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

Oakland Calif. –They had already stolen Oakland’s crown, Oakland’s reputation, and Oakland’s thunder. Now the Cincinnati Reds were taking Oakland’s stadium. One by one they came bursting from the dugout like enemy soldiers storming the castle, to the raucous applause of about 300 Cincinnati boosters — the only fans left in the Coliseum. It was like a private party late Saturday night. Simply Reds. And soon, the field was a small ocean of Reds jackets, Reds hats, Reds T- shirts.

Red October.

“Ri-jo! Ri-jo!”

“Sa-bo! Sa-bo!”


This was more than an hour after the Reds had completed their stunning execution of the World Series, a four-game sweep, leaving the once-mighty Oakland Athletics shredded like coleslaw. In the years to come, this Series might grow in legend; it might rank with the 1969 Miracle Mets or the 1966 Orioles (who swept the supposedly mighty Dodgers — Koufax, Drysdale, et al). But for now, in the cool October night, the scene was . . . Red Alert.

Here was Billy Hatcher, the hottest bat in town, waving to the fans with only his right hand, his left tucked under his shirt, still throbbing and swollen. In the first inning of Saturday’s Game 4, he was hit by a pitch from Oakland’s Dave Stewart. Twenty minutes later, Hatcher was in an official car, being raced to Merritt Hospital — along with teammate Eric Davis, the Reds’ star outfielder, who had bruised his ribs and a kidney while diving for a ball.

“There was no radio in the car,” Hatcher said. “We kept saying, ‘What’s going on with the game?’ This guy had a walkie- talkie, and he kept giving us updates.”

Whoa. Is this baseball, or M*A*S*H? Updates at the hospital? Well. Was that any less probable than Jose Rijo, who used to pitch for Oakland until they traded him away, now winning the World Series Most Valuable Player Award with two brilliant efforts against his former team and — get this — giving all the credit to his father-in-law, Juan Marichal, who now works for Oakland as a scout.

“It is funny,” said Marichal, a former Giants star, who was on the field hugging Rijo, his daughter, Rosie, and his grandson, Jose Jr. “When Rosie first started to see Jose, my wife and I were not very happy about it. My wife said, ‘Rosie, please. Do not marry a baseball player.’

“But Rosie didn’t listen. And once she married Jose, I liked him very much.

“And of course, I had to help him.”

Yeah. Here is how much Marichal helped Rijo: 15 1/3 World Series innings, one run, a slider so deadly it ought to come in bullet casing. Saturday, during the Reds’ final victory, Rijo retired the last 20 Oakland batters he faced. In a row? The last 20? The Athletics may dock Marichal a paycheck for that kind of help.

But wait. As Rijo lit up yet another cigar and hoisted his baby over his head, the small crowd erupted. Chris Sabo had surfaced. Now. Here was really all you needed to know about this Series: The Oakland Athletics were supposed to be baseball’s answer to Thor, the Norse god of thunder. Canseco. McGwire.

Henderson. But the power king of this World Series turned out to be this little guy they call Spuds, who looks like he cuts his hair with an electric razor and shops for eyeglasses at Snorkels ‘R Us. Chris Sabo? Two home runs? Five RBIs? Power king? Chris Sabo?

“We won — we won fair and square!” Sabo screamed, hugging just about everybody. “Oakland has a great team, but they were second best!” The ‘other’ Jose gets lost

Ah, yes. What about second best, the suddenly dethroned Oakland Athletics? As the Reds partied on their field, dripping champagne, high-fiving their owner, the Athletics were licking their wounds. Some were looking for quick exits. Jose Canseco, their newest goat, obviously found one. No one saw him after the game. He had been benched for the finale, supposedly because his nagging back was limiting his play. More like his play was limiting the Athletics. As this World Series developed, Canseco became symbolic of the Oakland demise: a big fat reputation doing absolutely nothing.

“I felt Willie (McGee) could do a better job defensively for us,” manager Tony La Russa said. But it sounded like a thin explanation. The truth is, after getting blown out in Game 1, losing Game 2 in extra innings — thanks largely to Canseco’s misplay of a Hatcher drive — and blowing Game 3 in a single inning in which the Reds scored seven runs, La Russa probably figured the only way to save the Series was a complete mental turnaround. The pitching wasn’t holding. The hitting was last seen on the side of a milk carton.

How better to trash it all and look for new inspiration than by benching Canseco, whose second-guessing of La Russa and consistent failure at the plate had become a cancerous reminder to the Athletics that they weren’t what they
— and everyone else — figured they were?

And it almost worked. The Athletics had a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning Saturday with their money pitcher, Stewart, pitching his guts out. But, oh, these Reds. They play as if they’re equal-opportunity employers: so Herm Winningham (who is in the game only because of the injury to Hatcher) lays down a beautiful two-strike bunt and beats the throw to first base. And, with the bases loaded, Glenn Braggs (who is in the game only because of the injury to Davis) grounds to shortstop, driving in Barry Larkin on a fielder’s choice.

And then Hal Morris (who batted a whopping .071 for the Series) drives a Stewart pitch all the way to the warning track, allowing Winningham to tag and score the clinching run of the 1990 World Series.

Herm Winningham? Hal Morris? Glenn Braggs?

Geez. Who’s next? The batboy? Reds teach A’s, us a lesson

And here came the batboy. He bounced from the dugout, dripping from champagne. He raced past Mariano Duncan, who wore a Hawaiian lei around his neck, and past Rob Dibble and Randy Myers, super relievers, arms around each other, and past Winningham, who was doing a TV interview with former Reds star Ken Griffey. “What’s my share come to?” Herm was asking. “A hundred and twenty thousand? Is it that much?”

Truth is, this can’t be measured in money. What the Reds did this past week was more than turn the baseball experts on their collective ear. They brought a sense of excellence — and surprise — back to what had been a pretty dreadful baseball season, a season in which many teams didn’t seem to want to win, or know how.

But the Reds. Wow. They poured gasoline and then dropped the match. They beat the defending World Series champions in a blowout, in extra innings, another blowout, and a squeaker, they did it one night with pitching, next with hitting, they did it with regulars and substitutes, with starters and with that incredibly nasty bullpen. They even got a crucial hit from a kid named Billy Bates, who looks like he sounds. I think he’s still in high school.

So much for the experience factor that was supposed to be Oakland’s big edge. You know how many Reds had ever played in a World Series before this? One. Danny Jackson.

Oh. Wait. One other. Lou Piniella. Only now, he isn’t a player; he’s the manager. A few days ago, I asked if he ever felt like jumping from the dugout and getting into the action. “Nah,” he said. “Playing was more fun. But managing is more satisfying.”

Now he was out on the Oakland field, soaking in the most satisfying moment of all, the celebration, the victory, an underdog team that took center stage and just blew the audience away. Somebody once said you play the World Series
— even the predicted blowouts — because the beauty of sports is you never know what’s gonna happen. Thank you, Cincinnati. We’d almost forgotten.


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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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