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Darling: A's are on a mission

Ron Darling has been a member of the Oakland Athletics for barely a season and a half, yet he feels more at home with them than he ever did with the New York Mets.

And because he and so many of the A's may not be around next season, they have become "the most intense, angry team I've ever seen," said Darling, who will start for the A's against Toronto on Saturday when the AL playoffs move to Oakland for Game 3.

"This is the last hurrah, the last go-around," he said of the 15 or so players who will become free agents after the World Series. "This team knows it's going to be substantially different next year, and what that has done is put everybody in a bad mood in the sense of we really, really want to win this thing."

Darling said because of the emotional and physical strain that comes with such a feeling, "there's not too many smiles. Whatever it is _ eye of the tiger, whatever the cliche is _ I think this team has as much of it as any I've ever played for."

Darling doesn't miss New York.

"It's still baseball _ you still have to play nine innings and all _ but a lot of the outside stuff becomes very demanding," Darling said. "You have to be a very special person to be able to deal with it over a long period of time."

So why is ex-Mets teammate David Cone _ who started Game 2 for Toronto on Thursday _ thinking about going back to New York, namely the Yanks, when he becomes a free agent?

Darling: "He's only played there five years. He hasn't got the seven-year itch."

Let's play long ball

The five homers in Wednesday night's playoff matched a record achieved seven times before, most recently when the Giants beat the Cubs in the 1989 NL playoffs.

Is anybody out there?

CBS' telecast of the opening game of the AL playoffs got the third-lowest prime-time rating in league championship history.

Oakland's 4-3 victory Wednesday night received an 11.0 rating, lower than any prime-time playoff games except Games 3 and 4 of last year's Toronto-Minnesota series. Tuesday night's NL playoff opener between Pittsburgh and Atlanta got a 12.0 rating, the lowest ever for a prime-time NL championship game.

Ratings for the first two prime-time playoff games are down 10 percent from last year. One rating point represents 934,000 homes.

He said it

Oakland manager Tony La Russa on third base coach Rene Lachemann, a finalist for the job as manager of the expansion Florida Marlins: "He's overqualified for what he's doing. He does a lot of other things for our ballclub than just be a traffic cop. He's one of our attitude coaches. He's great in the clubhouse."

_ BRUCE LOWITT, WIRE SERVICES

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