Two hours after Cincinnati won the World Series, A's pitcher Dave Stewart walked onto the semidarkened field of the Oakland Coliseum and yelled in his squeakiest voice, " Jose Rijo, where are you, you star?" Rijo, still in uniform, had not tired of the celebration. He was still grinning, dancing, holding his 11-month-old son, Jose Jr., kissing his wife, Rosie, and hugging his father-in-law, Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.
Stewart, the 1989 World Series MVP, and Rijo, the 1990 World Series MVP, met five feet in front of home plate, which is about where Rijo's devastating slider had exploded all night. Rijo had defeated Stewart 2-1 to complete the Reds' sweep, but the Oakland ace embraced his former teammate, whispered in his ear, gave him his phone number and said, "You better call me this winter."
"I told Jose I loved him and I was very proud of him," Stewart said. "He's been through a lot. When you get traded, it's not a good feeling. He made the best of it. If we had to lose, I'm glad it was Jose Rijo who beat us."
Beat them twice, in fact, and allowed only one run in 15? innings. Rijo pitched seven shutout innings to win Game 1, and in the clincher gave up just two hits, struck out nine and retired 20 straight hitters before giving way to closer Randy Myers with one out in the ninth. "You could see it in Jose's eyes," said Cincinnati catcher Joe Oliver. "He was on a mission. That's the best I've ever seen him throw."
Said Reds reliever Norm Charlton, "We'll always remember that in the final game of the World Series he beat the team that got rid of him."
Well, the trade wasn't exactly a dump move by Oakland. On Dec. 8, 1987, the A's exchanged Rijo and pitcher Tim Birtsas for slugger Dave Parker, who helped them win two pennants. Rijo had gone 17-22 with a 4.74 ERA for the Athletics from 1985 through '87. "The fans in Oakland loved me," he says, but the same couldn't be said of the A's coaching staff. No one doubted his arm or ability, but there were concerns about his lack of concentration and his happy-go-lucky attitude. The coaches wondered if he fit into the A's scheme when, in 1986, he waved his cap to the Coliseum crowd after striking out 14 in a game he was losing. Rijo claims that his problem with the A's "was that they never let me pitch my own game. With Cincinnati I was allowed to pitch like me. I threw the ball like I know I can."
More to the point, Rijo has matured. Though 1990 was his seventh season in the majors, he is only 25. Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Yankees in 1981 at age 15, Rijo was a big leaguer at 18, and only 22 when Oakland traded him. Around that time, Marichal began a series of stern talks with Rijo about his preparation and concentration. Not coincidentally, Rijo has gone 34-22 with a 2.62 ERA in three years with Cincy. Says Stewart, "He's got the same stuff he had when he was here. He just knows how to use it better now."
When Rijo accepted his MVP award, he jammed a cigar in his face, put his arm around Marichal, who had turned 52 that day, and insisted that his father-in-law stand with him because, as Rijo said, "he put my head together."
As it happened, Sunday was Rosie's birthday. "It's the best present Rijo could have given me," said Rosie, who calls her husband Rijo because "when I met him, there were too many Joses around." Marichal admits he questioned the marriage because it interfered with Rosie's college career. "My wife kept telling her, 'Please, don't marry a ballplayer,' " says Marichal. "It took awhile for us to accept it."
But as Rosie watched her husband and her father stand arm in arm on the podium, she said, "Five years later, my parents love him to death." So does all of Cincinnati.