OAKLAND, Calif. -- Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa has been pushing the right buttons all year, but some late-inning maneuvering backfired badly yesterday and cost his club a chance to overtake the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3 of the AL playoffs.
La Russa brought in utility infielder Lance Blankenship to play second base after removing Mike Bordick for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning. It was an obvious move that no one could second-guess, but that didn't make the outcome less painful for the A's.
Blankenship, who made just three errors in 385 total chances at second base (.992 fielding percentage) during the regular season, made two in two innings, the first one costing the club two unearned runs in the seventh.
He booted a leadoff grounder by John Olerud and his team paid the price when Pat Borders delivered a two-out single and Manuel Lee bounced a two-run triple down the right-field line.
Blankenship also booted a routine grounder for an error that loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but the Blue Jays did not take advantage.
Morris on three
Toronto Game 4 starter Jack Morris will work on three days' rest today for only the second time this season. He came back on three days Sept. 27 so manager Cito Gaston could align the starting rotation for the postseason.
The A's don't figure to get much of an advantage. Morris held the New York Yankees to three hits and no runs over six innings in his only short-rest appearance, and has pitched on three days' rest during the postseason on several occasions with good results.
Welch's ongoing record
Oakland starter Bob Welch will extend his own playoff record when he appears in his eighth league championship series today. Welch pitched in the playoffs for the Los Angeles Dodgers in four National League playoffs (1978, '81, '83 and '85) and now will have appeared in four for the A's (1988, '89, '90 and '92).
Welch has not been particularly effective in postseason play. He has made 16 postseason appearances (1 divisional playoff, 9 LCS and 6 World Series) and has a 3-3 record and a 4.89 ERA.
The Oakland A's get to play in daylight all three games at the Oakland Coliseum, which figured to work to their advantage. They were 27-11 in day games at home during the regular season and 38-25 in daylight overall.
First baseman Mark McGwire, in particular, has had some of his best days under the sun. He batted .289 in daylight during the regular season and .254 at night. He hit 20 of his 42 home runs during the A's 63 day games.
The A's obviously hope that the ball will carry better for them here, especially if the air remains warm and still, but that can work both ways. The Blue Jays actually have more long-ball hitters in their starting lineup than Oakland.
Case in point: Roberto Alomar's fourth-inning homer, a slicing opposite-field fly ball that barely cleared the left-field fence. It might not have gone out in the evening.
Still air or not, it still takes a good poke to drive the ball out of the Coliseum, a park so spacious that even Jose Canseco used to complain about the fence dimensions.
"A power hitter's production is affected more by counts and if he gets a pitch he can drive than what the weather's like," A's hitting coach Doug Rader said. "A true power hitter can hit a home run in any weather."
Oakland shortstop Walt Weiss continues to struggle with men on base. He stranded six runners yesterday and has gone hitless in 24 consecutive playoff at-bats with runners on, but claims that he isn't pressing.
"Not particularly," he said. "I'm just trying to go up there and try to have a good at-bat. Those are the situations you should like to be in. It just hasn't worked out."
Game 3 was the longest nine-inning playoff game in American League history. The game lasted 3 hours, 40 minutes, breaking the previous record by 11 minutes. The record for the longest game in LCS history was set in 1988, when the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets played Game 3 in 3:44.
Ron Darling started that game, too, for the Mets, pitching six innings and gave up three runs.
Candy Maldonado has had his problems in postseason play, but he delivered big performance in Game 3. He singled in the first run of the game and also homered off Darling in the fifth.
"I was really happy to see him play so well," Gaston said. "People have criticized me for sticking with him, but I knew he could do it. He was very responsible for our success last year and he has also been a key this year."
Maldonado entered the game with just seven hits in 57 previous playoff at-bats. He was hitless in six at-bats in this ALCS entering yesterday's game.
Darling not discouraged
The defense was depressing, but Darling refused to criticize his teammates for the lackluster performance that helped send him to defeat.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without the defense and the way it has played for me this season," he said.
"I think everybody in the clubhouse would agree that all of us were really sloppy out there today. We are going to have to try and come back tomorrow."