Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner met today in Yankee Stadium.

Actually, they met under Yankee Stadium.

In the Oakland locker room.

Next to Martin's office.

In the washroom.

There, amidst the porcelain, they slapped each other on the back and cooed in one another's ear like Brutus and his Caesar on the eve of the Ides of March.

"Nobody ever did a better managing job than you did this year," said Steinbrenner, throwing his arm around Martin's shoulders.

"Then what are my chances of getting a raise next season?" countered Martin in his black, white-plumed cowboy hat, grinning for the half-dozen TV cameras eavesdropping from the entrance.

"Don't forget that the best contract you ever signed was with me," responded Steinbrenner charmingly, deliberately decked out in an Oakland-green blazer.

"How could I forget? I'm still collecting on it," retorted Martin.

"So long, ol' buddy," said Steinbrenner, who fired Martin twice.

"That's my friend," said Martin, who once called Steinbrenner "a convicted liar" and added that he was "ruining my life."

When Steinbrenner was gone, Martin added, "I made $75,000 from George this year and I only had to talk to him once. I think he's a great guy."

Behind today's byplay and smiles, long knives were being sharpened.

Somebody's going to get stabbed in the back when a dynamic and fascinating American League championship series starts here between Oakland and New York Tuesday night. The A's Mike Norris, fresh from back-to-back shutouts, will face Yankee warhorse Tommy John, who has more wins than any pitcher in baseball since becoming a Yankee in 1979.

Some seasons have dream matchups. This is better; it's a nightmare matchup. Martin and Steinbrenner are baseball's two most nefarious, devious, victory-consumed, manipulative leaders. In other words, they're the best.

Martin and Steinbrenner needled and agitated to a brilliant split decision today, each trying to one-up and psychologically undermine the other.

The field of battle between the two constantly shifted. Martin attacked the Yankee pitching rotation, saying it was perfectly set up for Oakland's benefit. "We can beat Tommy John; they better pray for rain," said Martin. "And we've always beaten (Game 2 starter) Rudy May, too. It reminds me of the '76 Series when I had to open with my fifth-best (Yankee) pitcher -- Doyle Alexander and we got swept. I think its apropos. Our pitching is ready. Theirs isn't."

Steinbrenner countered by saying that any pitcher in this series who cheats or throws illegal pitches "will be harassed and caught and stopped . . . I have been assured that the rules will be strictly enforced and that the umpires will be given more league support than ever before."

Martin was quick to rebut, since he has bitter memories of a May visit here when Steinbrenner set up elaborate camera equipment to catch Oakland pitchers loading up spitballs. Norris was so bothered by what Martin calls the Yankee CIA and the frequent ball examining of umpire Al Clark that he was bombed badly.

"George intimidated the umpires. They gave us a hard time. I won't allow it to happen again," vowed Martin. "Steinbrenner's power and dollars and influence end at the white lines. If necessary, my pitchers will walk to home plate, hand the umpire the ball, take off their clothes and demand to be frisked. We don't cheat and we won't be intimidated again."

Martin arrived with a red dime-sized scrape in the center of his forehead. Asked what door he walked into, Martin joked, "George had a car meet me at the airport. With three gorillas in it."

"I'd have been disappointed in Billy," said Steinbrenner, "if he didn't have a bruise on him some place."

Martin countered by noting that "I've had five scouts following the Yankees for a month. We know all their weaknesses. I'll be calling ('80 Yankee manager) Dick Howser tonight to double-check things with him. Also, Dick and I may start a fraternity of George's former managers. If we can get enough money, we're going to buy the ballclub out from under him.

"The Yankees are starting all left-handed pitchers against us and we're awesome against left-handers . . . Tommy John's been throwing a lot of screwballs, but we're a screwball-hitting team and I'm a screwball manager."

Martin has completed his task of brainwashing the A's into not being awed by playing the Yankees. Listen to Norris: "A pin stripe uniform doesn't beat you. And the umpires aren't going to rattle me here again. Last time, they asked for the ball on every other pitch and it really broke my concentration. I started thinking a whole bunch of bad things. It won't happen again. I can't say what we'll do, but something's going to happen."

Norris added, in true testy A's style, "Since the umpires' union has gotten stronger, you can't fire the bad ones. There are some umpires in this league that you couldn't get rid of if a tornedo hit their hotel."

Of Steinbrenner's latest tirade (Saturday) in the Yankee locker room, Martin said, "I think George honestly believes it helps the team. I just don't happen to agree with that. It's his team and his prerogative, but, personally, I hope we get him madder than hell and he does it again, 'cause I know when I was the Yankee manager and he pulled that, it took me two weeks to unwind it (the damage)."

A spectator at the Billy-George Show was Reggie Jackson who has seven homers and 18 RBI in 66 at-bats against the Oakland staff in the past two years. He evaded more than superficial comment on Martin, but did provide the definitive answer to the question, "What's the difference between playing for Charlie Finley and George Steinbrenner?"

"When Finley got mad and came after you, he had a derringer with one bullet in it. It was loaded and he fired," said Jackson. "When George challenges you, he says, 'Look at my big pearl-handled revolvers.' But when you say, 'Okay, let's draw,' he says, 'Just kidding.' "

This week, Billy Martin isn't kidding. He's come to New York not to praise Jackson and Steinbrenner, but to try to bury them.

"If I were to write a script for my life," said Martin today, "it couldn't have worked out nicer than this."