Believe it. It happened.
The Cincinnati Reds, given no chance to beat the Oakland Athletics, needed only four quick games to win the World Series in one of the biggest upsets in baseball history.The Reds won in every way and even completed their improbable sweep Saturday night after losing two star players, Eric Davis and Billy Hatcher, to injuries. Cincinnati again relied on Jose Rijo and rallied for two runs in the eighth inning to win 2-1, and that was it.
The Athletics' third straight trip to the World Series ended with yet another disappointment. In 1988, they lost to Los Angeles, last year's championship was overshadowed by an earthquake and this season, the Reds.
"You don't expect to win a series like this and sweep a team that was playing so well," said first-year manager Lou Piniella. "But we felt we'd play well and thought that if we got some breaks, things would go our way."
Did they ever. Cincinnati outscored the Athletics 22-8, outhit them 45-28, outpitched the best staff in the majors and outplayed them in the field.
"I don't feel like a loser," Oakland manager Tony La Russa said. "But I'm disappointed we lost and we could've done everything better."
Oakland breezed into the Series with a playoff sweep of Boston and a postseason winning streak of 10 games. The Athletics, the winningest team in the majors, were 3-1 favorites in the series, big by baseball standards.
The Reds, who began the season with nine straight victories and held first place all year, closed their year with five wins in a row. The Athletics ended with star slugger Jose Canseco out of the starting lineup because of a hand injury; he pinch hit in the ninth and hit a grounder for the Athletics' next-to-last out of the year.
Rijo pitched two-hit ball for 8 1-3 innings, retiring the final 20 batters he faced, before Randy Myers got the last two hitters, finishing a series in which Reds relievers pitched 13 scoreless innings.
It was Rijo's second victory over Dave Stewart and it earned him the MVP award.
"It's not incredible for me. I thought I could do it," Rijo said. "We've got one of the best teams in baseball now. I guess the A's are second."
For the Reds, it was their ninth straight World Series win, a streak that started in the days of the Big Red Machine. They took advantage of Stewart's first error of the season and scored in the eighth on Glenn Braggs' RBI forceout with the bases loaded and Hal Morris' sacrifice fly.
Barry Larkin singled to left to start the eighth, the fourth straight inning Cincinnati's leadoff hitter reached base. Herm Winningham then reached when he beat the throw to first on a sacrifice bunt. Paul O'Neill then attempted a bunt to the left side of the mound. Stewart fielded it cleanly, but his throw pulled second baseman Willie Randolph off first, loading the bases.
Braggs, who tied Game 2 with a RBI fielder's choice, grounded to shortstop Mike Gallego, who flipped to Randolph for the only out. Morris, without a hit in eight at-bats as a designated hitter, flied deep to right, scoring Winningham.
Stewart, who ruined himself with control problems in Game 1, did not walk a batter until starting the sixth inning with four straight balls to Larkin.
Winningham, filling in for Hatcher who was hit on the left wrist by an 0-2 pitch in the top of the first, followed with a hit-and-run single and Larkin raced to third when left fielder Rickey Henderson bobbled the ball for an instant.
Stewart retired O'Neill, a .471 hitter, on a popup, leaving him 1-for-12 in the series. But Braggs, subbing for Davis, drew a four-pitch walk that loaded the bases.
That brought up Morris, a .417 batter in the playoffs yet only 1-for-13 in the Series at that point. Morris took a ball and then hit the next pitch sharply, but it went right to second baseman Randolph, who started a smooth double play.
Chris Sabo, the hero of Game 3 with two home runs, tried to rally the Reds in the seventh when he led off with a drive that hit six inches from the top of the left field fence for a double. Todd Benzinger did his job, pulling a grounder that moved Sabo to third with one out.
Stewart must have again sensed Oakland's entire season was in jeopardy, and he responded with his stare, and success. He retired Joe Oliver on a grounder that held Sabo at third and got Mariano Duncan on a routine fly to center.
Rijo was grand after issuing a pair of two-out walk in the second inning. He struck out six of the next nine he faced.
By then, though, the Athletics had one run - which was one more than they got off Rijo in seven innings of the opener.
After Rickey Henderson hit an easy fly to Davis to start the Athletics' first, McGee hit a sinking liner to left-center. Davis was off at the crack at the bat and dove at the last instant, the ball hitting his glove just before he hit the ground.
If this had been football, the catch might have stood because, as referees are fond of saying, the ground cannot cause a fumble. In baseball, though, the ball must be held and the umpires ruled McGee safe when it popped out.
With two outs, Piniella elected to intentionally walk left-handed hitting Harold Baines. Lansford spoiled the strategy, however, singling up the middle to score McGee without a throw.
The Reds made a bid to tie it the second and McGee foiled them. With two outs, Sabo singled and Benzinger followed with a drive to deep right-center. McGee, showing the speed and jump that Canseco failed to get on a decisive ball in Game 2, sprinted into the gap and made the catch with a backhanded grab inches off the ground.
McGee has been a center fielder his entire career, but made this play racing over from right. He played the last six games of his St. Louis Cardinals career in right this year before being traded to Oakland on Aug. 29.
All previous 17 teams with a 3-0 lead in the series went on to win, 14 by sweep and the other three in five games.