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Bit players were a bit better

Think, for a minute, about these World Series champion Cincinnati Reds. Think about what they did, and who they are.

The Oakland A's have Jose Canseco, Dave Henderson and Rickey Henderson; the Reds have Billy Hatcher, Glenn Braggs and Herm Winningham. The A's have Carney Lansford and Terry Steinbach; the Reds have Chris Sabo and Joe Oliver. The A's have Dave Stewart; the Reds have Jose Rijo. The A's have Willie McGee coming off their bench; the Reds have Billy Bates.

You get the idea.

The Reds, of course, also have superstars like Eric Davis and Barry Larkin. But it is because of the contributions of their bit players that the Reds are in the spotlight this day and the A's are asking questions.

The casting call reads more like a list of castoffs than World Series heroes:

Hatcher, an outfielder who had been traded three times in 4{ years, hitting a Series record .750, including 7-for-7 through Games 1 and 2.

Bates, an infielder with 15 games' major-league experience, sparking the winning Game 2 rally with his first hit in a Reds uniform.

Oliver, a catcher who spent seven years in the minors, delivering Bates with the winning run in Game 2 with a 10th-inning single.

Sabo, a career .270 hitter and relatively ordinary glove man, turning into Mike Schmidt at the plate (two home runs) and Brooks Robinson in the field (a Series record 10 chances) in Game 3.

Braggs and Winningham, two outfielders custom-made for the tag of role player, coming off the bench and contributing two of the biggest blows in Game 4 _ a run-scoring groundout and a bunt single on an 0-2 count.

Rijo, a pitcher traded by the Yankees and A's, responding to the pressure of the World Series by allowing one run in 15 innings.

"This is not a team of superstars. We are not just Eric Davis or Barry Larkin," said Reds reliever Rob Dibble. "This is a team of guys who just played like superstars."

"Nobody else knew who the other guys on our team were," Oliver said. "But we knew."

In the aftermath of their stunning sweep of the defending champion Athletics, several Reds said they saw this coming in spring training, when the new manager, Lou Piniella, and general manager, Bob Quinn, made it clear the team was headed in a new direction.

Piniella recalled his impressions from those first few days in Plant City.

"I saw a very athletic club. I saw a club with a lot of physical ability. We could run. We could throw. We could hit. We had good speed. We could field. We just had to get it all together," Piniella said.

"My message to the players simply stated was: "You've played together four or five years now, it's time this club goes on and wins. It's your turn. Let's gear ourselves up for that.' And that's exactly what they did."

In the World Series, the Reds took their game to another level. And they don't buy this bit about catching the A's when they were down.

"I don't want to take anything away from Cincinnati," Oakland's Dave Stewart said. "They played as well as any team can play for four games. I'll just say what I said at the start of the Series. The best team doesn't always win it. The team that plays the best wins it. That's what the Reds did, but there's no doubt in my mind that we're still the best team in baseball."

"That's what a World Series is all about _ who's hot and who's not," Oliver said. "Give us credit: We shut down a very good hitting team. We showed what kind of team we are. We're the best."

With the Reds' impressive victory, many Cincinnati fans were drawing inevitable, and wishful, comparisons to the Big Red Machine of the mid-1970s. But Piniella and the players have made a point of quickly dismissing such talk, pointing out that time is what makes a good team great.

So what should this group be called?

"I don't know what you'd call us," Larkin said. "But for 1990, call us world champions."

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