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A’S TAKE OPENER ON HENDERSON’S `DIRTY’ PLAY
RICKEY SHOWS NOTHING WRONG WITH HIS LEGS

SHARE A’S TAKE OPENER ON HENDERSON’S `DIRTY’ PLAY
RICKEY SHOWS NOTHING WRONG WITH HIS LEGS

Rickey Henderson's legs caused some more trouble Tuesday night. This time, it had nothing to do with his fragile hamstrings or the notion that he should have been playing through an injury. That was often the case in his 4 1/2 years with the New York Yankees. No, this time Henderson ran the opposition into trouble by breaking up a double play and an entire ballgame, the first of the American League Championship Series.

Just when the Toronto Blue Jays seemed ready to turn a double play that would keep the score tied at 3 in the sixth inning, there was Henderson arriving at second base like a car running a red light. It was one healthy slide that carried him into Nelson Liriano. So unnerved was the second baseman that in his haste he bobbled the ball, then threw it away. With it went Game 1.Two runs scored when none should have. Given a 5-3 lead, the Athletics cruised from there for a 7-3 victory. It was the sort of play that Henderson, because of injuries and whatever other reasons, wasn't able to make very often in New York.

"I hope it doesn't make Yankee fans jealous," he said. "Yankee fans know I do a lot of sliding and running all the time. More than jealous, I proved something to a lot of people who doubted what I could do on the basepaths."

Henderson, who scored a run and had two stolen bases, enjoyed playing the role of the tough guy. He reached base in the sixth by taking a fastball from Jim Acker on the wrist.

"A lot of times when a guy gets hit, it's the second baseman who pays the price," A's Manager Tony LaRussa said. "It turned out to be two big runs."

The Athletics entered that inning trailing 3-2, but Mark McGwire ripped the first pitch from Dave Stieb about a third of the way up the left-field stands. Stieb, who could not hold a 3-1 lead, had struggled all night. "I had nothing," he said.

Still, Stieb recovered to strike out Terry Steinbach. But when Tony Phillips dropped a bunt down the third base line for a base hit, Toronto Manager Cito Gaston replaced Stieb with Acker.

Phillips stole second base. He stayed there as Mike Gallego reached on an infield hit, a high bouncer that flicked off the glove of third baseman Kelly Gruber. Then Acker nailed Henderson on the wrist.

Bases loaded, one out. Carney Lansford, batting next, hit a grounder to shortstop. The crowd of 49,435 let out a gigantic groan. Double play, they thought.

What they didn't see was that the Blue Jays had not been holding Henderson on at first base. Allowed to take a big lead, Henderson used those extra three or four feet to a huge advantage.

"I read the ball well and got a good break," Henderson said. "I went after him."

Shortstop Tony Fernandez, who fielded the ball, made a good feed to Liriano. But the second baseman, worried about Henderson's early arrival, made a poor pivot.

"He was really just trying to get out of the way," Henderson said. "He was trying to get out of the way and throw it at the same time."

As Henderson crashed into Liriano's left leg, Liriano let loose a wild throw, a bouncing toss that flew well to the right of first baseman Fred McGriff. It rolled all the way to the photographers' cage, far enough so that both Phillips and Gallego scored.

"I thought we had a chance for two," said catcher Ernie Whitt, who drove in two Toronto runs with a sacrifice fly and a home run. "You have to give Henderson credit. He got on top of Liriano real quick."

Liriano said he slightly bobbled the ball in his glove before throwing.

"If I get the ball right away, he (doesn't) have a chance (of breaking up the play)," Liriano said. "I had a little trouble getting a good grip. That's why Rickey was under me a little."

Henderson popped up from his destructive slide and noticed the ball had gone awry. He pumped his fists and skipped off the field to a huge ovation from the suddenly revived crowd. His dirty work was a success.

"Once I saw the ball, I knew it was two runs," he said. "That felt great."

The Athletics used four different lead-off hitters in those four American League Championship Series games last year. Since Henderson arrived from the Yankees in a June 21 trade, they haven't been the same. And quite possibly, neither has Henderson.