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Canseco Dazzles ‘Em at the Plate, but Has Troubles in the Field

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The great thing about watching Jose Canseco, the A’s rookie left fielder, is that you never know when he’ll hit a home run. Or better yet, allow one.

Canseco, whose reputation among Oakland fans places him somewhere between a right-handed Babe Ruth and sliced bread, contributed two hits and five RBIs to an 11-7 A’s win Sunday. Three of the five RBIs came on a fifth-inning home run that rattled the left-field seats, an estimated 400 feet from the batter’s box. The other two were products of a sixth-inning single.

“But the single off (T.R.) Bryden, he hit harder than the home run,” Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. “The home run was a two-strike cookie.”

And then there are Canseco’s exploits in left field, which have become something of a sight here in the shifting winds of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

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With two outs in the top of the sixth, Angel second baseman Rob Wilfong hit a slicing line drive to left. Canseco, who runs well for a man built like a Chrysler, appeared confused by the ball’s flight. At the last moment, he lunged for the drive, missed and began chase. Then, for reasons unknown, he took time to throw his cap and flip-up sunglasses to the ground.

Meanwhile, Wilfong was well on his way to second base and considering a trip to third. Canseco eventually captured the ball and sent it toward the cut-off man. What fun.

Earlier, in the fourth inning, Canseco almost was fooled by a Rick Burleson fly ball that sent him staggering back to the warning track.

All of this is fine with the A’s, as long as he fulfills their expectations at the plate. This could be difficult.

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Already, his name adorns the A’s media guide. " . . . and introducing Jose Canseco as ‘The Natural.’ ” Interviewers camp at his locker, forcing A’s Manager Jackie Moore to take Canseco aside and explain the demands of the press. Fans expect nothing less than a homer during each Canseco at-bat. A simple fly ball pulls them from their seats.

“It seems like they think I’m some kind of robot or something,” Canseco said. “Like, ‘Oh, he hits a home run every at-bat.’

“I would like for one time for maybe the fans to go up there and try to experience those kinds of pitches,” he said. “It’s not easy. It takes talent to hit it out.”

In a way, Canseco has brought this on himself. After a minor league season that saw him hit 36 homers and drive in 127 runs, the A’s called him up last September. He promptly struck out on three pitches in his first major league at-bat. By his 25th at-bat, he had 12 strikeouts. This wasn’t quite what the A’s had in mind when they inserted him into the lineup.

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Then he hit his first home run Sept. 9 and his second on Sept. 21. Nothing unusual about that, except that No. 2 landed atop the Comiskey Park roof. He finished the season with 5 homers, 13 RBIs and a .302 batter average.

Entering the 1986 season, Canseco was good for, say, 40 homers and triple-digit RBIs total.

He completed the first five games with two hits (one home run), four strikeouts, two runs and a less-than-Cooperstown batting average of .125.

“He’s trying to live up to a lot of advance billing around here,” Moore said. “I know that I can see him settling in. I know the home run the other night was very good for him.

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“Now he backs it up with a game like today.”

Canseco was born to swing a baseball bat. His home run off Angel starter Mike Witt never was in question. It became a matter of how far, rather than, how?

“He’ll see enough mistakes this year for him to hit a lot of home runs,” Mauch said. “The things I like about him are the things I haven’t read about--his speed and his arm. He could be a good player hitting .300 with just 10 home runs.

“Witt at his best, handles him,” he said. “But by then, Witt was far from his best.”

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Said Witt: “It doesn’t matter if it goes one foot or 100 feet over the fence, it’s still a home run. But I can see that if you do make a mistake with him, you’re going to pay for it.”

As the ball sailed toward the seats, Canseco stood at the batter’s box and waited for it to land. He said he usually doesn’t watch, but considering the week he’s had, every good moment counts.

“I feel a lot better today than I did the other games,” Canseco said. “These kind of games get your confidence up.”


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