We interrupt this colossal collapse by the Oakland Athletics to bring you a message from Jose Canseco, the soon-to-be-crowned American League most valuable player who is 1 for 15 after 4 games of the 1988 World Series.
And the memo Canseco wants to pin on America’s bulletin board is this:
Look beyond the home runs and the stolen bases and remember that Canseco is more than baseball’s first 40-40 man.
Remember that he’s also still a 24-year-old man.
Or as Canseco put it after Oakland’s 4-3 loss to the Dodgers Wednesday night, “How can I feel responsible for the A’s? I’m not a one-man crew. I’m just a 3-year player. How can you say I’m supposed to carry the whole ballclub?”
People do say that, though. And with good reason. During the regular season, Canseco went where no other major leaguer has gone before. He hit 42 home runs and stole 40 bases, an unprecedented combination of power and speed. He batted .307 and drove in 124 runs, a franchise record.
Do that, and people begin to expect certain things.
Then, hit a scorching, screaming grand slam off the center-field TV camera in your first official World Series at-bat, and the expectations soar off the chart.
After that, go hitless in your next 14 at-bats--including a strikeout with the tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4--and the A’s go down, 3-1, in a Series they were supposed to ace in 5, 6 games, max.
Guess who’s going to be held responsible.
“People say, ‘Oh, Canseco, once you start hitting, you’re gonna carry the club,’ ” Canseco said, reciting the popular thought. “I cannot believe that. With the quality of players we have here, I cannot believe we have to rely on one player.”
Canseco wouldn’t name names, but blame could have also hung in the locker stalls of Mark McGwire (1 for 13), Carney Lansford (1 for 14) and Walt Weiss (1 for 14). Wednesday, Weiss committed only his second error since July 8, but it led to a Dodger run in the third inning. And McGwire, the A’s home run hero of Game 3, left the bases loaded in the seventh inning by popping up the first pitch he saw.
But the postgame media crowd milled around Canseco, wondering about his slump, in general, and his ninth-inning strikeout against Jay Howell, in particular.
And about the strikeout, Canseco blamed himself.
“He gave me a pitch I should have hit out,” Canseco said, shaking his head over the 0-and-1 curveball Howell grooved across the plate. “A big hanging curveball. I saw it, and my eyes opened up.”
Canseco’s voice sank as he visualized his swing.
“I fouled it back,” he said sadly.
Four pitches later, on a full count, Howell threw Canseco another breaking pitch, a slider. Not a fat slider, but a lean, mean slider, equipped with a sudden trapdoor.
Canseco swung and missed, and the A’s were 1 out away from another World Series defeat.
“When things are going bad, forget it,” Canseco said. “He hung it, I fouled it off. I should’ve capitalized. I pulled back on the ball and I’m saying to myself, ‘How could I miss that?’ I know if I hit that ball hard, it’s gonna go out.”
Tony La Russa, the Oakland manager, agreed.
“Whew, he got a good pitch, didn’t he?” La Russa said. “But the margin of error, especially in the World Series, is real slim.”
So, too, were Canseco’s chances of hitting Howell’s final pitch to him.
“That was a nasty pitch,” Canseco said. “It looked like the bottom fell out of it. I couldn’t believe it. It was just an excellent pitch.”
Since hitting his Game 1 grand slam, Canseco is 0 for 14 with 4 strikeouts. His overall World Series batting average is .067.
Then, again, Canseco has a total of 5 runs batted in. No other Oakland player has more than 1.
“You can’t do it all, all the time,” Canseco reiterated. “That’s why you play 162 games. You’re going to need some help now and then. Anybody can go into a slump.”
Oakland’s .186 team batting average suggests as much. Wednesday, the A’s piled up 8 hits--7 of them singles--against rookie Tim Belcher and Howell.
Tonight, in Game 5, they get Orel Hershiser.
“It’s going to be tough,” Canseco acknowledged. “Our offense has to come through tomorrow. We’re going to have to score early and get his confidence down.”
Good luck, A’s. The New York Mets said the same thing. And we all remember what happened the last time Hershiser pitched against Oakland, Sunday night in Game 2:
Dodgers 6, A’s 0.
Oakland can’t afford a repeat performance.
“If we’re going to come back, we’re going to have to wake up our offense,” Canseco said. “The team people have been seeing the last 3 or 4 days are not the real Oakland A’s.”
And if the real A’s don’t stand up tonight, they can all sit back down until next April.