Dave Stewart and Jose Rijo go way back together.

Tonight, they will also be on the mound for Game 1 of the World Series between Oakland and Cincinnati at Riverfront Stadium.Tonight, they will also be on the mound for Game 1 of the World Series between Oakland and Cincinnati at Riverfront Stadium.

"I was playing in the Dominican Republic in 1978 when I first met Jose," Stewart said. "He was too young to play, so he had to watch."

Pitching in big games is nothing new for Stewart. He is 5-1 lifetime in the American League playoffs and was the World Series MVP last season when he beat San Francisco twice.

The leaves changing color in October and Stewart pitching in the World Series are quickly becoming synonymous.

"Dave Stewart was one of the best teammates I've had in my short career in baseball," Rijo said. "He was one of the few guys to come to me when I struggled."

The A's haven't struggled too much since Stewart arrived. They have won three straight AL pennants and are trying to become the first team to win consecutive World Series since the 1977-78 New York Yankees.

This time, they will have to do it without sure-handed shortstop Walt Weiss. Weiss, as expected, will miss the World Series with a knee injury. But they do have Stewart for three games, if necessary.

Stewart signed with the A's on May 23, 1986, after being released by the Philadelphia Phillies. Six weeks later, Jackie Moore was fired as manager and Tony La Russa took over.

La Russa's first move as manager was to name Stewart his starting pitcher for a game at Boston against Roger Clemens. It seemed to set the tone for a very successful run.

"With Tony, my first conversation was by telephone when he was still in Florida," Stewart said. "He asked me if I knew who I'd be pitching against and I said, `That's fine, I'll be ready.' "

Stewart has been ready ever since, too. He has won 20 games in each of the last four seasons, averaging 36 starts and 265 innings a season. Since La Russa asked him to make that start in Boston, Stewart has not missed a turn in the rotation.

Like teammate Dennis Eckersley, Stewart is building a Hall of Fame career after turning 30 and being placed on baseball's scrap heap.

"After you win a couple of times, there's a greater determination," said Stewart, who pitched a no-hitter this season against Toronto. "It's a quiet determination, but more intense."

It's a feeling, a look, that can only be seen in Stewart's eyes when he's throwing the ball. A look, like his pitches, that Rijo hasn't quite mastered.

When Stewart is on, forget the left-handers, right-handers matchup stats. They mean nothing. But when he's occasionally off, Cecil Fielder will hit a home run out of Tiger Stadium.

"Several things have taken place since I've come to Oakland, and that's part of it," Stewart said. "My job is to go out every fourth or fifth day, and I've learned to be intense for each ballgame. I need to go out and get hitters out. As a pitcher, I concentrate, stay focused and think in key situations."

With Stewart, 27-game winner Bob Welch and Mike Moore, the A's have the edge in starting pitching over Rijo, Danny Jackson and Tom Browning. But this is a series that could very well be decided by the Nasty Boys - relievers Rob Dibble, Randy Myers and Norm Charlton.

"Oakland has a great closer in Dennis Eckersley and three great set-up men in (Todd) Burns, (Gene) Nelson and (Rick) Honeycutt," said Reds manager Lou Piniella, a high school rival of La Russa's. "We have three closers. I think they compare favorably. Our's is more of a power bullpen."

The Pittsburgh Pirates were powerless against the Nasty Boys, scoring one earned run in 15 2-3 innings. But to get to the bullpen, Rijo and friends will have to give Piniella five or six quality innings.

Rijo is still more of a thrower than a thinker. The A's, needing some left-handed power, traded him to the Reds along with pitcher Tim Birtsas before the start of the 1988 season for Dave Parker.

"I asked to be traded," Rijo said. "It worked out for both teams. Parker helped them win two pennants and I got a chance to pitch. Everybody was happy."

As Rijo's teammate for a short time, Stewart thought the right-hander might have been getting some bad advice.

"When he was with us, I saw a guy who was influenced by Joaquin Andujar, and it caused some problems," Stewart said. "But that was then and this is now. He's doing an outstanding job."

After years of unfulfilled promise, Rijo set career highs in victories , games started , innings pitched (197) and strikeouts (152) this season.