Oakland Athletics' right-hander Ron Darling has few illusions about his abilities at this stage of his career, after nine seasons in the major leagues and elbow surgery two years ago.

"You put Juan Guzman's name in the computer, it rings bells," Darling said of his pitching opponent Saturday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, "and you put my name in, it spits me out. But luckily, baseball is not played by a computer."

Darling says he might not be playing baseball at all if not for the A's pitching coach Dave Duncan, who helped Darling salvage his career after injuries and acrimony in New York jeopardized his future.

Squeezed out of the rotation in 1990, Darling was traded twice in two weeks, the first time from the Mets to Montreal and then onto the A's hours before the July 31 trading deadline.

Darling, whose 15-10 record this season was his best since he was 19-9 in 1988, has found a home in Oakland and has said he would like to remain there. He was 2-1 against the Blue Jays this season, including two-hit shutouts on July 12 and July 25.

"I'm much happier than I've ever been playing baseball," said Darling, who compiled an 0-1 record and 7.50 earned-run average with the Mets in the 1986 and '88 playoffs and was 1-1 in the 1986 World Series against Boston. "New York wore me down.

"Playing with a New York ballclub is very difficult. A lot of the outside stuff can be very demanding and you have to be a special person to deal with that. It just wasn't as much fun. . . . I felt after a week I'd been here two or three years."

Guzman, 25, was 11-2 at the All-Star break this season, but soreness in his right shoulder put him on the disabled list for most of August. He finished at 16-5, closing with a one-hit, nine-strikeout performance against the Detroit Tigers last Saturday.

"I feel 100% better now," he said.

Guzman, who was 1-1 against the A's this season and is 3-1 in his career, was the winning pitcher in Toronto's only victory over the Minnesota Twins in last year's AL playoffs. He won Game 2 at the Metrodome, giving up two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings.

"This is going to be my second playoff game and I think I know what to do," he said. "I'm going to pitch the same way I did all year. . . . I'm a much better pitcher now (than a year ago). I've got my experience and I know the league better now."

In the only lineup change for either team, Walt Weiss was back at shortstop for the A's Thursday night after sitting out the series opener. Mike Bordick moved from shortstop to second and Lance Blankenship was on the bench. A's Manager Tony La Russa benched Weiss on Wednesday night against Jack Morris because of Weiss' one-for-14 performance against Morris. Like most of the A's, Weiss hadn't faced David Cone before Thursday.

Oakland third base coach Rene Lachemann, a finalist for the Florida Marlins' managing job, said he interviewed his prospective employers last week.

"I asked them about their foundation, how they intended to go about things, and I wanted to see where they were compared to Seattle," said Lachemann, who managed the Mariners from 1981-83. "To me, they're five or six years ahead of where Seattle was because they're putting things together right from the first."

Lachemann also interviewed for the Colorado Rockies' job, as has Angel coach John Wathan. Lachemann said he believes Milwaukee coach Duffy Dyer and former Brewer manager Tom Trebelhorn had also been interviewed.

No matter where Lachemann works next season, it's not a sure thing he will be working with his brother, Marcel, who relinquished his job as the Angels' pitching coach after nine seasons.

"Marcel didn't leave the California Angels because I have a job," Rene said. "He left the California Angels on his own. He will find a job because he's one of the best. I think (the A's) have the best here in Dave Duncan, although I haven't worked with my brother."

The Blue Jays had barely digested Wednesday's loss when local newspapers suggested Lou Piniella, who resigned as manager of the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, might replace Cito Gaston as the Blue Jays' manager. Toronto was interested in Piniella before hiring Gaston, but Piniella was unavailable. . . . La Russa has been bothered by a cold for the past week, but he's not worried enough to see a doctor. "I'm superstitious," he said. "We keep winning, I'm going to keep coughing. . . . Oakland hitting instructor Doug Rader says he has no interest in managing either of the expansion teams. "I'm not psychologically prepared to lose 100 games," he said. "I have no interest at all." . . . AL President Bobby Brown again decided to keep the SkyDome roof closed, despite the pleasant weather in Toronto. Game-time temperature outside the dome was 54 degrees.

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