CINCINNATI -- Rob Dibble wants to be Dennis Eckersley.
"The mustache, the long air, he's got everything I want," the Cincinnati reliever said yesterday. "He's very stylish. He gets the white shoes. I'd love to wear white shoes."
Dennis Eckersley wants to be a Nasty Boy.
"I'm jealous of them. I wish I could throw 95 mph," the Oakland reliever said. "I'd say they have the better bullpen. They can come in and strike someone out. We can't do that. We're not intimidating."
Welcome to the World Series, circa 1990.
Once there were tape-measure homers. Now there are radar-gun heaters. Once there were 300-inning starters. Now there are 50-save relievers. Once there was Wonder Boy. Now there is Nasty Boy.
The Age of the Reliever has dawned, and the raging bullpens in this World Series could turn the games into six-inning windsprints, followed by closing kicks unlike any the sport has ever seen.
Oh yes, Oakland's Dave Stewart will face Cincinnati's Jose Rijo in a matchup of righthanders when the series opens tonight at Riverfront Stadium (8:25, Ch. 11).
L The bullpens loom so large, you almost forget the sub-plots:
The Reds' hope for destiny, the A's quest for dynasty. The managers who were teammates for American Legion Post 248 in Tampa. Jose Rijo vs. the world. Jose Canseco vs. his injured hand.
Worthy subjects all, but there is simply no way to avoid the specter of the bullpens, the power of Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers, the finesse of Eckersley and his setup men.
Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella said yesterday that scoring runs off Oakland's starting pitching "is the whole key for us." Otherwise, the Reds' bullpen doesn't enter the equation, and the chances of an upset become incredibly slim.
A's manager Tony La Russa doesn't buy the notion of a six-inning "game within a game," but as Pittsburgh's Jim Leyland said, "Cincinnati's bullpen is something you always have to think about when you play them."
So is Oakland's, and Piniella needs to stay away from Eckersley as much as he needs to use Dibble and Myers. "We'll go out and do things [offensively]," he promised. "At least we're going to attempt to do things."
Hence, the idea of a windsprint -- bunts, hit-and-runs and other standard National League fare from a team that is certainly more aggressive than AL runner-up Boston, and probably more aggressive than any Oakland has faced.
A better analogy, though, might be to chess: Think of Piniella desperately trying to move his offensive pieces into position for a bullpen checkmate. La Russa can disagree, but he's the favorite. His pawns play like kings.
"If Rijo is shutting us out in the sixth inning, they'll relieve him?" La Russa asked. Informed the answer might be yes, he replied, "I always beware of labels. That's something you get too much of. Six innings, three innings -- that's B.S. Each game is different."
tTC True enough, especially in the World Series, where the pitchers hit in the NL city, and the designated hitter surfaces in the AL city. Stewart replaces Harold Baines in the Oakland lineup tonight. It's doubtful he can stare down pitchers, too.
Actually, the fact that Stewart and Game 2 starter Bob Welch routinely work into the late innings might mitigate the A's lack of a DH. La Russa would be limited in his use of specialists like lefthander Rick Honeycutt if his pitcher was due to hit.
Likewise, the use of the DH might work to the Reds' advantage in the middle three games at Oakland, for it will enable Piniella to go to his relievers earlier without fear of having to remove them for pinch hitters.
In any case, the idea is to get the lead, then maneuver.
"In the regular season, if you're down 2-0, you think, 'Oh, we'll get some runs,' " A's reliever Gene Nelson said. "These games, when you get down two, you say, 'Geez, we've got to try to score.' It seems likes it takes forever."
So, Cincinnati's mission is twofold: Not just scoring early, but preventing Oakland from doing the same. The latter task should be equally difficult, regardless of nagging injuries to Canseco (hand) and Willie McGee (rib cage).
The A's outscored Boston 20-4 in the playoffs with minimal production from Canseco, Rickey Henderson and Mark McGwire. difficult to imagine them not contributing more in this series. Canseco said his back is nearly 100 percent. His only problem now is his hand.
Rijo faces a mammoth task against Stewart tonight, and lefthander Danny Jackson draws Welch tomorrow. All the Reds must do to return the series to Cincinnati is split the first two games and win one of three in Oakland. Not impossible.
Indeed, there is growing sentiment that the Reds might not only end Oakland's 10-game postseason winning streak, but prove a far worthier opponent than expected. They have the necessary elements -- pitching, defense, speed -- and, of course, they have that bullpen.
Dibble struck out 10 in five hitless innings against Pittsburgh, Myers earned three saves and Charlton was the winning pitcher in Game 6. None has the control of Eckersley, who has walked only seven hitters the past two seasons. But who cares?
Welcome to the Age of the Reliever. Why, they even copy each other now. Dibble said he "stole" his leg kick from Eckersley watching him pitch for Boston while growing up in Bridgeport, Conn. Now, if he could only duplicate his looks.
"We have our guidelines. No long hair, no facial hair," Dibble moaned. "Hopefully, I'll be able to grow a Fu Manchu like Goose Gossage later in my career, get my own identity."
As if a 100-mph heater wasn't a stamp all its own.