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The delivery was remarkably fast and surprisingly easy. Quicker than you can say Tucker Thomas Browning, a new world champion was born last week, and it wasn't the team that most 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 game last Saturday night to give Cincinnati its first Series trophy since 1976 and the rest of the baseball world something of a shock.
Stunned fans, media and A's looked like so many bobblehead dolls, nodding and shaking their heads, as the Reds cavorted on the field of the Oakland Coliseum at 8:14 Pacific Daylight Time. The A's had won 103 games in the regular season and had breezed into their third straight Fall Classic by sweeping the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. The Reds had won only 91 regular-season games and had struggled to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs. No team with so few victories had ever swept a World Series. The only other time a team had swept an opponent that had at least 12 more wins during the regular season was in 1954, when the New York Giants took four straight from the Cleveland Indians.
"The A's have the best talent in baseball," said Reds first baseman Todd Benzinger. "But we have the best team." Despite the bravado, some of the Reds were a little surprised by how easily they had won. Outfielder Billy Hatcher, whose seven consecutive hits established a Series record and whose .750 batting average (9 for 12) broke a mark for a four-game Series set by none other than Babe Ruth (.625 in 1928), said afterward, "We never let 'em get out of the box. I'll tell you something, though. I wouldn't want to be in their division next year. If we come back to the Series, I hope and pray we'll be playing the Red Sox or somebody else. I don't want to play them again. They're scary."
As disappointed as they must have been, the Athletics were gracious in defeat. Several came over to the visiting clubhouse after the game to offer their congratulations. Oakland manager Tony La Russa embraced Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella, an old friend and teammate from their Tampa American Legion Post 248 team, and said, "It was almost enjoyable to see."
The Series, short though it may have been, was memorable. It featured a newborn son, a torn father-in-law, a First Lady, a pooch and a third baseman nicknamed after a pooch. The Reds, not the A's, played BillyBall, their Billys being Hatcher and Bates. The A's, not the Reds, became Nasty Boys, pointing fingers at one another and bashing fellow Bash Brother Jose Canseco.
In addition to the 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 the only 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." As it turned out, those were about the only mistakes the Reds made all week.
The Series began on Oct. 16 in Cincinnati, and most of the nation's baseball press brought along stone tablets on which to etch the chronicles of those Dynasty Boys, the Athletics. The citizens of Porkopolis and their beloved Reds would have none of that talk, however. At a noontime rally in Fountain Square, the emcee told a crowd of 7,000 fans, "We have to play a team that everyone says is unbeatable." After an appropriate chorus of boos, he said, "I guess you don'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 Ball Game.
As the two teams took the field at Riverfront Stadium for Ball Game 1, there was hardly an empty house in the seat. Before the Series, Schott suggested that her players wear their Schottzie caps (Reds hats with long, floppy dog ears) in the first inning, to which pitcher Jose Rijo said, "I wouldn't pitch like that. No way, Jose." True to his word, Rijo, a former Athletic, wore a conventional cap 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 first inning, leftfielder Eric Davis hit a Pat O'Brien-seeking missile near the CBS studio in left center to give Cincinnati a 2-0 lead. (DAVIS STUNS GOLIATH read the headline in The Cincinnati Post the next day.) Hatcher's double in the third, his first hit of so many, keyed a two-run rally, and his double in the fifth started a three-run rally off reliever Todd Burns. Rijo pitched seven shutout innings before turning the game over to the ever-charming, pea-throwing Nasty Boys, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers.