The delivery wasremarkably fast and surprisingly easy. Quicker than you can say Tucker ThomasBrowning, a new world champion was born last week, and it wasn't the team thatmost reasonable people expected to win, much less sweep, the 87th World Series.The Cinderella Reds beat the Oakland Athletics 2-1 in the fourth and final gamelast Saturday night to give Cincinnati its first Series trophy since 1976 andthe rest of the baseball world something of a shock.
Stunned fans,media and A's looked like so many bobblehead dolls, nodding and shaking theirheads, as the Reds cavorted on the field of the Oakland Coliseum at 8:14Pacific Daylight Time. The A's had won 103 games in the regular season and hadbreezed into their third straight Fall Classic by sweeping the Boston Red Soxin the American League Championship Series. The Reds had won only 91regular-season games and had struggled to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in theplayoffs. No team with so few victories had ever swept a World Series. The onlyother time a team had swept an opponent that had at least 12 more wins duringthe regular season was in 1954, when the New York Giants took four straightfrom the Cleveland Indians.
"The A's havethe best talent in baseball," said Reds first baseman Todd Benzinger."But we have the best team." Despite the bravado, some of the Reds werea little surprised by how easily they had won. Outfielder Billy Hatcher, whoseseven consecutive hits established a Series record and whose .750 battingaverage (9 for 12) broke a mark for a four-game Series set by none other thanBabe Ruth (.625 in 1928), said afterward, "We never let 'em get out of thebox. I'll tell you something, though. I wouldn't want to be in their divisionnext year. If we come back to the Series, I hope and pray we'll be playing theRed Sox or somebody else. I don't want to play them again. They'rescary."
As disappointedas they must have been, the Athletics were gracious in defeat. Several cameover to the visiting clubhouse after the game to offer their congratulations.Oakland manager Tony La Russa embraced Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella, an oldfriend and teammate from their Tampa American Legion Post 248 team, and said,"It was almost enjoyable to see."
The Series, shortthough it may have been, was memorable. It featured a newborn son, a tornfather-in-law, a First Lady, a pooch and a third baseman nicknamed after apooch. The Reds, not the A's, played BillyBall, their Billys being Hatcher andBates. The A's, not the Reds, became Nasty Boys, pointing fingers at oneanother and bashing fellow Bash Brother Jose Canseco.
In addition tothe family dramas, there was plenty of suspense, especially in Games 2 and 4.But then, as pitcher Tom Browning, who had a rather interesting week, put it,"We've had people on the seat of their pants all season."
That wasn't theonly malaprop of the Series. Reds owner Marge Schott dedicated the Series to"our women and men in the Far East." (She meant the Mideast, of course,but she also might have said Midwest.) And during an off-day interview session,Hatcher told reporters, "There wasn't an empty house in the seat." Asit turned out, those were about the only mistakes the Reds made all week.
The Series beganon Oct. 16 in Cincinnati, and most of the nation's baseball press brought alongstone tablets on which to etch the chronicles of those Dynasty Boys, theAthletics. The citizens of Porkopolis and their beloved Reds would have none ofthat talk, however. At a noontime rally in Fountain Square, the emcee told acrowd of 7,000 fans, "We have to play a team that everyone says isunbeatable." After an appropriate chorus of boos, he said, "I guess youdon't believe in that theory." Schott, accompanied by her St. Bernard,Schottzie, then led the crowd in the singing of Take Me Out to the BallGame.
As the two teamstook the field at Riverfront Stadium for Ball Game 1, there was hardly an emptyhouse in the seat. Before the Series, Schott suggested that her players weartheir Schottzie caps (Reds hats with long, floppy dog ears) in the firstinning, to which pitcher Jose Rijo said, "I wouldn't pitch like that. Noway, Jose." True to his word, Rijo, a former Athletic, wore a conventionalcap for his matchup with his onetime mentor, Dave Stewart.
As it turned out,the Reds could have worn nearly anything and still have won. In the very firstinning, leftfielder Eric Davis hit a Pat O'Brien-seeking missile near the CBSstudio in left center to give Cincinnati a 2-0 lead. (DAVIS STUNS GOLIATH readthe headline in The Cincinnati Post the next day.) Hatcher's double in thethird, his first hit of so many, keyed a two-run rally, and his double in thefifth started a three-run rally off reliever Todd Burns. Rijo pitched sevenshutout innings before turning the game over to the ever-charming, pea-throwingNasty Boys, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers.
This was a gamethe A's were supposedly ordained to win, what with big-game hunter Stewart onthe mound and all, yet Cincinnati came out on top 7-0. Having knocked theAthletics' blocks off, the Reds revealed a few chips on their own shoulders."Everybody's gonna say that this is the only game we're gonna win,"said Dibble. "Everybody's gonna say the A's will come back."
Said thirdbaseman Chris Sabo, who had a two-run single in the fifth, "People who makepredictions are people who never played." When Davis was asked if the Redshad shown the nation how good they were, he replied, "The nation doesn'tconcern me. The nation ain't in this clubhouse." A quick look aroundrevealed that he might have been wrong about that.
The one Red whoseemed to be having a good time was Rijo. He had gotten into some hot water inthe playoffs when he declared, after Cincinnati had taken a three-games-to-onelead over the Pirates, that "it's over." Asked after Game 1, "Is itover?" Rijo answered, "No, no, no, no, no, no. Jogi's right: It's notover till it's over." Then, in explaining why there's less pressure in theSeries than in the playoffs, Rijo uttered his own Jogi-ism: "When you gethere, you're there."
The victory gaveRijo a leg up on his father-in-law, Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, whose onlyWorld Series appearance had been four shutout innings in Game 4 of the SanFrancisco Giants' 1962 Series with the New York Yankees—he had to leave thatgame when Whitey Ford hit him on the hand with a pitch. Marichal was inCincinnati as the analyst for Major League Baseball's Spanish-languagebroadcast, but he is also director of Oakland's Latin-American scouting. "Iwanted Jose to pitch well, but I wanted the A's to win," said Marichal."My daughter Rosie [Rijo's wife] doesn't understand that I have to root forthe A's."
Game 2 had afamily angle as well. George Bush had been the probable first-ball pitcher buthad to cancel—budget crisis, you know. So Barbara Bush was named to replacehim, which immediately got Schott to thinking, Why not bring Millie to playwith Schottzie? Millie, the White House springer spaniel, couldn't make it,however—budget crisis, you know. So the First Lady took the field solo to throwout the first ball. Said her catcher, Cincinnati's Joe Oliver, "She had apretty good fastball, good movement. I'm glad I had a sponge in mymitt."
After the throw,the First Lady gave Oliver a peck on the cheek, and the next thing anyone knew,she was bussing Piniella and La Russa, Schott was kissing La Russa andPiniella, and La Russa was down on his knees talking to Schottzie, who waswearing a Reds cap. One could only imagine what La Russa, an ardentanimal-rights activist, was saying to the Saint Bernard. ("You don't haveto let yourself be humiliated like this, you know. Let me take off your collar.Now run, girl, run....") La Russa later described Schottzie this way:"She was gorgeous. The highlight was definitely getting to Schottzie. She'sa great lady."
Oh yeah, thegame. Cincinnati won 5-4 in the 10th inning of one of the most exciting gamesin World Series history. The A's finally scored a run, in the first on a Rickeyrally: Henderson singled, stole second, went to third on a sacrifice and scoredon a groundout. But the Reds came right back with two runs in the bottom of thefirst off 27-game winner Bob Welch: Hatcher doubled in a run and scored after afly-out and ground-out. The A's recaptured the lead in the third, chasingstarter Danny Jackson with three runs, the first of which came on a solo homerby Canseco. Cincinnati closed the score to 4-3 in the fourth on a pinch singleby Ron Oester that Piniella later called "the turning point of theSeries."
The real turningpoint came in the bottom of the eighth. Even though the A's had a one-run leadand closer Dennis Eckersley was warmed up, La Russa let Welch start the inning.Hatcher—the name comes up a lot in stories about underdog teams beating the A'sin the World Series (viz., Mickey Hatcher of the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers)—ledoff the inning with a fly ball to right that Canseco misplayed. The resultingtriple broke the Series record of six consecutive hits, held by Goose Goslin(1924) and Thurman Munson ('76). Hatcher could have scored when Davis flied toright, but for some reason he froze at third. Fortunately for him, he did tiethe score when pinch-hitter Glenn Braggs grounded to short.
In the bottom ofthe 10th, La Russa finally called on Eckersley. He got Davis out on a grounder,and Piniella, running out of players, turned to little-used, little-sizedinfielder Billy Bates. Bates, who had been added to the postseason roster onlybecause Bill Doran was injured, had a grand total of three hits in the majors.He was so expendable that the Reds offered him up in a race against a cheetahduring a late-season promotion for the Cincinnati Zoo. Bates won, but thecheetah had stopped to pick up the cap that had flown off Bates's head.
Eckersley,perhaps the greatest relief pitcher of all time, got two quick strikes onBates. He fouled off another strike. Then he swung, barely catching the tophalf of the ball. It took a crazy bounce to the left of the mound. Thirdbaseman Carney Lansford couldn't handle the ball, and Bates was on first. Noproblem. Righthanded hitters batted .152 against the Eck this year, and thenext two batters, Sabo and Oliver, hit .235 and .179, respectively, againstrighties.
Problem. Sabosingled to left—on a pitch Eckersley thought Sabo should have hit for a homerun—to put runners on first and second with one out. Oliver bounced a ball downthe third base line that Lansford might have gotten had he been playing closerto the bag and certainly would have gotten had the game been played on grass.But the ball skittered past him, and Bates raced the cheetah home and wasnearly hit by a huge white streamer that fell to the ground. Bedlam ensued.
Afterward LaRussa uncharacteristically questioned the play of his right-fielder, Canseco.Even more in question, though, was La Russa's strategy. If La Russa had sentEckersley into the game to start the eighth inning, the outcome might have beenentirely different. Little wonder some newspaper columnists described La Russaas "Man Asleep," a takeoff on Men at Work, George Will's best-sellingbaseball book, which includes a laudatory chapter on La Russa's managerialacumen.
The Billys couldhave been goats, but they were the heroes. "To tell you the truth,"said Bates, "things happened so quickly, I didn't even realize this was aWorld Series game." Said Oester of Bates, "He's sort of like the mascotof the team."
Hatcher is suchan unassuming sort that when he was told of the record he had broken, he said,"Thank you." He also said personal records didn't mean anything to him:"I want a ring. When I was with Houston, Yogi Berra used to show me allthose rings, and I want one. They're pretty."
Unbeknownst tothe 55,832 people in attendance, another drama was unfolding underneath thestands. Debbie Browning, the wife of Tom, went into labor during the game—hercontractions were coming one batter apart—and she left her seat in the fifthinning to drive herself to the hospital. A van, however, was blocking her car,so she went into the Cincinnati clubhouse to get help. Word of her predicamentwas passed to her husband. Browning, who was scheduled to start Game 3, figuredhe wouldn't be needed, so he left to drive her to St. Elizabeth South withouttelling anyone. "She was in the driver's seat," said Browning later,"and I just asked her, 'Can I go?' " The Brownings, who have two otherchildren, Tiffany, 6, and Tanner, 3, arrived at the hospital in 20 minutes.
In the meantime,Piniella was running out of pitchers and asked pitching coach Stan Williams,"Where's Browning?" Williams didn't know. Eventually, the Reds,thinking that Browning was en route to a nearby hospital, had radio broadcasterMarty Brennaman put out an APB on Browning, a bulletin that was picked up byTim McCarver on CBS, who passed it along in the ninth inning. That's whenBrowning, who was watching the game in a hospital waiting room, got themessage. "When I heard that, I panicked," he said. "But I decided Iwouldn't leave Debbie until I knew she and the baby were all right."
He was stilldressed in his uniform, of course. "I looked kind of goofy, like some sortof crazy fan who had wandered into the hospital," he said. The doctor madehim get rid of his chaw, and he had taken off his hat, but there he was in hisscrubs as a Caesarean section was performed on Debbie. The game ended at 11:57p.m., and Tucker Thomas Browning came into the world at 12:37 a.m., weighingsix pounds, 11 ounces. "He came out crying, 'Win! Win!' " said Tom.
By the time allparties had arrived in Oakland on Thursday, the A's were being hit over thehead with all those stone tablets the writers had brought. Canseco, inparticular, was hit hard. He had become the symbol of the Athletics' failure inthe first two games. Even Stewart had criticized his play. To be fair, Cansecowas hurt, with both a sore back and a sore forefinger on his right hand. Still,La Russa thought he should have a heart-to-heart, or toe-to-toe, talk withCanseco as the other A's worked out.
For their part,the Reds were talking about Browning, who had boarded the charter with onehour's sleep and was scheduled to pitch in 24 hours. The lefthander patientlyrecounted his adventures for the press time and time again as Rijo patrolledthe outfield dressed in a T-shirt that read: IT'S OVER.
If Game 2 was oneof the best games in Series history, Game 3 might have been one of the worst,at least as far as Oakland is concerned. Stewart threw out the ceremonial firstball in recognition of his Roberto Clemente Award for community involvement,but Mike Moore made the first pitch, and he had nothing. He dodged a bullet inthe first, giving up three singles and no runs, but in the second he served upa solo homer to Sabo. The A's took the lead in the bottom of the inning on atwo-run homer by Harold Baines, but in the top of the third, Moore allowed fivemore runs, two on Sabo's second homer. Mark McGwire made an error in theinning, and centerfielder Dave Henderson made an egregious throw to third thatenabled a runner to advance a base.
When ScottSanderson took over for Moore, the game was over. Just to make sure, Sandersongave up a double to Oliver, a single to Mariano Duncan and a triple to BarryLarkin. All in all, 11 Reds came to the plate in the third, and seven of themscored. A solo homer by Rickey Henderson in the third ended the scoring at 8-3.Canseco had a chance to get the A's back into the game in the fifth when hecame up with two men on and two out, but he flied out to right.
Oakland fans wholeft early to beat the traffic were excused. The stadium speakers played B.B.King's The Thrill Is Gone. And for a minute, fans thought Oakland catcher TerrySteinbach was wandering around the upper deck in full armor. It turned out tobe an imposter, but such was the state of things that had it really beenSteinbach, the crowd would have understood.
Browning was notoverwhelming, but he did give Cincinnati six innings before giving way toDibble and Myers. Hey, he was still a little foggy from lack of sleep. "Ican't tell if the last 48 hours were heaven or hell," said Browning.
He is sodown-to-earth that he took "that railroad, the BART" to the Coliseumwith Reds equipment manager Bernie Stowe and Stowe's son Rick. "I don'tknow how he's even standing on his feet," said the younger Stowe. "Thephone started ringing at seven this morning."
Besides hittingwhat Rickey Henderson called "key home runs," Sabo also set two Seriesrecords: errorless chances in a game at third base (10) and lifeless responsesto postgame questions (75). Sabo, who's known as Spuds for his resemblance to acertain beer hound, didn't seem to be enjoying himself. Said Sabo after Game 3,"I don't have much to say. I like to do my job. I get no satisfactiongetting publicity. I'd rather have my teammates appreciate me."
And they do. Saidrightfielder Paul O'Neill, "A storybook game. He hit two home runs, he goton base, he made great defensive plays on a field he has never played on. Hekind of took us on his shoulders and played the game for us."
Sabo alsocautioned his teammates not to get overconfident. "Anybody here who thinksit's over, I oughta slap 'em around a bit," he said. Little wonder thatRijo was walking around with his mouth taped shut. Taking the tape off for amoment, Rijo said, "It's not over. But it's close."
Of the 17 teamsthat had trailed three games to none in the World Series, only three had wonthe fourth game, and none had won the fifth. So the odds were against the A'scoming back. Still, they did have Stewart on the mound for Game 4. And what'sthis? La Russa surprises everybody by starting Willie McGee, who hadn't startedin Games 2 or 3, in right instead of Canseco and Jamie Quirk behind the plateinstead of Steinbach.
In spite of thelast-minute lineup changes, or maybe because of them, the mood was hardlyfestive in the Coliseum last Saturday evening. One banner, its creator tryinghard to get on CBS, referring to the size of a certain contract, read: CANSECOBAGS SERIES—$23 MILLION? Overhead, a plane carried a streamer for AmnestyInternational that included a phone number and the message STOP TORTURE. One ofthe few hopeful signs read: IT'S NOT OVER 'TIL MARGE SINGS.
Stewart sent amessage—albeit inadvertently—to the Reds in the first inning, when he hitHatcher on the left hand with a pitch. Hatcher had to leave the game an inninglater and go to the hospital for X-rays, which were negative. The A's scoredtheir only run in their half of the first. McGee hit a sinking liner to leftcenter, and Davis dived for it. He caught the ball, but upon rolling over, hedropped it and bruised his ribs and a kidney. Davis, too, left the game afterthe first inning to go to the hospital, where he was to stay for five to sevendays. With two out, Piniella had Rijo walk Baines with first base open. Thatcuriously conservative ploy backfired when Lansford singled in McGee.
Rijo walked twobatters in the second, but after that he was literally perfect. Mixing in whathe called his best slider of the year with a fastball clocked at 90-plus mph,he set the A's down in order in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh andeighth. Stewart worked out of jams in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh,although he later said, "Those jams were cake."
The cake crumbledin the eighth. Or rather, the balloon popped. At the start of the inning, ayellow balloon came wandering across the infield behind the mound. Stewartwalked over to the balloon and playfully spiked it. Said Dibble, "In thebullpen we knew immediately that Stewart had done a stupid thing. He had bursthis own balloon."
Larkin led offwith a single. Herm Winningham, who had replaced Hatcher, laid down atwo-strike bunt that neither Stewart nor Quirk could field in time. When thenext batter, O'Neill, laid down another bunt, Stewart picked up the ball andthrew wide of first. First base ump Randy Marsh said the throw pulled WillieRandolph off the bag, although replays showed that he was wrong and thatO'Neill was out. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Braggs. who had replacedDavis, grounded into a force play at second, and Larkin scored the tying run.Then Hal Morris hit a sacrifice fly to deep rightfield, and suddenly the Redswere ahead 2-1.
Rijo caught DaveHenderson looking to lead off the bottom of the ninth for his 20th straightout, but with the lefthanded Baines coming up, Piniella went out to the mound.Said Piniella later, "I asked him if he wanted to stay in, and he said,'That's up to you.' When a pitcher tells me that, I know it's time."
So he summonedMyers in from the bullpen. La Russa countered with—this soundsfunny—pinch-hitter Jose Canseco. Canseco grounded out to Sabo, and Lansfordpopped out to Benzinger. Thus ended the game, the Series and the dynasty."It's over big time," said Rijo.
Said Schott,"Wasn't it nice of the men to let me win one? My only regrets are that thefans in Cincinnati and Schottzie couldn't be here to celebrate with us."Then, patting her left side, she said, "I did bring something of Schottziewith me." Inside her dress, apparently, was some hair of the dog.
Though the Redscouldn't share the celebration with many fans, they did party late intoSaturday night on the Coliseum field with family and friends and scores of TVcrews. Drinking something out of a Gatorade container—sparkling cider, nodoubt—Browning said, "I can't wait to tell Tucker that he was born while wewere becoming world champions."
Browning thentilted his head back, laughed the laugh of a madman and said. "Worldchampions. Kind of has a nice ring to it. don't you think?"