The Oakland Athletics are looking for an early fall break before the World Series.

And, after two decisive victories in Boston, the A's figure to get it.They just also may become the favorite to repeat as World Series champ, no matter who the National League sends against them.

Oakland became the 15th team in 22 years to take a 2-0 lead in the AL playoffs as it humbled the Boston Red Sox 4-1 Sunday night just 24 hours after a 9-1 romp on a seven-run ninth inning.

Most Oakland players, with the notable exception of Rickey Henderson, hedged when asked about a sweep of the best-of-7 series.

However, the record is clear: 12 of 14 winners of the first two games in the playoffs have gone on to win the AL pennant and the World Series.

With Harold Baines driving in three runs with a double, single and infield grounder, the Athletics posted their 19th playoff victory, an AL record.

That includes a 6-0 mark against Boston, starting with a four-game sweep of the Red Sox in 1988. Boston tied the major league playoff record for most losses in a row.

"I'm just happy to be here," Baines said. "Usually at this time of the year I'm sitting at home, and here I am on a championship team."

Slugger Jose Canseco said after Oakland's first-game victory that Boston would be dead if it lost the first two games at home. Henderson was even more emphatic when asked about the possibility of returning to Fenway Park next weekend.

"No, we won't be back here," Henderson said. "If they can beat us two out of three in Oakland, then there's something wrong with us."

Then, almost as an afterthought, Henderson said: "But, then again, anything can happen."

Willie McGee and Mark McGwire dodged questions of a sweep before the two teams took charter flights to Oakland for Game 3 on Tuesday night.

"We ain't thinking about that," McGee said. "We're just going out for nine innings and playing hard."

`It's impossible to think about that," McGwire said. "We're just concentrating on Game 3. When it's 12 o'clock (on Oakland on Wednesday), we'll just strap it on and go out there."

The A's won out eight of the 12 games this season from the Red Sox, including a three-game sweep in Boston in early September. With 103 victories, they breezed to the AL West title for a third consecutive year.

Boston beat the odds, winning 88 games and edging Toronto for the East Division title on the final day of a 162-game schedule.

The playoff line on Oakland against Boston was superior pitching, particularly in the bullpen, faster in every speed category and explosive power.

The A's lived up to all that except, surprisingly, the power department. They had 13 hits in each game in Fenway Park, but only three went for extra bases, all doubles.

"All the hits and yet we stayed in the game," Boston manager Joe Morgan said after the second-game loss. "One clout and we could have done it."

Asked what he tells the Red Sox now, Morgan said: "You don't have to tell them too much. They can read that easy enough."

Boston's starting pitchers threw well in the first two games. However, Roger Clemens and rookie Dana Kiecker were outpitched by Dave Stewart and then Bob Welch.

Clemens, still recovering from tendinitis in his right shoulder, which sidelined him for 24 days in September, didn't allow a run in six innings in the first game. Stewart allowed only four hits and one run as the A's rallied to pull out the victory.

Kiecker gave up one run in 5 2-3 innings, but Welch surrender just one in 7 1-3 innings.

The difference in the two games was the bullpens. Boston's was responsible for both losses. Larry Andersen, Jeff Gray, Dennis Lamp failed miserably Saturday night. Greg Harris and Jeff Reardon joined them in Game 2.

"I'm not really ecstatic that we've lost these games in the bullpen," Andersen said. "I'm not saying we're not at fault, but look at the other side. We have to start scoring runs."

As in the first game, Boston took a 1-0 lead in Game 2 on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Quintana in the third inning. After that, though, Welch, a 27-game winner during the regular season, and relievers Rick Honeycutt and Dennis Eckersley shut down the Red Sox.

Baines, acquired from Texas on Aug. 29, tied the game in the fourth with an RBI single, scoring McGee, who was acquired the same day in a deal with St. Louis.

After failing to score despite four singles in the sixth, Oakland took a 2-1 lead on an RBI grounder by Baines with the bases loaded in the seventh. The A's added two more runs in the ninth on a double by Baines and a single by McGwire.

"It's not over," Boston catcher Tony Pena insisted. "They still have to win two ballgames. We're not going to quit."

Asked what it would take to beat Oakland, Anderson said: "We need to score more than one run and take some heat off our pitchers."