CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds just about had the baseball world convinced that any comparison with the Big Red Machine of yesteryear was unwarranted and unfair.
The Reds, so overmatched and underrated that the 87th World Series was supposed to be a classic mismatch, hammered the Oakland Athletics, 7-0, in Game 1 last night before a sellout crowd of 55,830 at Riverfront Stadium.
This was supposed to be the Big Green Machine against the Little Red Engine That Couldn't. Perennial postseason MVP Dave Stewart vs. Oakland castoff Jose Rijo. Defending world champions vs. defenseless Ohioans. But somewhere along the line score -- around the first inning, actually -- the roles got reversed.
Eric Davis and Billy Hatcher apparently didn't realize that Stewart is unhittable in the postseason, so they hit him with everything they had. Rijo obviously didn't realize that the A's were unstoppable, so he stopped them cold.
Rijo gave up seven hits over seven innings before he turned over the game to Nasty Boys Rob Dibble and Randy Myers. Enough said. Advantage Reds, who could turn the oddsmakers on their ears tonight if they can rattle 27-game winner Bob Welch in the early innings of Game 2.
"We'd like to get out of here with a lead," Reds manager Lou Piniella said. "It's important that we play well at home, and tonight we did."
Davis drove in three runs with a home run and a single, and Hatcher had three runs and three hits in an unexpected offensive extravaganza that served notice that the A's cannot expect to dink the Reds to death the way they disposed of the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs.
The aura of invincibility that has surrounded Stewart in postseason play apparently wasn't visible to Davis, who needed only one swing to prove that reports of his recent power shortage have been greatly exaggerated.
"The only pitch that failed me was my fastball," Stewart said "You just have to keep going and hope you're able to gain control."
Davis might have a sore left shoulder and a gimpy right knee, but he still can drive the ball out of the deepest part of the ballpark, which he illustrated with his two-run home run in the first inning.
"It was a big hit for us," Davis said. "When you face a pitcher like Stewart, it's essential that you get off to a good start and get some runs. He's one of those pitchers who gets stronger and stronger as the game goes on.
"I was fortunate to get off to a good start, and everybody kept going. When I'm healthy and swing the bat well, I drive in a lot of runs, and that takes the pressure off everybody."
Piniella had toyed Monday with the concept of moving Davis into the leadoff role, but he resisted the suggestion and wasted little time showing why he has been one of baseball's top run producers the past four seasons.
He jumped on Stewart's first pitch. The ball landed in a camera booth high above the center-field wall, giving the Reds more runs in the first inning than the Boston Red Sox scored against the A's in any single game during the American League Championship Series.
"Any time you can get a lead against the A's, it's important," Hatcher said, "but the big thing was we got our big gun going in Eric Davis. I think Lou made him a little upset wanting him to bat leadoff. Hitting the home run was his way of telling Lou he wants to bat cleanup."
Davis has been playing hurt since he bruised his left shoulder making a spectacular catch in late September. If he seemed powerless in the playoffs, he made up for it in a hurry. But he might have aggravated the injury further when he tried to make a diving catch on a sinking line drive by Rickey Henderson in the third.
Stewart, who took the mound riding a six-game postseason winning streak, did not look much like the pitcher who dominated the Red Sox in two playoff starts. He walked Hatcher in the first inning -- which would come back to haunt him -- and he walked two in the second. In the playoffs, he walked only two in 16 innings.
His leadoff walk in the third led to still another run, as the Reds took advantage of a double by Hatcher and a throwing error by Mike Gallego to take a 4-0 lead. Middle reliever Todd Burns was up in the Oakland bullpen by the top of the fourth inning and in the game for the fifth.
"Stew is great almost every time he goes out there," manager Tony La Russa said. "Tonight, he wasn't. You have to give their offensive team credit for making him pay."
Stewart gave up just three hits over four innings, but the four walks were his undoing. It was the shortest postseason start of his career.
Rijo was more in tune, striking out five in the first four innings and shutting out the A's on seven hits through the seventh, but he worked in and out of jams all night to get the best of the team that traded him to Cincinnati for Dave Parker three years ago.
"We've heard so much about the A's. I read in the papers ho they were going to beat us in five games," Rijo said. "That gave me motivation."