REAL OR NOT, THE HOME FIELD advantage is one of the oldest factors in sports. Now, a scientific study finds some truth to the adage, and fingers jet lag as a reason.

To best gauge the influence of long flights, the study, reported in the Oct. 19 Nature magazine, examines matchups between East and West Coast baseball teams for the 1991-93 seasons. When eastern teams went west, their hosts triumphed in 56% of the games. But the easterners won 63% of home games against westerners. In fact, East Coast teams scored 1.24 more runs at home against a western rival than their normal showing.

Lawrence Recht, a neurologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School at Worcester who did the study with two fellow physicians, isn't sure of the reason for the difference. Yet Recht, a baseball fan, suspects it doesn't matter in World Series and playoff games, because player motivation outweighs travel fatigue.

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