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Post Season Archives
 

1989

Swept Away

As Part II of the World Series began, the Bay Area was recovering from the quake. Then the A's rocked the Giants twice to complete their sweep

by Steve Wulf


THEIRS WAS A CELEBRATION AS UNIQUE and classy as they were.The Oakland Athletics had decided against staging the riotous bacchanal that these days almost always accompanies world titles, sensing, quite rightly, that the sight of players pouring champagne over each other would have been inappropriate in the aftermath of the earthquake that had claimed so many and ruined so much. So, instead, they had an impromptu family get-together, after finishing off their Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco Giants, last Saturday night in the fourth and final game of the 86th World Series. In the visiting clubhouse at Candlestick Park, green and gold balloons stood guard over the players, their wives, children and relatives. World Series MVP Dave Stewart (page 28) proudly showed off his mother, Nathalie. Mike Moore, whose pitching and — gasp! — hitting led the A's to victory in Game 4, carried around his two-year-old twin daughters, Amanda and Jessica. Club executive Bill Rigney, 71, grateful that after 51 years in the game he was finally with a world champion, wiped away a tear and said, "This is wonderful." Oh, there was a little bubbly here and there, but mostly the players sipped beer and soft drinks while graciously answering the questions of the intruding reporters.

The low-key bash seemed right in another way, too. In these days of forgettable champions, of teams that burst on the scene with the pop of a cork and then go flat, these A's are a team to savor — like vintage port — by the fireside.

On a night when America would turn back the clock, so did the Athletics. By defeating the Giants 9-6 in Game 4, Oakland became the first team to sweep the World Series since the Cincinnati Reds did it against the New York Yankees in 1976. Oakland outscored the Giants 32-14, tying the '32 Yankees (who outscored the Chicago Cubs 37-19) for the highest run differential ever in a four-game Series. The A's did it with pitching (Stewart and Moore had two wins apiece and a combined ERA of 1.86); fielding (several dazzling plays and only one error); and hitting (a record eight different players homered to help Oakland to a Series-high .582 slugging percentage). They also did it with an NBA-like flair that some baseball purists found irritating. But as Johnny Bench — a member of the last team to sweep the Series — said, "That's showtime! That's entertainment. Joe Morgan was like that for us. And Pete Rose — he was a quiet player, wasn't he?"

Stewart was the MVP, but the A's had a whole slate of bona fide candidates. Rickey Henderson hit for the cycle in the Series, batted .474 and stole three bases. Dave Henderson cemented his reputation as the new Mr. October (and nearly Mr. November) with two doubles, two homers and a .923 slugging percentage. Terry Steinbach drove in a team-high seven runs. Carney Lansford hit .438 and had a .688 slugging percentage. Moore pitched nearly as well as Stewart, and he broke the American League pitchers' 0-for-70 hitting slump in the Series with a two-run double in the second inning Saturday, the key hit of Game 4. And Tony Phillips made three sensational plays at second in the final game. If it weren't for the unexpected generosity of Oakland's middle relievers, who gave up eight runs in the last two games, the '89 A's would seem as imposing as, say, the '27 Yankees. Come to think of it, both teams were managed by lawyers, Tony LaRussa and Miller Huggins, and had rightfielders with a penchant for speeding, Jose Canseco and Babe Ruth. (Hmmm, wonder how a 1-900-234-BABE number would have done.)

The poor Giants. Kevin Mitchell, with 47 homers and 125 RBIs, and Will Clark (.333, 23 homers, 111 RBIs) had carried them all year, but in the Series the team's biggest RBI men were Bill Bathe (!) and Greg Litton (!!), with three apiece. Scott Garrelts, the National League ERA leader (2.28), was 0-2 in the Series, with a 9.82 ERA. San Francisco's team batting average was .209, and its team ERA was 8.21. Thank goodness the Giants mounted a threat in Game 4, or they might have had to apologize for being in the Series.

In the comfort of their own clubhouse after the game, the Giants seemed more impressed than depressed. "I've played in two Series in this decade, against the two best teams of the 1980s, the '84 Tigers and the '89 A's," said San Francisco catcher Terry Kennedy, who was also a member of the '84 Padres. "They're similar teams. They had the same look in their eyes. The A's were a tidal wave, and we just couldn't get out of the way."

 The San Francisco Earthquake overshadowed baseball

1989:
The San Francisco Earthquake overshadowed baseball

photograph by
Richard Mackson


It was a natural disaster of a different sort, however, that will forever mark this World Series. At 5:04 p.m. on Oct. 17 — half an hour before the start of Game 3 — an earthquake that measured 7.1 on the Richter scale shook northern California and brought the Series to an abrupt halt. Postponed for 10 days while the Bay Area recovered, this became the longest Series on record even though it ended in the minimum number of games. How long was the layoff? Well, Steinbach became the first player in Series history to grow a beard between Games 2 and 3. Asked if any of the A's had requested counseling after the quake, team physician Dr. Allan Pont, said, "No, that's what we've got Dave Parker for."

By the time the Series was resumed last Friday, it was permissible to joke a little about the circumstances. The Battle of the Bay had become the Rattle of the Bay, and Candlestick Park was dubbed Wiggly Field by columnist Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle. Early arrivals checked out the park, and the only thing they could find awry was that the A's were missing. The team bus had been stuck in traffic on the San Mateo Bridge — the alternate route they had to take because of the damage to the Bay Bridge — and they arrived at Candlestick nearly an hour late for batting practice. "I wasn't worried," said first baseman Mark McGwire. "I'm from Southern California, so I find traffic relaxing. Besides, they weren't going to start the game without us."

The A's rushed through BP, and Dave Henderson looked ineffective. "I feel like — — ," he told Parker. "That's good," replied Parker. "You're supposed to feel like — — at a time like this."

At 5:04, a moment of silence was held in memory of the earthquake victims, and then — to demonstrate the indomitability of Bay Area residents — the cast of the campy musical Beach Blanket Babylon led the crowd in singing San Francisco, which begins: "San Francisco, open your Golden Gate. . . ."

Unfortunately, the Giants took the lyrics literally. Garrelts opened the gate, first by giving up a single to Lansford and then by giving a little chin music to Canseco. "When they threw close to Jose," said Steinbach, "I wanted to say, 'Thank you.' You don't want to wake him up." Canseco promptly singled, thus ending his 0-for-23 Series slump. Dave Henderson followed with a double off the top of the rightfield fence, and it was 2-0, A's.

Oakland had increased its lead to 4-1 when Stewart ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs and the bases loaded, Kennedy singled in two runs. Then Pat Sheridan hit a shot between first and second that looked as if it would tie the score. But McGwire dived to his right, snagged the ball and shoveled a pass to Stewart to get out of the inning. It was an extraordinarily big piece of glovework by a man usually known for his big bat, and it set the stage for the fifth, when Canseco blasted a three-run homer to left center and Dave Henderson hit his second homer of the game. Soon Oakland led 13-3. The Giants came up with four runs in the ninth, three on Bathe's pinch-hit home run, but by then many of the 62,038 fans had already left.

Things looked pretty dark for San Francisco. "Only 10 teams have come back from 2-0, and nobody's come back from 3-0," said Kennedy. "It would be unprofessional of me to make a statement that we're finished. We're going to try to be the first team that comes back. We've got to win four in a row against a club that's playing like this."

The Giants were pinning their hopes in Game 4 on Don Robinson, the gutty but gimpy pitcher whose last start had come more than a month before. Robinson was the only pitcher the A's thought they would have trouble with, but their apprehension diminished when Rickey Henderson knocked the third pitch of the game over the fence in left. In the second inning, Dave Henderson led off with a double, but Robinson appeared to be out of trouble when he intentionally walked Walt Weiss with two outs to get to Moore, who had batted only once before in a major league game. Moore waved feebly at Robinson's first two pitches. Then Kennedy called for an 0-2 fastball, and Moore sent it on a line to center. Centerfielder Brett Butler froze in disbelief and the ball carried over his glove and rolled to the wall. Said Kennedy afterward, "One word came to mind — typical."

Moore had an 8-0 lead when he gave up a two-run homer to Mitchell in the sixth, and La Russa decided to take him out at the end of the inning. Relievers Gene Nelson and Rick Honeycutt let the Giants back in the game in the seventh, and with the score at 8-6, two outs and a man on, La Russa brought in Todd Burns to face Mitchell. With the count at 2-2, Burns hung a breaking ball, and Mitchell sent it deep to left, but it came down in Rickey Henderson's glove, at the fence.

No sooner had the game ended than there was talk of a new A's dynasty, comparable to the one that won three consecutive world championships in 1972, '73 and '74. "Two World Series in two years, and they're just babies," said Rigney. But, as Steinbach said, "There are a lot of ifs involved. If everyone stays together, if everyone stays happy, if everyone stays healthy."

But if any organization was built for the long haul, it's the A's. As exuberant as they are on the field, they are extremely businesslike off it. When general manager Sandy Alderson was asked how long he would enjoy the moment, he said, "Oh, until the phone starts ringing on Monday." And pitching coach Dave Duncan took time out from the victory party to tell his pitchers he would be calling them in the next few days to talk about what they should do in the off-season.

After the game, Parker was asked for a scouting report on his team, for the sake of posterity. He answered, "Rickey Henderson: good as he wants to be. Carney Lansford: hardest working man in baseball. Jose Canseco: pure talent. Mark McGwire: a glove as good as his bat. Dave Henderson: a money player. Terry Steinbach: best catcher in the American League. Tony Phillips: the best-kept secret in baseball. Walt Weiss: the best young shortstop in the game. Dave Stewart: the complete pitcher. Mike Moore: the same. Dennis Eckersley: a strike-throwing machine. Tony La Russa: the best-prepared manager in baseball. And Dave Parker: takes a licking, but keeps on ticking.

"Say, do you think I can get an endorsement from Timex for saying that? Wait. What's the slogan for Rolex?"

Time will tell whether these Athletics will be classed with the great teams of the past — the Big Red Machine, the early '70s A's, the '36-to-'39 Yankees, the '27-to-'28 Yankees. But you can at least say that in 1989, the A's were a most extraordinary team in the most extraordinary World Series in history.


 

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