BOSTON, OCT. 5 -- When Boston Manager Joe Morgan was 10 years old, his father took him to his first Red Sox game. It cost 54 cents to ride the transit bus from his home in nearby Walpole to Fenway Park.
"I thought it would take forever," he said today, standing on the clipped grass in front of the Red Sox dugout. "Finally, I saw all the steel and concrete of the city. Then we walked in up there." He pointed toward the top of the stands behind home plate. "It was like something to behold."
It was then. It is today. A timeless park in a timeless game, old Fenway was spruced up with fresh coatings of green paint, readied like a cathedral before a great ceremony or a polished museum on the eve of a historic exhibit. On Saturday night, Roger Clemens, if not the best pitcher in baseball certainly close to it, will lead the Red Sox against Dave Stewart, himself close to being the best pitcher, if not the best, and the mighty Oakland A's, supposedly a dynasty in the making.
All of Boston is braced. Televisions, newspapers and conversations are abuzz with reports about the beloved "Sawx." For now, Boston's sports mania has to be taken seriously. What more could anyone ask in the opener of the American League Championship Series than a Clemens-Stewart matchup?
Happy to be here, Morgan squinted in the sunlight toward the great green wall in left field and said of his boyhood: "I looked at the players as if they were gods. No way I'll ever be one, I thought. Wrong again?" Thirty-eight years in the game.
But his fame grows as a manager, having led the Red Sox into first place in their division in two of the last three seasons, making him Boston's most successful manager in three-quarters of a century, and home grown at that.
"Underdogs? Favorites? Play ball!" he said, leaning on a bat. "Let's see who's going to win."
That's the "aw shucks" demeanor that Morgan favors when the obvious is brought up to him -- that the defending world champion A's are expected to dominate the Red Sox. But Morgan has his reasons for remaining unalterably calm, mainly the thinking that anything can happen in a best-of-seven series. "A lot depends on how the breaks may fall."
One break, one breakthrough may be all it takes with the right-handed aces on the hill. Stewart has won 20 games four straight seasons and pitched a no-hitter June 29 against Toronto. Clemens, a two-time Cy Young Award-winner, won 21 games this season even though he missed 25 days with shoulder pain. Incredibly, Stewart has won his last six duels with Clemens.
"I'm aware I've won some games against Roger," said Stewart, after the A's worked out this afternoon and before the Red Sox took the field. "But I do believe I'm capable of doing it again. My game plan is to eliminate free passes and make them earn everything."
Stewart, 33, has a sprinkling of gray in his chin whiskers. He's known lean seasons, which helps him appreciate his success of the past four. He speaks softly, confidently, perhaps because as he said: "I've seen what we're capable of doing. We're capable of winning. We believe in ourselves."
Stewart and Clemens are a lot alike. They're great fastballers. "I think we're both heady pitchers," Stewart said. "We do a lot of thinking out there, setting batters up. We both have a strong will to win."
On the mound, Stewart's peaceful expression gives way to a glower of intensity. "With Roger, it's like a football game, he gets so pumped up," said right fielder Tom Brunansky, who made the diving catch for the final out of the final game Wednesday to become part of Boston's baseball lore.
Clemens had nothing much to say after running in the outfield. Of course, he has much on his mind: Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Carney Lansford, Harold Baines, National League batting champion Willie McGee, Terry Steinbach and others. At any moment, the ball could be heading toward the Citgo sign.
"Experienced batters don't try to pull the ball here," said Canseco, reporting himself to be at "80 to 85 percent" because of a herniated disk. "They hit the ball here where it's pitched. You see more doubles here than fly balls that should go out."
Like his teammates, Canseco exuded a quiet confidence. "I definitely think there's a dynasty here," said the big right fielder. "This may be the best team in baseball ever assembled."
Dennis Eckersley, former Boston starter who found an afterlife as a closer with the A's, contributes significanly to that Oakland "edge." As Stewart put it, "With Eck on the mound in the last inning, a lot of times you can close your eyes and relax."
The Red Sox can't relax in this series. Their hopes ride on a mixture of younger players and some veterans. The power will have to come from outfielders Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks and Brunansky. Take-charge catcher Tony Pena is strong defensively. Closer Jeff Reardon has been inspirational, returning from back surgery.
"We're playing good ball right now," said Greenwell. "It's going to be an interesting series. We feel we can beat anybody."