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A's fans felt lost after weekend

OAKLAND, Calif. -- There's probably no sympathy in Red Sox Nation.

But for the one or two compassionate types somewhere in there, consider A's fans distant relatives when it comes to suffering. No, they haven't endured Bucky or Buckner or nearly nine decades without a World Series title.

Still, for the past four years, Oakland's baseball franchise has teased its fandom. The A's are a great story, the small-payroll team that can hang with the big-market, free-spending clubs. They survive the regular season, advance to the playoffs. And then lose.

Last night, the A's tried to win a playoff series for the first time since the Bash Brothers Era, when they swept the Red Sox in the 1990 American League Championship Series. They had lost their last eight chances to clinch an ALDS, including twice over the weekend at Fenway Park.

Sunday afternoon, 49-year-old Oakland resident Frank Regalado watched his favorite teams on television, clicking between the A's and Raiders games. The Raiders blew a 15-point halftime lead, falling to the Chicago Bears, 24-21. And David Ortiz's two-out, eighth-inning put the A's in another must-win situation.

"It was Black Sunday, I'll tell you," Regalado said. "It was not pretty."

Still, Regalado arrived at Network Associates Coliseum at 10 a.m. yesterday and bought Game 5 tickets for himself and his cousin, Carmelo Almaraz. Three hours before the game, they sat in chairs in one of the stadium parking lots.

They drank beer, chewed sunflower seeds, and ate carne asada and salsa. It's their last chance, they said, to salvage a miserable few days.

A week earlier, optimism reigned in these parts. The San Francisco Giants entered the playoffs with 100 after leading the National League West the entire season with a first-year manager (Felipe Alou) and the game's best player (Barry Bonds).

All summer, Bonds received plenty of attention in the Bay area. His father, Bobby, battled illness and eventually died in August. Bonds also chased his godfather, Willie Mays, for third on the all-time home run list. And the A's overtook the Seattle Mariners for the AL West title, clinching home-field advantage against the Red Sox.

Now? A caller to sports radio station KNBR yesterday afternoon asked the show's host, NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, how he felt. Barry, speaking for many area sports fans, said he was "depressed."

"We've had our share of bad luck," said Mike Neuman, a Santa Cruz resident standing in line yesterday waiting for the Coliseum to open at 3 p.m. "We need this tonight."

Meanwhile, the A's seemed confident, at least on the outside, despite their recent history. In 2000, the A's advanced to the playoffs for the first time in eight years and lost in four games to the Yankees. The next year, they led the Yankees, 2-0, before losing. Last season, they won two of the first three games against the Twins and lost.

"I think there's more apprehension in the papers," A's manager Ken Macha said. "These guys are ready to play."

Said outfielder Jose Guillen, "We've just got a game to play. That's it."

As the A's took batting practice yesterday, a large contingent of Red Sox fans stood behind the visiting dugout, sometimes booing. They also couldn't resist a few vulgar chants regarding the Yankees.

So it came down to one game last night, the winner facing the Yankees and the loser facing an offseason of endless questions.

San Jose residents Matt and Jerry Cox and Mike Wilkins attended all three games at the Coliseum, the first two with their wives and children. Last night, the trio came alone. Jerry and Matt, father and son, are Red Sox fans who carried a "Cowboy Up, Boston" sign. Wilkins, Matt's friend, loves the A's. This was serious, they said.

"The pressure's on now," Wilkins said. "But at least we've got some [recent] titles."

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