Baseball law explicitly warns that repeating as a champion is tougher than becoming one in the first place.
But the Oakland Athletics defied that canon Sunday, demonstrating anew their dominance of the American League by defeating the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-3, to reach the World Series for the second consecutive season."I kind of feel overwhelmed," said A's Manager Tony La Russa after the Blue Jays fell, 4 games to 1, in the American League Championship Series.
"It's very hard to do. I think the club right now could fly out of here on their own enthusiasm. It makes me sit in awe of this club."
"Oakland has improved 200 fold since 1986," said A's right fielder Jose Canseco. "It's become a dynasty."
Calling the A's a dynasty is premature in view of their flop in the 1988 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but no team had repeated in either league since 1977-78 when both the Dodgers and New York Yankees returned to the top.
The second time around came with more difficulty for the A's, favorites again, but wobbly through portions of this year because of injuries to vital players such as Canseco and reliever Dennis Eckersley.
"We approached this year the same as last year," said Dave Stewart, the winning pitcher in both pennant clinchers. "We were going to play intense baseball. Tony stayed on us all year about being intense for nine innings."
"When you lose Canseco in spring training, it would have been easy to say, `We're beaten down,' " said third baseman Carney Lansford, who sat out his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury.
"The guy was the MVP. He created so much of our offense and I thought he should have won a Gold Glove. But that's an easy excuse. Tony let us know right away it wasn't going to be easy and that wasn't an excuse."
The end finally arrived after a ninth-inning controversy involving Blue Jays Manager Cito Gaston and Eckersley, who has saved two pennant clinchers in a row.
Gaston claimed the pitcher "took something from his glove and dropped it down his shirt. Then it fell to the ground and he picked it up and put it down his pants."
That flap resolved after a five-minute war of words, Eckersley finally closed out matters with a strikeout of Junior Felix after the Blue Jays had doggedly narrowed the margin to a single run by scoring two in the ninth.
George Bell's home run following a bases-empty home run by Lloyd Moseby in the eighth - both against Stewart - gave the cheering crowd renewed hope.
Following the flap, Tony Fernandez looped a single to center that Dave Henderson misplayed by breaking back and failing to recover in time.
Fernandez stole second and went to third on Ernie Whitt's grounder. Kelly Gruber's sacrifice fly made it 4-3 before the Blue Jays' partisans went home hushed.
"I don't feel good now," said Toronto reliever Tom Henke, "but we gave it our best shot. We don't have to hang our heads. A lot of people thought we wouldn't make it out of the (regular) season.
"They just beat us. I don't know what we could change."
The multidimensional A's surged to a 4-0 lead against Dave Stieb and Jim Acker with Rickey Henderson leading the charge.
Through six innings, Oakland had only two hits, but the first was a run-scoring single by Canseco after Henderson walked and stole second in the first, the second an RBI triple by Henderson after a leadoff walk to Walt Weiss in the third.
Henderson, of course, was the most valuable player after batting .400, stealing a postseason record eight stolen bases, tying a record with eight runs scored, hitting two home runs, walking seven times and recording a .609 on-base percentage.
"I've been working for this moment for a long time," said Henderson. "I can't say I'm surprised with this series. I gave it my best and things fell into place for me."
But the ubiquitous Henderson was not involved in the putaway, a two-run seventh-inning burst again ignited by a leadoff walk (to Dave Henderson).
Mark McGwire chopped a single to center and Terry Steinbach knocked out Stieb with a run-scoring single to left-center. McGwire went to third on Moseby's throw home, then was squeezed in by Mike Gallego.
All the time, the Blue Jays had hit the ball hard, but without luck.
"For some reason, there was always somebody standing there," said Lee Mazzilli.
"The only balls they didn't catch, it seemed, were the ones that went out of the park," said Mookie Wilson.
Toronto fought back in the late innings as Moseby hit a "fastball. I thought about the forkball. I was trying to out-think him," said Stewart.
But Stewart went to off-speed pitches and survived until the ninth to raise his playoff record to 3-0. He did not walk a man and threw 80 strikes among 110 pitches.
Eckersley weathered the flap and the Blue Jays to increase his playoff save record to seven with his third in the series.
And the A's, who can beat opponents in so many ways, flew home to Oakland, Calif., to await the outcome of the National League series, most of them hoping to play the cross-bay rival, the San Francisco Giants.