by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

SAN FRANCISCO — This was all you needed to see. Second inning. The pitcher at the plate. For cripes sake, not the pitcher, too! Two strikes, two outs, and the guy, Mike Moore, an American League hurler, has only batted once before in his career. He holds the bat like Mary Poppins held her umbrella. A sure out, right?

And here comes the pitch.

And there goes the ball, to centerfield.

And here come the runners.

Bash goes the World Series. The 1989 Fall Classic will forever be marked by two earthquakes, one by Mother Nature, the other by Mother Lumber, and it belongs this morning to the Oakland Athletics, who swept it like a janitor on amphetamines. Four games and 32 runs and they were gone, world champs, proving themselves not only a masterpiece of hitting and pitching, but the only American League team that can lose its designated hitter and have its pitcher smack a double to drive in two runs anyhow.


“What did you think when you made contact?” someone asked Moore in the victorious A’s locker room, after they won, 9-6, to capture the championship.

“I didn’t think,” he said, grinning. “I ran. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”

Well, yeah. At least that’s what his teammates were doing nearly every inning. Here was Rickey Henderson playing his usual speed demon. And Dave Henderson doing his Mr. October impersonation. And Dennis Eckersley, once again, closing the door, getting the last Giants batter on a grounder to second, then rolling a fist at the Candlestick crowd as if to say, “Thanks, it’s been fun. Too bad we can’t stay.”

Bashed. We had the best hitting club in baseball, I think, for the last two years,” said Mark McGwire in the jammed visitors’ clubhouse. “And we’re 1-for-2.”

One-for-two? Yes. The A’s had the talent but lacked the heart last October to win it all. This time they had the heart. And the legs. And the arms.

Nothing would derail them — not even a 10-day earthquake delay. Resuming baseball for Oakland was no harder than plugging in the TV set. On Friday, without batting practice, they knocked around 13 runs. On Saturday, they had an 8-0 lead by the sixth inning.

“We lost to a great team,” shrugged Giants manager Roger Craig. What more could he say? This was not baseball, it was an air raid. It was the Notre Dame against William & Mary. Or maybe just Mary. No knock on the Giants, who tried.

But Humm- baby was more like Um, baby? Can we go home now?

Bashed. What a weird October. Ironically, the earthquake provided the only drama in this otherwise dreadful postseason. Neither league championship went beyond a fifth game. The World Series offered few pivotal moments — although it did have some nifty but too-late Giant rallies. The only brilliant managerial move was when Tony La Russa clapped his hands and said, “Let’s play ball.”

It was awesome, head-shaking dominance. And yet, who could forget this series? It was unique, over and over, unique because for the first time in memory, there was no champagne in the winning locker room, a wise gesture by the A’s, who knew that victory was still trivial in the shadow of disaster.

It was unique because Game 3, the first one, ended with players fleeing the stadium with wives and babies in their arms. And unique because Game 3, the second one, began with a moment of silence for the dead.

It was unique because, in the middle of the series, the A’s went to Phoenix, and the Giants visited earthquake victims in Red Cross relief centers.

And it was unique because it served a purpose that was more important than

the record books. The completion of this series, baseball wise, was academic; Oakland didn’t even need to show up. But these final two games symbolized human spirit, resilience, never more than Friday night, when the 62,038 fans, most of whom were in Candlestick when the earth moved 10 days earlier, joined together to sing a campy old song from 1936, “San Francisco, open your Golden Gate. . . .”

Unique. There was a sign that hung in the bleachers Saturday night. It read “Earth Bats Last.”

Indeed. But OK. Before we close the book on this strange sweep, let us salute the A’s, whose only weakness may be their bus driver. Speed? Got it. Pitching? All over. Power? Are you kidding? The team mascot should be a man craning his neck. Whack! There she goes. It took all of 50 seconds before the first home run Saturday, Rickey Henderson’s leadoff pop. Thank you. 1-0. Jeez. Basketball teams don’t score that fast.

“I grew up around here, so for me, this was a little boy’s dream,” said Henderson to an army of microphones. And don’t look now. But this A’s team may soon hear the word dynasty, if not yelled, at least whispered. Were it not for Kirk Gibson’s emotion-sapping home run last October, they would surely be celebrating championship No. 2 this morning, instead of No. 1. Consider that pitching staff. Consider those hitters. Then duck.

Is this lineup allowed? Henderson, the leadoff man, whose happy feet make pitchers sweat and catchers fidget, not only running but hitting .474 in this Series? And he is followed by Carney Lansford, who just missed winning the AL batting title? And he is followed by Jose Canseco, who showed this Series that he may give lousy phone, but he gives good bat.

And he’s not even the cleanup hitter.

McGwire? Dave Parker? Dave (If It’s Postseason, I Must Hit Home Runs) Henderson? Lord. Even Terry Steinbach and Tony Phillips, normally the Nos. 7 and 8 batters, had homers this Series. In fact, every Oakland starting batter except McGwire had a home run. It went only four games!

And that’s not even touching the pitching staff, which, come to think of it, was San Francisco’s problem. Dave Stewart? Moore? Bob Welch? Eckersley? Come on. There is not a team in baseball right now that deserves to shop in the same stores as these guys.

A moment here for Stewart. He earned his MVP honors. Not only for his pitching, which was indomitable, and not only because he never wins the Cy Young Award, even though he may arguably be the best pitcher in baseball the last three years. He gets the vote because almost every night, late, when it was dark, he visited the wreckage of the Nimitz Freeway, talked to rescue workers, boosted morale. “It wasn’t anything special,” he said, “it was just something, as someone who lives here, that I felt I should do.”

Bravo. As for the Giants? Well. The nicest thing that can be said is: They tried. They rallied late. But even bringing Willie Mays out for the first pitch didn’t help. He threw the ball into the lower deck. Say hey, Willie. The Giants saw enough balls in the seats this Series.

Enough. Oakland wins. And the pictures that endure of this Series are many, from the blazing feet of Rickey Henderson to the nervous walk of fans as they headed for the exits after the earthquake. From Stewart on the mound, throwing smoke, to Stewart near the falling highway, watching the search for bodies. It was recreation and recovery, human drive and human kindness. Here with an earthquake, was real life, sweeping sports under the rug like a cookie crumb. And yet baseball proved a point. It took its place in line, behind human life, quietly, gracefully, correctly.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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