Hatcher the hero you would love to have heard of


October 18, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

CINCINNATI -- No one needs to tell you about Billy Hatcher. You've known him all your life.

Billy Hatcher is the young Billy Martin, except dressed in red and white. He's Gene Tenace. He's Bernie Carbo. What Billy Hatcher is, is Mickey Hatcher -- exactly him. No relation, you say? Who are you trying to kid?

Billy Hatcher is the hero you never heard of. And now you'll never forget him. Yeah, that Billy Hatcher, the bit player who steals the show.

Doesn't it happen every World Series?

Somebody should have told the genius, Tony La Russa, the computer guy, who believes in bytes, even when faced with flesh and blood. It was the genius, with the game in hand, with the Series about to be tied at a game apiece, who thought Bob Welch ought to get another shot at Hatcher.

That gave Hatcher another shot at history.

Hatcher hit the triple -- his seventh consecutive hit, a record -- that gave the Reds a chance to tie the score in the eighth. Nobody had gotten Hatcher out, but especially Welch hadn't gotten him out. He had bombed Welch for a couple of doubles, then, with the third baseman back, had dropped down a bunt.

Then in the eighth, Hatcher pushed the ball just over the head of right fielder Jose Canseco, and the world turned upside down. La Russa would say later that, if you wanted to win the game, "It was a play you had to make."

It turned so crazy that Dennis Eckersley, arguably the greatest relief pitcher ever, came in with the score tied in the 10th and walked away the loser.

See the dynasty crumble.

See the computer glitch.

The Reds win when Billy Bates gets his first hit as a Red, an infield chopper to start it off. Chris Sabo gets a hit, and then Joe Oliver -- you heard of Joe Oliver? see: Billy Hatcher -- knocks a ball over third base that catches the outside part of the foul line and the Riverfront crowd goes slightly crazy.

You believe this?

Well, then, you'd believe anything.

You'd believe in Billy Hatcher.

He's the hero nobody counted on. He's a 30-year-old journeyman who found a home this year in Cincinnati, where he arrived just after spring training. He was the platoon player who took over for an injured Eric Davis -- the college walk-on who found a job and waited for his moment.

Eric Davis has these moments a couple of times a year. Hatcher has them in his dreams, and so we were all dreaming along with him last night.

Before the Series began, Johnny Bench, a regulation hero, was talking about these moments.

"Before the World Series, you sit down with the pitchers and you concentrate on the guys who you think can beat you," Bench said. "The other guys don't get the same kind of attention. You think to yourself, 'Well, I can't let this guy on,' so you give him a pitch that might not be over the plate or somewhere he can handle it. You see it happen every year."

You saw it happen last night. You saw everything happen last night.

You saw Marge Schott, the team's owner, come out beforehand with her dog, and then hugging Barbara Bush, who was there to throw out the first pitch. Bush hugged Schott, who introduced her to her manager, Lou Piniella, which brought La Russa out of his dugout. There was kissing all around, including Schott finally bussing La Russa.

It got only weirder from there.

It got so strange that La Russa, considered to be the game's best manager just now, was being second-guessed at every turn. Why didn't he pinch-hit for Welch? Why didn't he bring in Eckersley with Hatcher on third base?

This was a game Oakland had won. This was a game Oakland had to win. It was one where Canseco had hit a homer and where Welch, the 27-game winner, seemed to have things in hand. It was a game that had Eckersley waiting in the wings.

Before the Series, Canseco had predicted a sweep. After losing the first game, Canseco said it might go six games. Now, we're wondering if the A's could even win two games.

Anything is possible. That's the beauty. The Reds showed their bullpen off again. And they showed off Hatcher, who is the kind of player who says records don't mean a thing. That's because he's a team player. What other kind of player could he be? Hatcher had a nice season, batting .276, stealing 30 bases and playing an unexpectedly key role in a successful season. And then he got serious.

Hatcher was 5-for-15 in the National League playoffs, sort of a warm-up. And now he's 7-for-7 with two walks and a record and the entire baseball world remembering his name.

The name is Billy Hatcher. You won't forget it now.

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