OAKLAND CALIF. — OAKLAND, Calif. -- By the time you've finished supper, the Oakland A's expect to be preparing for the World Series. "I'm saying it's over," Jose Canseco announced. "Use common sense."
Yes, when the TV ratings for today's 3-4 p.m. time slot are released, the big question will be whether Game 4 of the American League playoffs (3:18, Ch. 11) outdid "Santa Barbara" and "General Hospital."
Between 4 and 5, the other network choices are "Oprah Winfrey" and a re-run of "Growing Pains." Both figure to command more attention than Roger Clemens in a repeat episode of Throwing Pains.
Oakland defeated Boston 4-1 yesterday to become the 18th team to take a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven postseason series. No team has come back from such a deficit. Thirteen of the previous 17 were swept.
Even if the Red Sox win today -- and really, what are their chances against Dave Stewart at the Coliseum? -- they'd only be prolonging the inevitable and making a prophet out of Rickey Henderson.
"I called it in five," Henderson said. "A sweep don't matter to me."
The odds of a Boston comeback, Canseco joked, are "lottery odds." Or about the same as Dwight Evans getting a hit off Dennis Etiquette, er, Eckersley.
"I'm looking for Stewart to pitch a shutout," Canseco said. "If Clemens loses 1-0, it will be a real heartbreaker."
Stewart shook his head.
"Did he say he expects to hit three home runs?" he asked. "What Jose should expect to do is just win. It probably won't be anything that fancy."
Anything else, Stew?
"I expect him to hit a grand slam."
Back to you, Jose.
"If he throws a shutout," Canseco replied, "I won't have to hit a grand slam."
Enjoy the banter while it lasts. By the time you've finished supper, the A's figure to be in the midst of a subdued, alcohol-free celebration. In between laughs yesterday, they spent time polishing their cliches.
Even manager Tony La Russa said Boston easily could have won all three games. Oh, really? The Red Sox have been outscored 17-3 and outhit .320-.198. With men in scoring position, they're 0-for-17.
Admittedly, the A's benefited from good fortune yesterday, but they've won nine straight postseason games, while the Red Sox have lost nine straight.
That, in baseball terms, is known as a tendency.
"We've got to be going bad," beleaguered Red Sox manager Joe Morgan said upon arriving in the interview room. "The guard wouldn't even let me in here."
Morgan then announced Clemens as his Game 4 starter, a decision that provides the only real intrigue entering today's VTC game. It amounts to a final act of desperation for Boston, and not necessarily a wise one.
The exact condition of Clemens' right arm remains a mystery. Yet even before yesterday's game, Morgan said he would pitch if the Red Sox trailed 3-0. Greg Harris would have started if it was 2-1.
Clemens, of course, threw six scoreless innings in the series opener. But Stewart has been the winning pitcher the last seven times they've met, including that game.
You'd think Stewart would welcome another showdown. Such is not the case. Clemens missed four September starts with severe shoulder tendinitis. Stewart thinks it's wrong for him to pitch on -- three days rest.
"I don't believe they can win four games in a row, so I just don't see any point in him pitching," Stewart said. "His shoulder is tired, and I believe that probably he is tired.
"I would think that the best thing for Roger Clemens would be to get himself healthy and strong for next year, so he can do what he has got to do. To pitch him early, I just don't see a point in that."
By the time you've finished supper, it all might be moot. Clemens, as usual, wasn't talking yesterday. Before the game, Morgan said, "It's his arm. It's his career. That has a lot of bearing on this."
If that's truly the case, he probably shouldn't pitch, but maybe Clemens feels he has something to prove. There has been speculation in Boston that he removed himself from Game 1 despite a 1-0 lead.
Morgan insists the decision was his own -- "he was cooked, I don't care what anyone else tells you." Clemens threw 97 pitches, but by the sixth he was indeed losing his touch.
So, why pitch him today? He almost certainly won't be needed for Game 7, and Harris is 6-0 with a 2.36 ERA in day games. Besides, after yesterday, it's clear the Red Sox are doomed, no matter what they do.
Morgan lamented that Boston had poor luck from the moment Jody Reed missed a leadoff homer off Mike Moore by "three feet." That indeed set the tone, but not even Morgan could resist calling the A's "the best team in the world."
Here's why: Canseco, Mark McGwire and Carney Lansford went hitless yesterday, yet Oakland still scored enough to win. For the third straight game, the Red Sox took a 1-0 lead. For the third straight game, it was a cruel tease.