THE CHARACTERISTICS were unmistakably similar, and the result identical. A reverse sweep, so to speak.
They came into the World Series so lightly regarded that odds on a four-game sweep by the opposition were ridiculously low. Their manager had more postseason experience as a player than his whole team combined.
Despite the presence of some quality players, the team was generally unknown, with a pitching staff better known for relievers than starters. The opponents were trying for a second straight world championship amid talk of at least a mini-dynasty.
The veteran team featured two dominating pitchers and an offense that was put in motion by the best basestealer in the game.
A capsule description of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds, right?
OK, if you insist. But how about the 1966 Baltimore Orioles?
"I told everybody this was 1966 all over again," said Don Pries, former scout for the Orioles who now runs the Central Scouting Bureau. "It's an almost identical situation. A lot of people didn't think the Orioles had a chance to win one game, let alone four in a row."
Watching the World Series at his home in Los Angeles, it didn't take current Orioles manager Frank Robinson long to experience a flashback. Robinson was the most identifiable of the '66 Orioles and the only significant performer who had World Series experience (pitcher Danny Jackson was the only Reds' player who had played in a Series).
Orioles manager Hank Bauer and Reds leader Lou Piniella had plenty of postseason experience, but they won as managers for the first time with teams that knew almost nothing about fall ball. "It is about the same," said Robinson, comparing the Reds with the Orioles' first world championship team. "We went in [to Los Angeles for the first two games] and the Dodgers were overwhelming favorites."
That Los Angeles team featured Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Maury Wills, with Tommy and Willie Davis is strong supporting roles. The Orioles would rely on the young, but unproven arms of Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and Wally Bunker, and a cast headed by Frank and Brooks Robinson.
"They were saying that we didn't even belong on the same field with them," recalled Frank Robinson. "And I think people pretty much thought that way about the Reds -- how many games was it going to take the A's to get rid of them?" But it took Robinson a total of only four batters to have a personal flashback.
In the first game of the 1966 World Series, with Drysdale pitching, Frank and Brooks hit two-out home runs in the first inning to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. A week ago tonight, with A's ace Dave Stewart doing the serving, Eric Davis hit a two-out home run in the first inning to provide a 2-0 lead and light a Reds' fire that was never doused.
Robinson feels that Davis' home run provided the same impetus that he gave the Orioles 24 years earlier. "That set the tone for the rest of their club," Robinson said of the Reds. "It said -- 'we can score off these guys, they're not invincible.' It gave them [the Reds] a good, positive feeling."
Just as the Reds beat Stewart twice during the improbable sweep, the Orioles beat Drysdale in the first and last games. Sandy Koufax, like Bob Welch a 27-game winner that year, lost to a Palmer shutout in Game 2, the final appearance of his career. Bunker and McNally would go on to post 1-0 victories in the third and fourth games.
Robinson believes that the pitching success of the Orioles and the Reds came from the first game of each Series. In 1966 it was Moe Drabowsky, in relief of an uncommonly wild McNally, who delivered the message. The righthander showed that the Dodgers could be contained merely by throwing hard stuff and going right after their hitters. It was the only appearance by an Orioles' reliever in the Series.
"I think [Jose] Rijo and [Rob] Dibble did the same thing for the Reds in the first game," said Robinson. "They showed that the A's could be vulnerable, that they could be challenged."
Wills' speed was never a factor in 1966, and even though he was the A's most consistent player, Rickey Henderson had little impact on the Reds.
Just as the Orioles had done, Cincinnati learned early that the field was big enough for two teams. And the Reds provided the domination that had been expected from the A's -- just as the Orioles did with the Dodgers.
Both teams were young -- Frank was the only Orioles regular over 30, the Reds have none -- and relatively inexperienced. Both had been contenders (the Orioles in 1964, the Reds four of the last five years) before breaking through to win a pennant.
And the Reds might want to take note of what happened next to the Orioles. Their predicted dynasty ended up in sixth place the following year, Bauer was fired in 1968 and it wasn't until 1969 that they started a three-year run as American League champion and became regular World Series participants.
Making a repeat World Series appearance is often more difficult that winning four straight. That's the part of this scenario that the Reds hope to change.