CINCINNATI -- There is a changing of the shin guards every time Bob Welch takes the mound for the Oakland Athletics. Ron Hassey has become his personal catcher and resident psychologist.
When Welch gets a little high-strung, as he has been known to do in big-game situations such as the one he faces in Game 2 tonight, Hassey is the one who calmly talks him back down. It is a relationship that has benefited both players, but Hassey said yesterday that Welch would be just fine without him.
"I don't want to say me catching him is the reason he won 27 games," Hassey said, "because I don't think it is. There are times when I get him back after he wanders off into space, but I think he's got his program down now. He knows what he has to do."
So, what would happen if something happened to Hassey to prevent him from getting behind the plate tonight? "I don't think it would be a problem," Hassey said.
The A's catching platoon has not been a problem, either. The team has been so successful that it would be hard to argue with anything that manager Tony La Russa decided to do. But Terry Steinbach, who does most of the catching for the A's, said that the Welch/Hassey relationship doesn't bother him at all.
"The thing that the players do that makes it click is we have a lot of respect for the other players on the ballclub," Steinbach said. "I want to catch as much as I can, but I respect the decisions Tony La Russa makes and I respect the job that Ron Hassey does behind the plate.
"I want to learn everything I can. I don't know everything there is to know about catching. If something is working for Ron, I can ask him, 'Why are you doing that?' "
Sounds too idyllic to be true, but winning makes everything fit together, and the A's have won more games than anyone the past three years.
Hassey has been charged with the task of reining in the hyper Welch, and the results are indisputable, but Hassey claims that he is no closer to Welch than he is to any of the other pitchers or players on the club.
"It's a professional relationship," he said, "and that's the way we want it. Keeping it at that level makes it easier on both of us. When Bobby goes out there, I have a job to do."
The question that remains is whether Welch and Hassey will be back with the A's in 1991. Both are eligible for free agency, but Hassey dismissed the possibility that they might go into the free-agent market looking for a package deal.
To hear Hassey tell it, Welch won't need a personal valet if he decides to hit the road.
* Major League Players Association director Donald Fehr was on the field before last night's game. He said that briefs were about to be filed in the Collusion III grievance and that a decision on "new look" free agency for the class of 1988-89 might be forthcoming soon.
"The briefs should be filed next week," he said. "The decision would come as soon after that as the arbitrator decides."
Arbitrator George Nicolau awarded more than $100 million in collusion damages to the players in September, but Fehr said it could take months or even years to agree on how to distribute the money.
* President Bush has decided not to attend tonight's game, commissioner Fay Vincent said, because he must stay in Washington because of government business.
Vincent said first lady Barbara Bush will attend, and throw out the first pitch, Vincent said. The president had been scheduled to throw it.
The most recent president to attend a World Series was Ronald Reagan (1983), and the most recent president to throw out a World Series first pitch was Dwight Eisenhower (1956).
* The A's and Reds took the field with small American flags sewed to their jerseys, a demonstration of support for the armed forces in the Persian Gulf.
The flag patches were introduced at the request of the United Service Organization. The announcement was made jointly by Major League Baseball and the players' union.
* Reds starter Jose Rijo, on the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates had more success against him in the playoffs than the A's had last night: "Pittsburgh has a lot of great left-handed hitters in their lineup. I think they might be tougher than the A's. But you can't take anything away from Oakland. They're a great team, too. I knew I had to concentrate on every pitch because of all the great hitters they have in their lineup."
* The loss ended the A's 10-game winning streak in postseason play that dated back to the fourth game of the 1989 playoffs.
* Davis became the 22nd player in World Series history to hit a home run in his first Series at-bat. The last player to do it was San Francisco Giants catcher Bill Bathe in Game 3 last year. Davis is the first Reds player in history to homer in his first Series at-bat.