NATURALLY OAKLAND is favored over the Red Sox in the American League playoffs, but the pick here is Boston. The Red Sox closed on a high note, winning six of their last eight games. They have two outstanding big game pitchers in Roger Clemens and Mike Boddicker (how many do you need in a short series?). Closer Jeff Reardon has made a miraculous recovery from back surgery in August. And in the past week Tom Brunansky has become a folk hero in Beantown. The Sox have surprised all year. They have one more surprise in store.
* Ex-Oriole Eddie Murray had a great year for the Dodgers. He wound up with the highest batting average (.330) of anyone in the National League (Willie McGee is in the American League). Eddie's playing in his hometown and living alone in a $3 million house with 11 bedrooms and an eight-car garage. Think he misses Baltimore?
* Bengals coach Sam Wyche had a bad idea when, on the heels of the flap in New England, he barred a woman reporter from his locker room Monday night. He had another bad one when he suggested his players stay in uniform for 20 minutes after the game for interviews. They'll be great interviews with the players talking through gritted teeth.
* The worst idea of the year was the Orioles' even thinking about inviting Richard Nixon to throw out the first ball to start the last season at Memorial Stadium. Three players symbolize the O's years on 33rd Street. All are in the Hall of Fame. All are available for first ball duty. So let's have Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson do the honors together.
* These are painful days at Towson State, not just because the football team is winless but because the school is considering dropping the sport and/or other sports. It's all budgetary. Bill Stetka, Towson alumnus now working in university relations, points out that it could all be solved if enough TSU ex-athletes, old grads and boosters made modest -- like $50 -- contributions to the program. My guess is it's 50-50 whether Towson will play football next year.
* What irony that baseball has come up with its greatest slugger in a couple decades -- and his name is Fielder.
* The one thing Bo Jackson has in common with most mortals is a two-week vacation. That's how long the Raiders have given him to report for work after having finished his baseball season this week. How long can this sports Superman continue his around-the-calendar heroics? Even Bo's body must have a limit.
* Did you ever think you'd see the day when Bill Ripken would not only outhit brother Cal by 41 percentage points (.291 to .250) but have as many doubles (they led the O's this year with 28 each)? A shortstop like Cal who plays every day and almost never makes an error would be an asset if he hit .220. The puzzling thing is that Cal has twice hit over .300. He's only 30 years old.
* Those who remember when Andy MacPhail was growing up here and going to Friends School find it hard to believe he's not only a major-league general manager (Twins) but one loaded with self assurance. When Andy was asked why he has fired his third base coach, Rick Renick, he said: "For no particular reason."
* By now the Orioles' Ben McDonald has convinced everyone he's a fine young man with a wonderful attitude who's going to be great for this organization for a long time. The club was 10-5 in the 15 games Ben started this year. He wound up with an earned run average of 2.43, lowest in the league for rookies. It's hard to believe he won't even be 23 until Nov. 24. After pitching the finale Wednesday night, all he said was, "I did what I wanted to, finish strong and I'm pleased with it." So are all Orioles fans.