The Cincinnati Reds made a season out of playing team baseball, filling in for each other and picking each other up when needed. Saturday night, the same work ethic made them champions of the baseball world. Playing with two starters at the hospital because of injuries, the Reds rallied to beat Oakland 2-1 behind a stellar pitching performance by Jose Rijo and swept to their first World Series championship since 1976. Rijo was named MVP of the Series.
These Reds insist they are not a new version of the Big Red Machine of the mid-1970s. Fine. Then they are The Little Team That Could. Written off in preseason, expected to fade during the regular season, predicted to lose to Pittsburgh in the playoffs and all but guaranteed to fall to Oakland in the Series, the Reds are instead celebrating a championship.
The victory was especially sweet for manager Lou Piniella and general manager Bob Quinn, who came to the Reds after frustrating terms with the New York Yankees.
Rijo was nothing short of spectacular Saturday in beating the A's, a team for which he played for three frustrating seasons. He pitched 8 innings, allowing two first-inning hits and striking out nine as the Reds rallied from a 1-0 deficit. Randy Myers, the leader of the Reds' celebrated Nasty Boys bullpen, got pinch-hitter Jose Canseco to ground out and Carney Lansford to fly out to close out the game and the season.
Saturday's game developed quickly. With one out in the home first, Willie McGee, starting in place of struggling and injured Canseco, hit a sinking liner to leftfield. Reds leftfielder Eric Davis dived for the ball and appeared to make the catch, but dropped it when he hit the ground hard and rolled over.
After a pop out and an intentional walk to Harold Baines (ordered after the count was unintentionally 2-0), Carney Lansford singled hard to center, scoring McGee without a throw.
Those were the only two hits the A's would get off Rijo.
"All year long I felt like we got what we earned. We earned a 100-plus victories, we earned the AL championship and we got what we earned here," said Oakland manager Tony La Russa. "Cincinnati outplayed us and they earned the final prize."
Oakland starter Dave Stewart, determined to redeem himself for his four-inning performance in Game 1, breezed through the first five innings Saturday, and worked out of jams in the sixth and seventh. But his error on an eighth-inning bunt played a big part in the Reds taking a 2-1 lead.
Barry Larkin led off the eighth with a single. Herm Winningham took two strikes trying to bunt, then laid down a bunt so perfect that he beat the throw to first. Next up was Paul O'Neill, and he too bunted. Stewart's throw pulled Willie Randolph across first base, and O'Neill was safe, loading the bases with no outs.
Glenn Braggs then hit a sharp grounder to shortstop, but Randolph couldn't complete the double play after taking the throw from Mike Gallego. Larkin scored on the play to tie the game. The Reds went ahead when Hal Morris hit a long sacrifice fly to rightfield, allowing Winningham to score.
The Reds loaded the bases in the sixth with one out. But Stewart forced a grounder to second base from Morris, and Gallego withstood Braggs' hard slide to turn the double play. It was all the more important because Chris Sabo, who homered twice Friday and singled in his first two at-bats Saturday, was on deck.
In the seventh, Sabo led off with a double that hit about one foot from the top of the left-centerfield wall, and he went to third on a groundout. He was stranded when Joe Oliver grounded out to third and Mariano Duncan flied to centerfield.
The A's had a chance to add to their lead in the second when Gallego and Rickey Henderson walked and moved up to second and third. Rijo struck out McGee to end the threat.
The Reds got off to a rough start. Billy Hatcher, their leading hitter (9-for-12) through the first three games, was hit on the left hand by a Stewart pitch in the top of the first inning. He stayed in the game initially, but did not take the field for the bottom of the second inning and was replaced by Winningham.
In the bottom of the first, Davis suffered a severe bruise to his rib cage and possible kidney damage diving for McGee's ball. Davis, batting .286 (4-for-14) with a home run, finished the inning, but was taken to the clubhouse doubled over in pain. Braggs batted for him in the second.
Both Hatcher and Davis were taken to an Oakland hospital for evaluation and X-rays.
THE MVP: RIJO
G IP H ER BB SO
1 7 7 0 2 5
2 8 1/3 2 1 3 9
Tot 15 1/3 9 1 5 14