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Detail management lives amid big hits

With each team having hit three home runs, does Oakland manager Tony La Russa think the American League playoffs will turn on the long ball instead of the "manufactured" run?

"If I thought that, you wouldn't see us pushing as much on the bases," La Russa said of the Athletics' seven stolen bases in the first two games. "I look at the home runs as mistakes. Four or five of them were hit off "mistake' breaking balls, probably the only mistakes they (the pitchers) made all game. . . .

"I don't think you can figure anything. Just watch the game and maybe get lucky, bloop a couple of hits in. Who knows? Maybe the ball doesn't bounce into the dugout (a reference to the play that cost Oakland a run Thursday night)."

La Russa and Toronto manager Cito Gaston said the teams are remarkably even in so many areas _ starting pitching, deep bullpens, speed, power . . .

Given all that, they were asked, would the outcome hinge on managing?

"Never does," La Russa said.

"I think we get accused of it all the time," Gaston said. "But neither one of us has a bat or a ball in our hands. We can only give directions and hope (the players) carry them. But when it's all over, you can bet we'll take the rap for it."

Tuning them out

Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber, who has been roundly booed much of this season for his series of injuries and lack of production, acknowledged the fickle nature of fans who gave him a standing ovation and demanded (in vain) that he take a bow after hitting the two-run homer that put Toronto ahead in the 3-1 win Thursday night.

"A roller coaster," he said, his words barely audible because of laryngitis that has plagued him throughout these playoffs. "I heard one guy yell "Bunt the ball' when I went up there (in the fifth). I turned around and told him to shut up. Well, mouthed it. I'm learning to build an immune system (to such taunts). It's not easy."

Rickey's workout

A's outfielder Rickey Henderson, who only occasionally bothers to show up for mandatory workouts, surprised just about everyone Friday by showing up for Oakland's optional practice.

"Yesterday was a bad day," Henderson said, referring to his 0-for-4, two-strikeout performance Thursday night. "I didn't feel comfortable. I'm not really concerned. It's just that I didn't feel comfortable and I wanted to get loose. If you get loose, you can keep your timing."

Henderson's streak of reaching base in postseason play ended at 21 games.

Slow starters

Neither Henderson nor Toronto's Devon White, the two leadoff batters, have done much for their teams so far. Henderson is 0-for-6 with two walks and hasn't even tried to steal a base; White is 1-for-6 (a single) with three walks and has been thrown out in his only steal attempt. That means the teams' two sparkplugs are batting a combined .083.

"Rickey will break out _ hopefully not until next year," Gaston said. "Devo has done okay _ a few walks. But pitching's been the whole story."

La Russa stands up

for fellow manager

TORONTO _ Tony La Russa, attorney-at-law specializing in baseball, knows felony manager abuse when he sees it. The victim in this case is his esteemed rival, Cito Gaston.

La Russa defended Gaston before a jury of skeptics Thursday night, arguing on the Toronto manager's behalf before Game 2 of the American League playoffs, then letting the evidence unfold in a 3-1 Toronto win.

After Game 1, Blue Jays fans flooding the airwaves on radio talk shows to vent their anger at winning the American League East year after year, only to collapse in the playoffs.

Gaston is complacent and gutless and makes "dumb decisions," they claimed. Local writers joined in the barrage, tossing around the "C word' _ choke _ and saying Gaston's teams have a special talent for it.

"That's abusive, and whoever gets into that stuff is abusing him," charged La Russa, a lawyer by training and a manager by choice. "They don't want to give him credit for what he's done. Is there another manager who's won three divisions in four years?

"I'm not trying to blow any smoke at him. I don't want to give him this championship so that he can get that monkey off his back. But the fact is, one of our concerns with the Toronto Blue Jays is Cito and his coaching staff. Obviously they know how to get wins out of this personnel. So that criticism, to me, is a joke. Somebody's not being fair."

_ BRUCE LOWITT

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