OAKLAND, Calif. — First the circus, then the funeral. That’s the way this World Series will be remembered, all those Cincinnati Reds circling the bases in the third inning Friday night like so many clowns on unicycles. One. Two. Three. Five. Seven. Seven runs? In one inning? Look, the shortstop got a triple. Look, the little second baseman got a single. Look, the funny-looking guy named Sabo with those Kareem Abdul-Jabbar glasses — he hit one out of the park, his second home run of the night.

First the circus, then the funeral. By the time the Reds were done with that inning — and done laughing — they were also done with this Series, they had buried the Athletics so deep, even Charlie Finley couldn’t find them.
“It was contagious,” Eric Davis said of the hitting. “Like laughter.”

Or a deadly virus. Oh, sure, there’s Game 4 tonight in this Simply Red affair, and maybe Dave Stewart will make a last pitch for glory and push this Series one more night toward winter. But forget it. This one’s over. It’s Red October. Nobody has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a World Series, and we’re going back to 1903 here.

The A’s won’t be the first. Heck, they’re still trying to figure out 6:20 p.m. Friday night, West Coast time, when the world as they knew it went flying over their heads.

How overwhelming was that one inning? You could wrap it up, put a bow around it and have a complete baseball set for Christmas. Singles. Double. Triple. Home run. Error. Stolen base. Wild pitch. Every Cincinnati hitter got a chance at the plate. Barry Larkin and Billy Hatcher got two. Only Hal Morris didn’t reach base — and he knocked in a run.

Seven runs. Seven hits. One inning. Zero hope. Ray Knight, who, four years ago, was the most valuable player of the Fall Classic, was sitting in a press row, keeping score on a large white scorecard. When the inning ended he stood up, turned around and this is what Ray Knight said: “Ahwoooooo! Ahhhwooooo!”

“What’s that?” someone asked.

“It’s the sound a dog makes when he just got his butt kicked.”

Ahhhwooooo. A’s waltz turns into Reds’ polka

Ahhwooooo. That’ll teach us to make predictions. Nearly everyone had the A’s not only winning this Series, but waltzing through it. Oakland was supposed to be unbeatable, stacked on every shelf. Some even used the dreaded word “dynasty” — because Oakland had swept last year’s Series and at least shown up the year before. That makes a dynasty? Listen. Let’s make a pact: From now on, “Dynasty” will refer only to a bad TV show with a lot of cleavage. You tag a baseball team with that word, they almost always get embarrassed.

That is most likely how the A’s feel this morning, or will, once they stop shaking their heads. Here was Rickey Henderson, running to the wall in that third inning, watching helplessly as Sabo’s blast soared over his head. Here was Mike Gallego, diving to the basepath, a mouthful of dirt, as Mariano Duncan’s hit went skipping past him into the outfield. Here was Mark McGwire, reaching for Paul O’Neill’s shot down the first base line, and coming up with nothing but air as the ball ricocheted towards right.

The circus, the funeral. And, remember, the Reds — who have now scored 20 runs in three games — did Friday’s damage on Oakland’s home field, starting a pitcher, Tom Browning, who had about five minutes’ sleep in the last two days after tending to his wife as she delivered their third child. “I was pretty hyped up,” Browning said after the Reds’ 8-3 blowout. “But once we got that lead . . . “

Say no more. Perhaps the most notable thing about that killer third inning is that it came after the A’s scored two runs in the second to take the lead. The message was clear; it has been since Davis cracked a home run off Stewart when this World Series was still wet behind the ears. This is the message: We are not impressed. Underdogs don’t bark; they bite

No. Instead, they are impressive. When the smoke clears from this thing, historians will have to race to the toteboard and replace the names Canseco, McGwire, Henderson and Welch with Rijo, Hatcher, Sabo and Oliver.

Who?

“I think the fact that we haven’t been impressed without ourselves is what’s enabled us to do what we’ve done,” said first baseman Todd Benzinger, noting the low-keyed Reds’ clubhouse despite being one victory away from a world championship. “We’ve done a good job where it counts — on the field.”

And the A’s? Bad job. First Stewart gets racked in Game 1. Then Canseco plays pattycake with a fly ball, turning an out into a triple, and there goes Game 2. Then, Friday night, Mike Moore, who was supposed to be Mr. Big Game in the postseason, lasts just 60 pitches, most of them flying back past him and into the outfield. His exit after 2 2/3 innings was the fastest of any Series pitcher since Dave Righetti got hammered by the Dodgers nine years ago.

What is it? Were the A’s not as good as everyone thought? Not necessarily. They just ran into a Cincinnati steamroller. And their pitching went south when they needed it most. Then again, it’s hard to stay sharp when all these Reds clowns are racing around your infield.

With the game just about over, Knight held up his scorecard, and he pointed to the third inning. It was full of black diamonds, indicating runs scored.

“OK,” he said, grinning, “who picked the Reds in four?”

Ahhhwoooo.

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