1990 Big Machine wears green, gold, and Reds know it

October 16, 1990|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

CINCINNATI -- Baseball history runs deep along this stretch of the Ohio River, where professional ball has lived since infancy and where the Cincinnati Reds assembled one of the game's greatest teams in the 1970s.

But the Big Red Machine doesn't live here anymore.

The Reds will be host to the Oakland Athletics in Game 1 of the 87th World Series tonight at Riverfront Stadium, but they do so with the sort of measured humility that comes from knowing the best team in baseball when they see it.

The A's are the closest thing to the Big Red Machine to pass this way since Little Joe and Pete and Johnny and George and Sparky were in their glory. The Big Green Machine would have had a nice ring to it, but the concept has been used.

"They have a great ballclub," Reds manager Lou Piniella said. "It's tough to repeat, but they're right on the threshold. They have power and speed, but what gets it done for them is their pitching. We have to score runs off their starting pitchers. That's the key for us."

Is that all? The Boston Red Sox proved that was possible in the American League playoffs. They scored a run every game. The Reds figure to be more resourceful -- they have better speed and make better contact up and down the lineup than the Red Sox -- but how much will that mean against an A's rotation that is so good that 17-game winner Scott Sanderson has to pitch out of the bullpen?

Dave Stewart has become the annual first-game starter for the A's, and everyone should know what that means by now. In his past six postseason starts, he is 6-0 with a 1.88 ERA, averaging eight innings per game.

Stewart is so dependable in October that the winningest pitcher in the American League -- make that the winningest pitcher in the American League since 1968 -- has to settle for Game 2.

Bob Welch won 27 games this year, the most by an AL pitcher since Denny McLain won 31 in 1968, and this is what the Reds have to look forward to after they get stared down by Stewart for three hours tonight.

"Let's just hope we don't have an earthquake so they can't come right back with those two guys," Reds outfielder Glenn Braggs said.

The A's needed only Stewart and Mike Moore to sweep the San Francisco Giants in last year's World Series, after the Bay area earthquake delayed Game 3 for 10 days. Moore will start this year's Game 3.

The Cincinnati rotation is nothing to be ashamed of either. Former A's right-hander Jose Rijo, who will face Stewart tonight, finished the regular season with a 14-8 record and a 2.70 ERA. He also pitched well in his first playoff series, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 4 to give the Reds a 3-1 advantage in the NL Championship Series.

Tom Browning (15-9, 3.80 in 1990) and Danny Jackson (6-6, 3.61) will follow Rijo in the rotation. The three of them would figure to match up favorably against any club except Oakland.

Instead, they enter the best-of-seven series with no illusions, not after watching the A's dismiss the Red Sox without even flexing their substantial muscle. The Bash Brothers aren't going to be held homerless forever.

"It's a great lineup," Rijo said. "It's an awesome lineup. It's the kind of lineup you want to face, because when you beat the Oakland A's, you've beaten the best."

If the series comes down to a battle of the bullpens, the Reds no longer will be such decided underdogs, though Oakland right-hander Dennis Eckersley might be the best stopper in the history of the game. The "Nasty Boys" -- Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers -- have played a major role in the Reds' pennant run and should match up well against the free-swinging A's.

"Oakland has a great closer and three great setup men in [Todd] Burns, [Gene] Nelson and [Rick] Honeycutt," Piniella said. "We have three closers. I think they compare favorably. Ours is more of a power bullpen. I think our guys throw harder."

But the Reds have to have the lead in the late innings for the bullpen to make a significant contribution.

Piniella rests his hopes of upsetting the A's on his team's ability to make things happen on the bases, though he admits that getting on base will be the hardest part. He even toyed with the idea of using Eric Davis in the leadoff spot, but apparently dismissed the thought after yesterday's workout.

"The key for us is getting people on base," he said. "They have great starters. If we get people on, we'll take advantage of our speed either by stealing or hit-and-running."

The A's have been slowed by a string of late-season injuries. Shortstop Walt Weiss will not be on the World Series roster and might have to undergo knee surgery to repair the damage he suffered in a collision with Ellis Burks during the playoffs. Jose Canseco will play, but he has been handicapped since late September with a sore and swollen middle finger on his right hand. Center fielder Willie McGee has a rib-cage strain but also is available to play.

Piniella has only one significant injury to worry about. Davis is playing with a sore shoulder that he said yesterday might require arthroscopic surgery during the off-season.

Bench strength doesn't figure to decide the series, but the A's could have an outfield depth problem if either McGee or Canseco is forced to sit down. Center fielder Dave Henderson came back from knee surgery only a few weeks ago, so manager Tony La Russa probably would like to keep him off the Riverfront Stadium AstroTurf as much as he can.

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