OAKLAND, Calif. -- It seemed so improbable six days ago, but the Cincinnati Reds have turned the oddsmakers on their ears and turned the clock back to the mid-1970s.
They need make no more apologies to the Big Red Machines of the past. They can call themselves the best team in baseball without blushing. The Oakland Athletics offered no argument in a shocking, four-game sweep that will rank among the biggest upsets in World Series history.
The Reds are the best because they beat the best. They came from behind to hang a 2-1 defeat on Oakland ace Dave Stewart before a crowd of 48,613 at the Oakland Coliseum.
"You don't expect to come into a Series like this and sweep a team that has played as well as they have all year," manager Lou Piniella said, "but we felt we could compete, and we really were the dominant ballclub in each of the four games. I'm very proud of this team."
In the clubhouse, the Reds doused each other with sparkling cider, or whatever else would pass for champagne in baseball's first non-alcoholic World Series celebration.
The first toast undoubtedly went to World Series MVP pitcher Jose Rijo, who pitched the game of his career, shutting down the Oakland offense on two hits for 8 1/3 innings to earn his second Series victory and hand the Reds their first world championship since the Big Red Machine of 1976 swept the New York Yankees.
The next toast probably went to designated hitter Hal Morris, whose sacrifice fly in the eighth inning completed the two-run comeback that would propel Rijo to victory.
They also would have to drink to Billy Hatcher, who batted .750 and broke a World Series record with seven straight hits in the first two games; Chris Sabo, who followed up a two-homer performance in Game 3 with three hits in the Series finale; and the Nasty Boys, who combined to pitch 8 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, including the two outs by Randy Myers that closed out Game 4.
The Reds are the baseball champions, and there was nothing the A's could do about it but stand back and applaud at the end. Stewart gave it his best shot, but he needed more offensive help than his teammates had to offer.
He pitched seven shutout innings, but finally surrendered two runs in the eighth, thanks in part to his throwing error on a sacrifice-bunt attempt by Paul O'Neill.
Barry Larkin started the assault with a leadoff single, and the Reds loaded the bases on a bunt single by Herm Winningham and the error by Stewart, who threw wide of first. First-base umpire Randy Marsh signaled that Willie Randolph came off the bag for Stewart's throw. There was some debate on that point, but it didn't change anything.
Glenn Braggs grounded into a force play to drive in the tying run, and Morris hit a long fly ball to right that would bring home Winningham with the eventual winning run.
There was some question after the first inning whether the Reds would have enough outfielders to get through the game. Stewart hit Hatcher on the left hand with a pitch in the top of the inning, and Eric Davis was shaken up trying to make a diving catch soon after the Reds took the field.
Both injuries caused significant delays. Hatcher appeared to be in tremendous pain, but eventually got up and went to first base. Davis suffered a badly bruised kidney trying to steal a hit from Willie McGee and stayed down for several minutes. He, too, tried to remain in the game, but the Reds had two new outfielders by the middle of the second inning.
Braggs pinch hit for Davis in the second and took his place in left field. Winningham took over for Hatcher in center. Davis and Hatcher were taken to Merritt Hospital in Oakland for X-rays and further evaluation.
"Davis was out for the Series," Piniella said. "Hatcher's X-rays were negative, but his hand was so sore he couldn't hold a bat, so it was an opportune time to win the Series."
The abortive play by Davis turned out to be a big one. He had the ball in his glove when he hit the ground, but it popped out as he raised his glove to show that he had it. Umpire Bruce Froemming signaled no catch and McGee trotted into second base. Carney Lansford put the A's ahead with a two-out single up the middle.
Rijo struggled through the first inning and walked a couple of batters in the second, but he reeled off 20 straight outs to carry the Reds into the ninth inning. He kept the predominantly right-handed Oakland lineup off balance with a wicked slider that he almost dared the A's to hit.
"I kept throwing it because they showed they couldn't hit it," Rijo said. "They were swinging and missing it and taking it for a strike. I was going to throw it until they showed me they could hit it."
The A's could not score off Rijo in Game 1, which was one of several reasons why manager Tony La Russa juggled the lineup last night. McGee replaced injury-ridden Jose Canseco in right field. Third-string catcher Jamie Quirk was behind the plate. First baseman Mark McGwire, who has just five singles in 24 postseason at-bats, was batting behind Quirk.