BOSTON -- The opening game of the American League Championship Series presented only one acceptable outcome to the Boston Red Sox, whose pennant hopes have been perched
precariously on the sore right shoulder of Roger Clemens for most of the 1990 season.
Any reasonable hope of defeating the Oakland Athletics in a best-of-seven series rested there, too, with a special emphasis on Clemens' performance last night.
The locals were calling Game 1 a "must-win" situation, and Clemens seemed equal to it, but the questionable condition of his shoulder kept him from finishing the job.
The A's survived his six shutout innings and came back to brutalize the beleaguered Boston bullpen, their 9-1 victory leaving the Red Sox to ponder the dismal prospects of trying to recover against 27-game winner Bob Welch in Game 2 tonight.
Right-hander Dave Stewart, whose success rate against Clemens and the Red Sox has been well-documented, gave up four hits over eight innings on the way to his sixth postseason victory in three years.
"I felt great," Stewart said. "Things worked out pretty much the way I wanted them to. I had good control and felt great. Roger pitched well. We were just fortunate that his shoulder didn't allow him to stay for the seventh inning."
Stewart tied a League Championship Series record with his fourth career playoff victory after Oakland recovered from a one-run deficit in the seventh inning and took the lead on an RBI single by Carney Lansford in the eighth. The A's broke open the game with seven runs in their last at-bat, a ragged ninth that featured five hits, three walks and an error.
The effectiveness of the Boston bullpen has been in question for weeks, but Clemens struggled with his control in the sixth as he approached 100 pitches. Red Sox manager Joe Morgan had little choice but to make a change. He would make five of them before the game came to a merciful end.
The A's quickly scored a run off right-hander Larry Andersen in the seventh, and manager Tony La Russa pushed some buttons to push the go-ahead run across an inning later. Jose Canseco led off the eighth with a single, and Harold Baines' first sacrifice bunt in six years put him in scoring position. Canseco, whose sore back was supposed to be an issue in this series, stole third and scored when Lansford sliced a looping single to right off right-hander Jeff Gray.
This all seemed crucial at the time, but the scrappy comeback eventually was buried in the ninth-inning landslide.
The game was played out in two acts. The first six innings featured the four-hit performance by Clemens and one big swing by Wade Boggs, who hit his first postseason home run, in the fourth. The final three innings simply illustrated Oakland's decided advantage in the bullpen and on the bench.
If things look bleak for the Red Sox, Morgan wasn't ready to admit it just yet.
"It's only one game to nothing as far as I know," he said.
Clemens had a lot of factors working against him when he took the mound last night. There was the Stewart factor -- he hadn't beaten Stewart since 1984. There was the sore arm factor -- he was out of action for most of September with shoulder tendinitis. There was even the sore hand factor -- he punched a door in anger earlier last week.
The only thing that seemed to be on his side was the law of averages. The guy is, to may observers, the best pitcher in baseball and he came in with a 3-10 lifetime record against the A's.
It became apparent early on that whatever was physically wrong with the Red Sox right-hander was going to work to the advantage of the A's only if they could outlast him. He needed just one pitch to get past Rickey Henderson in the first inning and threw three straight strikes past Willie McGee before getting Canseco on a fly ball to right. He didn't give up a hit until the fourth. But Stewart cut through the Red Sox lineup just as effortlessly in the early innings.
La Russa had fashioned his lineup to put maximum pressure on Clemens, with one notable exception. He started Mike Gallego at second base instead of Willie Randolph, opting for the better defensive player in anticipation of a tight pitching duel.
There were no surprises in the Red Sox batting order, which hasn't changed much in the past few weeks. It was the same lineup that carried them through important series victories over the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox to close out the regular season.
Top to bottom, it doesn't compare to the explosive A's lineup, but Stewart knew going into the game that playing the game on paper is a precarious business.
"There are so many variables," he said. "We might have two or three guys on our bench that are better than two or three guys on their bench. We might have two or three better guys in our bullpen. Tony La Russa might be a better strategist than Joe Morgan. But there's still the luck factor."