OAKLAND, Calif. -- It comes down to Dave Stewart again, and he probably wouldn't have it any other way. He will face David Cone today in Game 5 of what has become a sudden-death series for the Oakland Athletics.
Stewart is taking his responsibility seriously. He kept the clubhouse doors closed after the game and gave the club an impromptu pep talk after the A's came from five runs ahead to drop a 7-6 decision to the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday at the Oakland Coliseum.
The A's are a veteran team that has been in the playoffs four times in the last five years. But they never trailed in any of the other three. This may be a new experience, but was a team meeting really necessary?
"It wasn't necessary," Stewart said, "I just didn't like the mood."
The basic message he relayed to the team: That the sun had not yet gone down on the last-chance A's.
Stewart met with reporters afterward and quickly delivered TC vote of confidence to relief stopper Dennis Eckersley, who has not pitched well in either of his last two playoff appearances. He blew up big-time yesterday, but Stewart was not concerned.
"Eck is the best in the business," he said. "For all the success he has had for us, he earned one like that one today. He just had a bad day. If I'm in the same situation tomorrow, he can come in for me any time."
Still No. 1 man
They were calling for Rickey Henderson's head, but Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa would not oblige. He stuck with the struggling Henderson yesterday, and his confidence was rewarded.
Henderson, who entered Game 4 with one hit in his first 10 at-bats of the postseason, had three hits, scored two runs and drove in another to answer his critics, most notably a local newspaper columnist who publicly called on La Russa to bench the slumping outfielder in favor of rookie Eric Fox.
La Russa claimed yesterday that a crowd gathered in front of his Danville, Calif., home late Saturday night and began clamoring for him to start Mike Bordick in Game 4.
"His fan club was in my neighborhood screaming at midnight," said La Russa, who had planned to start Bordick all along. "There was a note on my door. 'Play Bordick or move out of the neighborhood.'
"I finally went out there and told them he was playing. They cheered."
La Russa would not be sorry. Bordick started the A's five-run third inning with a single and made a terrific running catch on a foul ball by Dave Winfield in the 10th inning.
The Candyman can
Left fielder Candy Maldonado remains the unsung hero of this playoff series. He delivered an important RBI single in the eighth inning and sliced the opposite-field hit that set up the winning run in the 11th.
Maldonado is batting only .286, but he has reached base in seven of his last 13 plate appearances.
The longest day
Game 4 lasted 4 hours and 25 minutes, making it the longest ALCS game ever played. The previous record was held by the California Angels and Boston Red Sox, who needed 3:54 to play 11 innings in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS.
The longest NLCS game was the 16-inning game between the New York Mets and Houston Astros in 1986. It lasted 4 hours and 42 minutes.
It was erroneously reported that Game 3 was the longest nine-inning game in AL playoff history at 3:40. The longest nine-inning game was Game 2 of the 1990 series between the A's and Red Sox, which lasted 3:42. Yesterday's game took 3:42 to get through nine innings.
Sierra makes adjustment
A's right fielder Ruben Sierra, who had one hit and no RBI in the first two games of series, has been much more of an offensive force in games 3 and 4.
"I found out what I was doing wrong," Sierra said, "I was reaching for the ball. I wasn't waiting like I normally do. I was a little anxious. Now I've found myself and they're going to have to be careful with me."
Sierra had two hits and drove in two runs in Game 3. He drove in two more runs yesterday with a sacrifice fly and an RBI single.
Not a boom year
The A's have had a banner year at the gate and in the standings, but club officials claim the team will lose millions this year regardless of the outcome of the postseason.
"Financially?" In our situation, it [the financial impact of making the playoffs] is very little," club president Wally Haas told the San Francisco Examiner. "The losses will be significant, but I'm not going to dwell on it. That's not the story now."
The A's are feeling the weight of a $40 million payroll. That's why there has been speculation the club will let many of its potential free agents (there are 14) go.
Estimates of the club's operating loss for 1992 range up to $5 million.
The Blue Jays tied an AL playoff record when they opened the eighth inning with five straight hits. It had been done twice previously, by the New York Yankees against the A's in 1981 and by the Blue Jays against the Minnesota Twins last year. . . . The 29 hits by both teams were the most since the A's and Yankees combined for 30 in Game 2 of the 1981 playoffs. . . . This was the first time a club has come back from a five-run deficit in an AL playoff game since 1988, when the A's came back to defeat the Boston Red Sox.