OAKLAND, Calif. -- Their dreams of dynasty diminished, the Oakland Athletics have been downgraded from defending world champion to defending their honor.
The Cincinnati Reds won the 87th World Series in a walk. The greatest team on Earth was crushed underfoot so easily, so resolutely that it almost defied reasonable explanation.
Were the A's overrated? Were the Reds under-appreciated? Were the last four games of the 1990 baseball season an aberration?
There were no easy answers after the A's fell in four straight games to the team that originally was expected to be at the big end of the broom. But there were several factors that conspired to deprive the A's of a second consecutive world championship.
The Jose factor: Right fielder Jose Canseco was too battered to bash. He entered the postseason tournament with a sore back and a sprained finger and eventually played himself onto the bench.
The A's needed offensive leadership. Instead, they looked as if they caught something from the Boston Red Sox.
The other Jose factor: Reds pitcher Jose Rijo dominated the A's in games 1 and 4, finishing with an amazing flourish. He had retired 20 straight batters when manager Lou Piniella inexplicably pulled him for reliever Randy Myers in the ninth inning Saturday night.
Rijo was named the World Series Most Valuable Player after he gave up one run in 16 1/3 innings. He also beat Dave Stewart twice in a row, which probably caused Roger Clemens to punch out his television set.
The Sabo/Hatcher factor: Reds outfielder Billy Hatcher pushed somebody named Babe Ruth off one page of the World Series record book with a .750 average against a formidable Oakland pitching staff. Third baseman Chris Sabo batted .563, which was good enough to rank him third on the all-time list for highest batting average in a single Series.
The La Russa factor: The baseball world still is trying to figure out where Dennis Eckersley figured in all this, because A's manager Tony La Russa twice chose not to call on him with the club clinging to a one-run lead in the late innings.
The DH factor: The A's offense floundered in Cincinnati, where the designated-hitter rule was not in effect. Harold Baines homered in his first at-bat at the Oakland Coliseum, but the Reds already had more momentum than they knew what to do with.
The upshot of all this is that the A's weren't right. They were the other victim of the Curse of the Bambino. The four-game sweep over Boston left them with too much unstructured time, and it got them in trouble again.
Remember 1988? The A's swept the Red Sox in the playoffs that year, too, while the Los Angeles Dodgers went seven hard-fought games to defeat the New York Mets. It didn't seem fair, what with the A's getting five days to line up their pitching. It wasn't fair. The Dodgers won in five.
This time, the A's swept the Red Sox again, though they didn't exactly do it in grand style. The Bash Brothers settled for a singles party, but La Russa insisted that it was just an indication of how many ways his club could beat you.
It sounded pretty good at the time, but the Reds weren't listening. They were engaged in a hard-fought series with the Pittsburgh Pirates. They would show up for the World Series with an uninterrupted adrenalin flow.
The A's won 103 games during the regular season, but it took only four losses to soften their intimidating visage. Instead of earning a place among baseball history's most dominating teams, they spent the past week getting a lesson in humility.
"I feel we lost, but I don't feel we're losers," La Russa said. "You take your best shot. Nobody's going to take away our third American League championship. I think we have a great team."
Rickey Henderson consoled himself by pointing out that the A's would win 75 out of 100 games against the Reds, but fortunately for weary baseball fans, the World Series is not a best-of-a-hundred series.
The way the A's were swinging the bat, they would not have beaten the Reds before Thanksgiving anyway. Canseco and Mark McGwire combined to hit 76 homers and drive in 209 runs, but neither was an offensive force in the series. Canseco did hit one long home run, but did so little else that he drew sharp criticism from both his manager and pitching ace Dave Stewart.
"We're capable of hitting a lot better, that's for sure," La Russa said. "I'm disappointed, yes, but we could have done everything better."
World Series champions
1907Chicago (NL) 4, Detroit (AL) 0, 1 tie
Boston (NL) 4, Philadelphia (AL) 0
1922New York (NL) 4, N.Y. (AL) 0, 1 tie
1927New York (AL) 4, Pittsburgh (NL) 0
1928New York (AL) 4, St. Louis (NL) 0
New York (AL) 4, Chicago (NL) 0
1938New York (AL) 4, Chicago (NL) 0
1939New York (AL) 4, Cincinnati (NL) 0
1950New York (AL) 4, Philadelphia (NL) 0
1954New York (NL) 4, Cleveland (AL) 0
1963Los Angeles (NL) 4, N.Y. (AL) 0
1966Baltimore (AL) 4, Los Angeles (NL) 0
1976Cincinnati (NL) 4, New York (AL) 0
1989Oakland (AL) 4, San Fran. (NL) 0
1990Cincinnati (NL) 4, Oakland (AL) 0