Canseco fails as pinch hitter after being benched to start game

October 21, 1990|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The $23 million man was dropped from th prime-time lineup last night. Jose Canseco started the do-or-die fourth game of the 87th World Series on the bench, but was called upon to pinch hit in his team's hour of need.

Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa, faced with quadruple match point in the best-of-seven series, juggled the lineup for Game 4, replacing Canseco with National League batting champion Willie McGee and starting former Baltimore Oriole Jamie Quirk behind the plate.

However, with the A's trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, La Russa called on Canseco to bat for Harold Baines with one out in the ninth inning. The slugging star grounded to third for the second out.

Canseco's status had been a matter for speculation since h was criticized by La Russa for getting a poor jump on an eighth-inning triple by Billy Hatcher in Game 2, but La Russa said it was Canseco's physical condition that led to the decision to hold him out of a crucial Game 4.

"If he was physically right, he would play tonight," La Russa had said, "but he's not physically right. If we didn't have a good alternative, maybe we wouldn't do this, but we do have one in Willie."

Canseco had been playing with a sore back and a sprained finger throughout the postseason, but Oakland fans booed him on several occasions during his 0-for-4 performance in Game 3. He came into yesterday's game with just one hit in 11 Series at-bats.

Though there appeared to be some hurt feelings after La Russa criticized Canceco's defensive play in Game 2, Canseco did not dispute the decision to sit him down.

"He's trying to do something that's best for the team," Canseco said. "He's trying to put someone out there who's healthy. I agree. I'm not 100 percent healthy."

La Russa said that he came very close to doing the same thing in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, but decided to play Canseco and hope the layoff between the playoffs and World Series would give him time to get healthier.

"I literally had to force myself to play him in that game, and that was going to be the last game I played him," La Russa said, "but he felt better during the workout last Sunday and hit a 450-foot home run in Game 2."

The back injury has been a problem all year, but it apparently is not the major reason he was out of the starting lineup. He sprained the middle finger of his right hand in late September and has aggravated it on at least one occasion since.

"With Willie, we get a guy who can throw," La Russa said. "Jose is having trouble throwing, so we gain something."

But La Russa would not rule out the possibility that Canseco might return to the lineup tonight if the A's were able to stay alive in the Series.

"I'd only not play Jose if I thought that physically it was not fair for him," La Russa said. "I don't want to send him out to get booed if he has no chance to pass the test."

* Quirk was informed late Friday night that he would be starting against the Cincinnati Reds' Jose Rijo in Game 4. He has been on two other World Series clubs -- in 1980 and 1985 -- but has never made a playing appearance.

"I was always envisioning coming up to hit against Rob Dibble or someone like that with the game on the line in the eighth or ninth inning," said Quirk. "Starting a World Series game is a lot more preferable because you get three or four hours to prepare."

La Russa said he started his third-string catcher because he wanted another left-handed bat in the lineup against Rijo.

* New York Stories: On the same night that former New York Yankees manager Lou Piniella was trying to put away his first world championship, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was

the guest host on "Saturday Night Live." Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

* The ball that whistled through Mark McGwire's legs in the third inning of Game 3 probably was the game-breaker for the A's, but was it an error or wasn't it?

The official scorers said it was, but the ball was hit very hard. McGwire, who was playing in front of the bag, barely had time to bend over. The Reds went on to score seven runs, but only six of them were earned. La Russa didn't dispute the call, but he didn't think it was an error.

"I'm not going to try to get it changed, because I'd just as soon those runs weren't earned," he said. "But no, I didn't think it should have been an error, but that play isn't going to cost Mark the Gold Glove."

* The A's had not lost as many as three straight games since Aug. 19-21. Their last four-game losing streak was May 12-15, or 142 games ago.

* The A's are being compared with the 1969-71 Baltimore Orioles, who won 318 games over those three seasons, but lost two of three World Series. La Russa is the first manager since Earl Weaver to take his team to the World Series three straight years.

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