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Frustration in failure

Oakland vents after yet another postseason flop

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Both Red Sox home runs last night landed in the left-field stands, above the retired numbers of former A's greats Rollie Fingers (34) and Jim "Catfish" Hunter (27). Appropriate. How else could Boston have ruined the A's 2003 playoff run any worse than to remind them of their past, when they once ruled the baseball world? Fingers and Hunter played on the A's World Series champions in 1972, 1973, and 1974.

After the Red Sox defeated the A's, 4-3, last night and won the Division Series, no one spoke about the glory days. Instead, everyone talked about the A's evolving into a postseason joke.

And a few players, led by shortstop Miguel Tejada, complained about gestures Derek Lowe made. After striking out Terrence Long to end the game, Tejada said Lowe immediately grabbed his crotch and gave the middle finger toward the Oakland dugout.

When reporters entered the A's clubhouse following the game, Tejada began screaming and swearing, his remarks geared toward what he considered Lowe's unprofessionalism. A's general manager Billy Beane then approached Tejada and brought him into a back room.

Former Red Sox catcher Scott Hatteberg called Lowe's behavior "classless," a "character flaw," and a "complete lack of respect." Later, Tejada emerged and explained his outrage.

"There were a lot of kids and families who watched that game," said Tejada, who finished the series 2 for 23 and said he saw no other Sox players taunt the A's. "Even his wife might have been in the park. In the field, you have to be careful. You've got to show some respect."

Lowe responded by saying he meant no disrespect, that he was slapping his thigh with his glove, as he has done before.

"It's a situation where if you did anything where you offended anyone, I'm sorry," Lowe said. "I was swinging my arms around. I don't know what I did. I did the same crazy thing I do every game."

Venting aside, Tejada and other A's acknowledged their pain although some felt proud that they actually made the playoffs four straight times considering their low payroll. Beane was among them.

"I'll tell you what," Beane said. "If you want to give us $50 million more, I'll promise you we won't blow that 2-0 lead. Our guys battled their rear ends off. If you guys want to make an issue of it, so be it."

For the fourth straight year, the A's lost in the ALDS. Three times, they led the series before collapsing. Their latest defeat was, by far, the most difficult.

Last nigh, they made a couple of base-running mistakes, allowed only six hits, and loaded the bases in the ninth. But Lowe came in after Scott Williamson walked two, struggled a bit, but then fanned Adam Melhuse and Long (both looking) with his best pitch, a sinker.

"As soon as I made the third out, guys were saying `Good job, there's nothing you can do,' " said Long, who pinch hit for Frank Menechino. "We've been through a lot."

In their two victories, the A's played mistake-free baseball. In Game 3 at Fenway, they committed four errors, Eric Byrnes forgot to touch home plate, and Tejada stopped running after colliding with third baseman Bill Mueller.

On Sunday, David Ortiz's two-run, two-out double pulled the Sox even. And last night, the A's again made some costly blunders. Guillen's double to right-center with two out in the fourth scored Hatteberg and gave the A's a 1-0 lead. But Guillen was thrown out trying to get to third, ending the inning. In the seventh, Jermaine Dye singled to center when Johnny Damon and Damian Jackson collided. Dye tried to advance to second but Nomar Garciaparra threw him out.

Even after the Game 2 win, when Barry Zito was masterful, the A's were asked about their playoff failures. They acknowledged then that they could not relax until they got the third win. They never did, and a long offseason awaits.

"It's real easy to put [the four consecutive series losses] together and say `Oh, the A's can't get out of a series, blah, blah, blah,' " said Zito, who lost on three days' rest. "I still think we're a good team.

"This is probably the first year I really felt we would [win]. I saw myself getting on that plane tomorrow."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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