Kansas City got all the preseason hype and Chicago made a nice run before fading. But in the end it was the Oakland Athletics for the third straight year.
The A's, riding Dave Stewart's five-hitter and Rickey Henderson's three hits, clinched their third straight American League West title with a 5-0 triumph over the Kansas City Royals.The victory makes the A's baseball's first divisional "3-peaters" since the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals and Philadelphia Phillies in 1976, '77 and '78.
"I know people don't always see it this way but the toughest thing in baseball is to win the division," Oakland Manager Tony La Russa said. "It's tough to do it once. It staggers me how things have to keep coming together to win it three times. But now we have to go on farther."
The A's are currently a battered Western champion.
With the ALCS starting Oct. 6, the A's can afford to rest some of their injured starters for the playoffs. Jose Canseco, who sat out Tuesday, has a jammed finger and sore back, outfielder Dave Henderson is coming off knee surgery, outfielder Willie McGee has been bothered by a hamstring, third baseman Carney Lansford has a back problem, and Rickey Henderson is recovering from a jammed thumb.
The thumb didn't seem to slow Rickey Tuesday.
His 3-for-3 night boosted his batting average to .324, just six points behind the Royals' George Brett, who went 1 for 4 for an AL-best .330 mark.
Henderson, who also stole his 63rd base in the sixth inning to move within four of tying Lou Brock's all-time record, also had a run-in with Kansas City Manager John Wathan.
Wathan ordered Henderson intentionally walked in the eighth. Visibly upset, Henderson let Wathan know how he felt on the way to first, shouting at the Manager in the dugout.
"I didn't like it and I told him I didn't like it," Rickey Henderson said. "After all, the score was 4-0 in the eighth inning. If he wants to help George Brett win the batting title, why doesn't he just not play him?"
"The batting race had nothing to do with it," Wathan said. "I think Rickey was just caught up with the heat of the situation.
"Our hats are off to the A's. It's hard to win a World Series and not suffer a letdown but they sure haven't had one."
Stewart, 22-10, struck out six and walked two in recording his fourth shutout. The victory marked a career high and was the fifth in a row for Stewart, who won 21 games in each of the last three seasons.
"You can't write it much better," Stewart said. "We've learned you can't get too high in this game and your lows can't be too low.