CINCINNATI -- Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds, couldn't help but cackle as she waited for an elevator at Riverfront Stadium. "All that B.S.," she said, "and it was 7-0."
Last night's laugher probably did not have the same psychological impact on Oakland as Kirk Gibson's game-winning homer in the 1988 Series opener, but it gave the Reds the foundation for a major upset.
Oh, the Reds knew it was possible, just like Buster Douglas knew he could beat Mike Tyson. But all they did last night was shatter Oakland's aura of invincibility. Now the Series turns serious.
Game 2 is tonight (8:25, Ch. 11), and incredible as it sounds, the A's badly need a win. Otherwise, they will be unable to repeat as world champions without returning to Cincinnati for Games 6 and 7.
The change in dynamics could not be more stunning, or more compelling. The A's entered the Series with a 10-game postseason winning streak. Last night the Reds proved they could be beaten. And beaten good.
"We never thought we were overmatched, or that we couldn't play with them," Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin said. "This victory, we take it matter-of-fact."
"I'm sure it doesn't open any eyes," reliever Rob Dibble added. "Nobody is going to really still give us a chance. That helps our cause. There's no pressure on us to win."
The Reds insisted all along they could compete -- "we felt that coming in," manager Lou Piniella said. "I don't think we needed this." Now the debate shifts to another level: Which is the better team?
Last night did not provide an answer, but it was precisely the type of game that gives underdogs hope in a short series. The Reds' starter, Jose Rijo, pitched seven shutout innings. The A's starter, Dave Stewart, had a rare off-night.
Lacking his usual control, Stewart grooved a first-pitch fastball to Eric Davis after a one-out walk in the first inning. Davis crushed the pitch over the centerfield wall to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.
"It was a tremendous feeling on the bench," Larkin said. "The guys were saying, 'Here we go! Here we go! Let's keep it rolling!' It was a definite spark."
Davis, hampered by left shoulder and right knee injuries, hadn't hit a home run since Sept. 26, and Piniella asked him about a possible move to the leadoff spot over the weekend. The Reds are grateful he rejected the idea.
From Cincinnati's perspective, his home run carried no less meaning than Gibson's dramatic shot did for Los Angeles in '88. Yet, it did not appear to have the same effect on the A's, who shrugged off their defeat.
"This is a game that's easy to forget about," said first baseman Mark McGwire, who went 0-for-3 and stranded five runners. "It's far different than a bottom-of-the-ninth home run to beat you."
Still, the same outcome is hardly out of the question tonight. Cincinnati lefthander Danny Jackson has been as hot as Rijo. His opponent, 27-game winner Bob Welch, has a spotty history in postseason play.
Welch defeated Boston in the playoffs, but he's only 3-3 lifetime in the postseason, with a 5.03 ERA. In addition, his ERA was nearly two runs higher on the road this year, even though he had only one fewer win.
If the Reds are aware of these statistics, they aren't saying. Surely, their task against Welch will be difficult. On the other hand, Stewart had been 7-1 in the postseason. If he's mortal, then Welch is too.
Stewart allowed only two runs in two playoff starts, but last night he gave up twice that amount in four innings. He issued four walks, equaling his highest total since July 13. Davis' home run was only the second he had allowed in his last 65 innings.
The Reds led 4-0 after three innings on just two hits -- Davis' homer and an RBI double by Billy (3-for-3) Hatcher. Walks ignited both rallies. Stewart was pitching on an extra day's rest, and A's manager Tony La Russa said he "wasn't right."
Reliever Todd Burns allowed the Reds' final three runs in the fifth -- Hatcher started the rally with his second double, Davis hit an RBI single, Chris Sabo a two-RBI single. By then it was a blowout, but only because Oakland had failed to make it a game.
The A's were outhit only 10-9, but they went 0-for-8 with men in scoring position. All but two of those chances came with two outs. Rijo pitched carefully against his former team, especially when behind in counts.
"When he was with us [1985-87] and he got behind 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, he'd say to the hitter, 'Hit this fastball down the middle,' " recalled Jose Canseco, who went 0-for-2 with two walks. "This was a different Rijo."
Rijo has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 28 of his 32 starts, including his last 16. He even made a behind-the-back stab on a ground ball with his father-in-law, A's scout Juan Marichal, in attendance. "That's routine," he said of the play.
It was Rijo, of course, who proclaimed, "It's over," when the Reds took a 3-1 lead on Pittsburgh in the NL playoffs. Asked for a similar prediction last night, he laughed. "No, no, no, it's a long way from being over," he said. "Yogi's right. It's not over 'til it's over."
The reaction was no different in the A's clubhouse.
"People have to understand that this is not going to be a walkover," third baseman Carney Lansford said. "I know that it's easy to look at our team and everything we've accomplished and expect that we're just going to step on the field and win. It just doesn't happen that way."
Not now, it doesn't.
All that talk, and it's a series.