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Sierra claims rightfield share

"First of all," Ruben Sierra said, the hint of a smile creasing his face, "I don't follow nobody."

Well, that's not quite accurate.

Long before he ever made it to the major leagues with Texas, he was the next Roberto Clemente, following in the footsteps of the late, great Pittsburgh Pirates rightfielder from the same hometown of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. He even took Clemente's number, 21, upon joining the Rangers.

And he was the man who moved into rightfield in Oakland, the man who replaced Jose Canseco in baseball's blockbuster trade of 1992, who now bats third for the Athletics in the American League playoffs that resume today with Game 3 against Toronto.

No matter how well he does with the Athletics (assuming he sticks around; he becomes a free agent after the World Series), Sierra always will seem an afterthought to "the Canseco trade."

Sierra, 26 years old and suddenly in new surroundings, brushes aside the references to Clemente, his idol, and Canseco, his predecessor.

"I try to honor Clemente by using his number," he said. "I don't say I am him, that I can ever be him. I just try to honor his memory." The honor now extends to the bejeweled 21 in his left earlobe. On his back these days, he weers No. 29. Pitcher Mike Moore has No. 21 with Oakland.

And what of playing where Canseco once roamed? "I can't be him, either. I can only be me. It's not my fault I was traded. I just try to do my job. If people don't forget about Jose, it's not my fault. I play my game, and they'll see if

they like it or not."

The Athletics seem to almost universally like it.

"How can you not like a guy who goes all out the way he does?" asked A's leftfielder Rickey Henderson, not necessarily taking a swipe at what was sometimes perceived as Canseco's lackadaisical play.

"All the things I heard about Ruben (before the trade) was that he wasn't a good defensive player, that he had a tendency to not hustle," pitcher Dave Stewart said. "Well, I've seen him beat out five or six grounders where it hasn't even been close.

"In his first game with us, I saw him score from first base on a ball where the average guy would have stopped at third. It won a game for us. And he's played excellent defense. Did you see those catches (in the Game 1 playoff win at Toronto)? He's been outstanding."

There is good reason why the Athletics welcomed Sierra so warmly. When he arrived, in the first week of September, he let his new teammates know _ by deed, not by word _ that he wanted to fit right in.

"It's amazing how quickly Ruben was accepted on this ballclub," manager Tony La Russa said. "The first day he flew in, he was just getting over the chicken pox. He was still all marked up.

"We were in the middle of a losing string. He took BP (batting practice) and I said, "It'll probably make sense to get you a couple of days' work, play you somewhere (in the minors).' He said, "I'd like to play tonight.' I said, "Okay, I'll play Harold (Baines) in right (field), you DH.' He said, "No, I'm playing right.'

"When those guys saw him fly in and play, they went: "Uh-oh, here's a guy who's into this thing we're chasing.'

"This big thing is, if you just walk in there and make it clear to all your teammates you care about winning and try as hard as you can, you'd be surprised how quickly everybody puts their arm around you and says, "Glad you're here,'

" La Russa said. "It's that simple. That's what Ruben did."

Sierra's explanation was more succinct. "I love this game," he said.

He had spent seven seasons in Texas, unable to chase anything but personal statistics. The Rangers were a perennial also-ran in the American League West.

"I gave 100 percent every day," Sierra said. "They expected me to carry the team. They say, "Ruben, you make so much money, why can't you play better?' I am only one player. I have only four at-bats (per game). How can I carry the team by myself?"

With the Rangers, he was (excluding Nolan Ryan) pretty much the star. With the Athletics, as La Russa put it, "Ruben is just another one of the stars. We tell him: "You don't have to carry the team. You do your share and everyone benefits. Everyone does his share and we win.' "