OAKLAND, OCT. 20 -- Okay, so it wasn't the AstroTurf. The AstroTurf was a good theory, certainly. Tuesday and Wednesday, all over Oakland, there were people crouched before their television sets making rude remarks about the weird ways balls bounce at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium:

"Look at that AstroTurf," many said. "If the A's were on Oakland's grass, they'd have made that play."

"Please buy your return tickets now," an announcer chirped over the loudspeaker system Friday as the Bay Area Rapid Transit trains began dumping fans at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for Game 3 of the World Series. "After the A's win, there's going to be a real long wait."

Nobody cheered. Nobody waved signs around in the air. There was a big shuffling noise, the sound of thousands of feet heading in uneasy procession toward the turnstiles. Downtown, the gold and green pennants flapped listlessly on the lightposts that line Broadway.

There's not a lot happening on Broadway these days, what with the empty store windows and the office buildings still cracked and closed from the 1989 earthquake, but for a while the street at least had those banners, the bright regalia representing what had been known all summer as the best team in baseball.

It was hard to determine exactly where those gentlemen had gone, but a lot of Oakland fans were extremely interested in finding out. "Who is that team out there?" an Oakland usher demanded at a particularly distressing moment in the 8-3 loss that gave the Reds a 3-0 lead in the World Series.

This was in the fifth inning of Game 3, the memorable third inning having already piled on so many Reds runs that A's fans were starting to whistle and boo and make throw-'em-out gestures with their arms. Game 4 was at least more dignified. "I don't know what it is about them," said Jay Kercher, a crestfallen newspaper delivery man, watching the Reds move to what a week ago had seemed unthinkable. "Regular season, the A's are dynamite. They never play ball like this."

A man in an A's jacket stalked before Saturday's crowd with a lofted sign that read, "Sweep, Hell. This is a vacuum cleaner."

Behind him a tour had brought a lot of Cincinnati fans to Oakland en masse, so up on the third tier was a big happy blob of red jackets, and around them sat the Oakland fans who a week ago had planned to show their generosity of spirit by being kind to the Ohio people.

Now they were having to listen to Reds fans being nice to them. "You have a beautiful town and a beautiful park," a Dayton woman named Bev Heil cried gaily to the Athletics caps.

"We don't know defeat," said Bob Gattis, a restaurant owner who lives in the East Bay suburb of Alamo. "This is Oakland. Oakland doesn't get any respect. We're going to ram it down their throats. We're going to be the first team to come back from three losses to win."

He paused to see whether this was being fully absorbed, and then added helpfully: "I've got a bridge for sale for you too."

"Confident" was a word being thrown around a lot Friday, and not in the upbeat ways people used it this summer. "They were too confident and cocky," said Beth Miller, a flight attendant from the Marin County town of Tiburon. "They were expecting to win, and they just didn't."

The other word being thrown around was "Canseco," and such was the mood by the eighth inning of Game 3 that when an A's fan strolled the third tier holding up large signs saying "Trade Jose," nobody asked him to stop blocking the view.

Since Canseco sat out most of Game 4 there were shouts of encouragement when he stepped into the grim ninth inning to pinch-hit. But they were shouts without much heart. "The fat lady," Kercher said to the gloomy crowd around him, "is going mi-mi-mi-mi. "

When it was over, there was no long wait to buy the BART tickets. There was only a sort of quiet retreat out of Mudville Coliseum and into the night. A man and woman talked in low voices, telling each other that at least they had made it to the World Series. An Amtrak train clattered past, its whistle making a properly mournful cry, and the woman perked up. "It'll be good to see the 49ers play," she said.