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Postseason legend Stewart likes A's chances

NEW View Full Game Coverage YORK -- Dave Stewart made three straight World Series Game 1 starts for Oakland from 1988-90. He was the starter when Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter hit their historic home runs. He won three rings with three different clubs and made it to five Fall Classics.

On Thursday, "Stew" came to the MLB Fan Cave in Greenwich Village as part of Major League Baseball's "Legends are Born in October" postseason marketing campaign. Stewart had plenty of October tales to tell, but mostly he was focused on that night's decisive Game 5 of the A's-Tigers American League Division Series.

It's Justin Verlander for the Tigers and Jarrod Parker for the A's, with the winner moving on to play either the Yankees or Orioles in the AL Championship Series. Oakland hopes for its first trip to a Fall Classic since those days with Stewart menacingly on the hill, and he said the A's have established one advantage in building a reputation as a walk-off threat you can't easily put away.

"Verlander's a tough cookie," Stewart said. "He's got to be one of the better pitchers in the American League, if not baseball. But what I admire about Parker is that he has not played as a rookie, he has not pitched as a rookie this year, he has taken on some big assignments and he has performed very well. He's performed unlike any of the rookies that I've seen this year on the mound.

"But even more importantly, if we take it away from the pitchers, obviously, the Detroit Tigers are going to be battling. They've got a good hitting ballclub, they've got a very good guy [Jim Leyland] that manages that team. The advantage to me, for the A's, is that they don't think they can lose. They've proven it in the way that they've played. They've been down and they've come back. They've been down and come back 15 times with walk-off victories. If the ballgame is close going into the later innings, I give the advantage to the A's. If they don't get on the A's early, I think Detroit's gonna end up going home.

"They'll go fishing."

Stewart, 55, spends these days as an agent, representing Matt Kemp, among others. Raised as a Giants fan in the days of Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, he roots for both Bay Area clubs. In his perfect world, there's another World Series like the one in '89, sans the force of nature. Stewart started Game 1 of that sweep over the Giants, then came back and started Game 3 after the 10-day suspension of play caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake, so he was 2-0 after three games in that series.

Both the A's and Giants were trying Thursday to clinch after 2-0 series deficits.

"[Wednesday] night's win, I was actually on the phone with a buddy of mine, the score was 2-0, going late, and he kept saying, 'Man, it looks like it's curtains,'" Stewart said of the A's. "And I said, 'Just keep the faith, they've been pretty solid the whole time. You can't throw in the towel now.' Sure enough, they battled back and they end up winning the game.

"If they're close, you expect them to win. It actually plays to their favor for the teams they're playing against, because teams that you're playing, their mentality is that they can't make mistakes. When you start putting that kind of pressure on yourself, it's tough to play that way."

Stewart's best years came in Oakland, where he was a 20-game winner from 1987-90. He said he loves the revitalization around the Coliseum, especially in recent weeks.

"I'm excited, I really am," he said. "I was at the ballpark about a week ago, just before the Texas series, and I'm telling you, it was already a playoff atmosphere, and they were playing Seattle at that time. Then Texas came in, and I was watching it on television -- it was unbelievable. You knew after they won two games and they had tied [the AL West] up, that they were gonna win the third game.

"The fanfare and the excitement, as people put it, it actually would be the 11th player in the American League, because you've got the designated hitter. It's just unbelievable how those guys are playing. I gotta tell you, whether they win or lose tonight, it's been a helluva season."

October was Stewart time of year. Maybe you remember that he was the A's Game 1 starter the night in 1988 when Gibson went deep off Dennis Eckersley, but did you know he also was the Blue Jays' Game 6 starter in 1993 when Carter went yard on Mitch Williams?

"For me, postseason in general is like the peak," Stewart said. "You start off in Spring Training, and you talk about the goals as a team, and I can remember Tony La Russa coming into the clubhouse and saying, 'We need to score 800 runs, and we need quality starts and our starters need to make every start, our bullpen needs to be accountable, and if we do those things, we have a chance to win.' And then to watch those things happen, and to be in postseason play, and to get the call to start the first game and give your team an opportunity to put that front foot forward, I mean, there's no better feeling.

"People talk about postseason play and if you do things differently. What I wanted to do, and what I think we did well as a team, we stayed loose and we played every game as if it was the first game to the 162nd game. We just kept that same pattern, that same beat, and our clubhouse demeanor was always the same."

To this day, Stewart and La Russa talk about taking the ace out of Game 1 in '88. Stewart says he would have won it; La Russa says they still should have won it.

"I had [an AL-best] 14 complete games that year," Stewart said. "I really felt strongly that I could finish it, and I wanted to finish it. But at the same time, we've got Eck in the bullpen. He's been successful now for a few years. It's really at that time automatic. When Gibson comes up, the last thing I thought is that he'd hit a home run to win the game. I don't think any of us thought that at the time. We knew Eck would finish it. Man, it was disappointing."