Stifle the yawns. The Oakland Athletics are in the World Series. Weren't they supposed to be there all along?
Weren't the A's considered the best team in baseball last spring, before they acquired former All-Stars Harold Baines, Willie McGee and Willie Randolph?The A's were pegged as Goliath going into the American League playoffs against Boston, and they promptly overwhelmed the Red Sox in four straight. Without hitting a home run.
"Now we have a chance to be put in the category of a special team," said Oakland's Carney Lansford after the A's beat Boston 3-1 Wednesday to complete only the second playoff sweep since the format was expanded to seven games.
But, like an earthquake after the second game of last year's World Series, the ejection of Roger Clemens in Game 4's second inning Wednesday shook the attention away from the A's when they should be basking in victory's glow.
"One ballgame, one player is not going to overshadow what we've accomplished," said Dave Stewart, named the playoffs' Most Valuable Player after winning the game that clinched an Oakland trip to the World Series for the third consecutive year.
"People are always looking for something to overshadow things," Stewart said. "The fact is this is a great ballclub."
Clemens, in the second inning of an honorable attempt at keeping the Red Sox alive one more day, was ejected by home plate umpire Terry Cooney for verbal abuse.
Cooney, however, admitted he initiated the confrontation after he thought Clemens was showing him up because of his calls on two previous pitches.
"I saw him talking, and I said, `I hope you're not talking to me,' " Cooney said. "He told me to take my mask off if I had something to say and I told him I didn't want to get into a verbal argument.
"Then he used several expletives and I had to take some action."
Clemens, only the fifth player ever to be ejected from a playoff game, said he was not cursing at Cooney.
"I saw his throat guard moving so he was saying something," Clemens said. "He thought I was talking to him. I told him, `I'm not shaking my head at you.' The problem was not with him."
Wherever Clemens' problem was, his outburst was the loudest noise the Red Sox made in the series. Oakland's pitching staff held Boston to four runs in four games and kept Red Sox hitting at a .183 average
Boston was unable to drive in a run with a hit until Jody Reed singled home Ellis Burks in the ninth inning of Game 4. In his two starts, Dave Stewart allowed only three runners past first in 16 innings.
"One run a game for four games. That's amazing," Lansford said. "The pitchers have done that for three years. They've given us a chance to win every (postseason) game. We didn't have our big bats going, but we manufactured some runs and got the job done."
And while the Red Sox were unable to generate any offense, the A's were getting runs from unexpected places. Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, who combined for 76 home runs during the regular season, were reduced to supporting roles behind the likes of Willie Randolph and Mike Gallego.
Randolph provided a pair of run-scoring singles in Oakland's 4-1 victory in Game 3. Gallego hit a two-run double off Tom Bolton moments after Clemens was ejected in Game 4.
"It's unbelieveable, just unbelieveable," said Gallego. "I usually just try to stay low in the weeds, and I obviously can do that well, and do my job and anything that can help this ballclub win a ball game."
So the A's make their third straight trip to the World Series - they are the first team to accomplish that since the 1976-78 New York Yankees - looking for a satisfaction that they have not allowed themselves to feel as yet.
"We're there, and now we're in the same situation as last year," Stewart said. "Hopefully, we won't have an earthquake. Hopefully, we'll get to do what people do when they win a World Series - go out and celebrate."
The A's celebrated their third divisional championship in a business-like fashion, preferring to congratulate each other behind closed doors. Like their division-clinching celebration, champagne was replaced by sparkling apple cider and the Oakland clubhouse remained dry.