury will be re-evaluated before the World Series, but his return appears doubtful. Canseco played throughout the AL Championship Series with back stiffness and a sore hand. He probably will continue to play.
The A's seemed no worse for the loss of a starting shortstop and the inhibited performance of their most dangerous hitter. That's the kind of depth they have.
Morgan called them "the best team in the world" after Game 3, and he had no reason to alter his opinion. Now, the A's have to prove it to just one more team.