Slumping A's seek momentum swing

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — OAKLAND, Calif. -- Four runs ordinarily is enough support for a 27-game winner, but the Oakland A's needed more Wednesday night. First baseman Mark McGwire labeled their offensive struggles "ridiculous." That might be too harsh a word, but it conveys the A's frustration.

They trail Cincinnati two games to none with the World Series resuming tonight at the Oakland Coliseum (8:32, Ch. 11), and the return of the designated hitter won't necessarily transform a team that has been outscored 5-4 by Billy Hatcher.


The A's didn't explode against Boston in the American League playoffs either, yet they swept in four games. Manager Tony La Russa said then he didn't mind that 34 of their 38 hits were singles. But now his club is facing a superior opponent, and his perspective has changed.

The Reds beat the A's 7-0 in Game 1, 5-4 in 10 innings in Game 2. Bash Brothers? The squabbling A's could use help from Dr. Joyce Brothers. Everyone from La Russa to Dave Stewart thinks Jose Canseco should have caught Hatcher's eighth-inning triple Wednesday night.


The Reds tied the score later that inning, and Canseco yesterday met privately with La Russa for 55 minutes. Meanwhile, the A's have one home run and seven extra-base hits in 199 postseason at-bats. The Reds have eight extra-base hits in this series alone.

Advice to Oakland: Stop ripping, start hitting. It's supposedly a reflex reaction, the A's winning when Rickey Henderson gets on base. But Henderson has done that five times in this series and scored only once. The A's are 1-for-19 (.053) with runners in scoring position.

Two of their four RBIs Wednesday came from 7-8 hitters Ron Hassey and Mike Gallego. Canseco had the other two, on a groundout and his first homer in 31 days. "We should be scoring more runs," McGwire said. "There's no excuse."

McGwire is part of the problem: He's 4-for-20 (.200) in the postseason. All of his hits are singles, and only one has come with a man on base. His average was only .235 in the regular season, but that was acceptable, for he finished with 39 homers and 108 RBIs.

Canseco, to be sure, has been slowed by his hand and back injuries. His opposite-field home run off lefthander Danny

Jackson is his only hit in seven Series at-bats. He has walked twice, struck out three times and grounded into a double play.

"When we score a lot of runs, obviously the guys in the middle are hot along with the other pieces," La Russa said. "We win games because the 7-8-9 hitters do things or because Rickey makes something happen. But for us to put runs on the board, the middle has to get hot."

And soon. McGwire hit singles in his first two at-bats Wednesday, but he and Canseco disappeared in the late innings, combining for four strikeouts and the double play. The question now is whether the A's will relax at home. It should help facing lefthander Tom Browning tonight.


Almost all of the A's power is on the right side, and they knocked out Jackson after 2 2/3 innings in Game 2. For the Series, they are 8-for-20 (.400) against lefthanders, 11-for-52 (.212) against righthanders. And the Reds likely would start three more lefties if the Series goes seven games.

Righthander Jose Rijo is scheduled to pitch Games 4 and 7, but Jackson and Browning likely would start Games 5 and 6. Manager Lou Piniella said he would not start righthander Jack Armstrong, who worked three scoreless relief innings Wednesday night.

Browning, the Reds' top winner at 15-9, is a fly ball pitcher who appears well-suited for the Oakland Coliseum. In fact, he claims to be more comfortable when he is not pitching in Riverfront, as his 7-2 road record attests.

"Maybe it's the fact that I have two kids at home and don't sleep," said Browning, whose wife Debbie gave birth to their third child, a baby boy, two hours after Wednesday night's game.

"Seriously, this [Riverfront] is a hitter's ballpark without much foul territory. A lot of the fly balls that go out of here would be on the warning tracks at other parks. I'm really happy to be pitching in Oakland because of the size of the field."

Mike Moore, the A's starter tonight, is an interesting story himself. He finished the regular season with a disappointing 13-15 record and 4.65 ERA, but allowed one run in six innings to defeat Boston in Game 3 of the AL playoffs. He was 3-0 in the postseason last year.


The pressure on him tonight will be greater than ever, but A's pitching coach Dave Duncan said Moore prefers it that way. Never mind that he finished with more walks (84) than strikeouts (73) for the first time since his rookie year in 1982.

"Each time there was a significant game, he responded and pitched well, going back to the postseason last year," Duncan said. "Significant games seem to be a motivating factor for Mike Moore to excel."

But for Moore to win, he'll first have to find a way to retire Hatcher, who has reached safely in all nine Series plate appearances. And he'll have to overcome a club that is capable of winning even when its biggest threat, Eric Davis, goes 0-for-4. It happened in Game 2.

The only expected lineup changes for both clubs are the additions of the designated hitters, Harold Baines for Oakland (even against the lefthander) and Todd Benzinger for Cincinnati. Benzinger will play first base, with Hal Morris moving to DH.

It's unrealistic for the Reds to expect Hatcher, a .276 hitter during the regular season, to continue carrying the offense. Still, they have 24 hits in two games -- even though their two lefthanded hitters, Paul O'Neill and Morris, are a combined 1-for-13, with all but one of the at-bats against righthanded pitching.

They are finding ways to win, and the A's are not. Thus, the comparison to 1988 is obvious. Los Angeles shocked Oakland by combining outstanding pitching with resourceful hitting. Cincinnati is doing the same, with better talent.


The A's supposedly learned their lesson.

Now they're facing their biggest test.