CINCINNATI — CINCINNATI -- The Oakland Athletics never figured on this, and neither did the oddsmakers who made them lopsided favorites to win the 87th World Series.
The Cincinnati Reds have taken the first two games at Riverfront Stadium and with them a decided advantage in the best-of-seven series, scoring a 5-4, extra-inning victory in Game 2 last night to send the A's home empty-handed.
The Reds beat the best, outlasting 27-game winner Bob Welch (( and defeating Dennis Eckersley when catcher Joe Oliver brought home Billy Bates with a bouncing single down the left-field line in the 10th inning.
"I was just glad to see the ball stay fair," said Oliver, who also had a double and scored a run in the fourth. "It was something I wanted to do because I left some runners on base in the eighth inning. It was nice to put us up two games.
"I was like any other kid, I envisioned getting a big hit or a homrun to win a World Series game," Oliver said. "I was one of the lucky ones who got a chance to actually do it. I've been dreaming about this my whole life. You don't get many opportunities to do it, and I didn't want to waste it.
"We weren't intimidated when we were down [4-2], and I wasn't intimidated at the plate," said Oliver, who hit .231 this season while rarely starting against right-handers. "We had a lot of confidence."
fter Eckersley got ahead in the count 0-1, Oliver was expecting a pitch away. Instead, he got one in on the fists, but he managed to slash it just inside the line. As Oliver rounded first, he pumped both his fists in the air.
"I tried not to get too excited, but it was just as I'd envisioned it," he said. "I tried to go out there with a lot of intensity, and I was glad to see him signal it fair when it went over the bag.
"I've had some big RBI, but nothing of this magnitude," he said. "It's something I always wanted to do, and reality came true. It would be kind of hard to top this."
Center fielder Billy Hatcher followed his 3-for-3 performance iGame 1 with four straight hits last night, setting a Series record for consecutive hits and tying another for most hits in back-to-back games. His record-breaking hit was a leadoff triple in the eighth that helped the Reds come from behind against Welch and reliever Rick Honeycutt.
But it was the Cincinnati bullpen that deserved a game ball after a parade of Reds relievers shut out the A's for 7 1/3 innings. Starter Danny Jackson had self-destructed by the third, but Scott Scudder, Jack Armstrong, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble made a convincing argument that the Reds have the best bullpen depth in baseball.
"The key to the ballgame was our bullpen," Reds manager Lou Piniella said. "They held them scoreless from the third inning on. They are the ones who gave us a chance to come back, but they've been doing that all year."
The A's had to go home knowing that they could not squeeze one victory out of their two best starting pitchers. Dave Stewart pitched poorly in Game 1. Welch pitched with runners on base in seven of eight innings, but was in position to win until Hatcher scored on a force play in the eighth.
Manager Tony La Russa had Eckersley warming up in the bullpen throughout the eighth inning, but chose to go to Honeycutt with one out. Eckersley took over in the 10th and gave up a pair of one-out singles to Bates and third baseman Chris Sabo before Oliver sent 55,832 at Riverfront into hysterics.
La Russa said that he thought about using Eckersley to start the eighth, but did not seriously consider using him with runners at first and third and one out.
"I felt that it was going to be tough to escape there," La Russa said. "If you don't, I felt that Honeycutt has as good a chance of getting a ground ball as Eck has of striking the guy out. If the run scores, I didn't want Eck pitching in a tie game on the road."
Eckersley had not had anything but success in postseason play since Kirk Gibson's dramatic home run in Game 1 of the 1988 Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But he retired only one of the four batters he faced last night.
"I really didn't pitch well from the stretch tonight," Eckersley said.
"The pitch I threw to Oliver was only so-so. It was supposed to be a nasty slider. I thought we had this game tonight, but we let it get away from us. I let it get away from us."
The Reds got out of Ohio with a commanding lead, leaving the A's needing a three-game sweep this weekend at the Oakland Coliseum to get ahead before they have to return here.
"When Oakland came in here, not many people gave us a chance," Piniella said. "We felt we could compete, and we're up two ballgames."
But for eight innings, it looked very much as if the A's were going to get even, even though Welch was not as sharp as he has been at other times during his 27-victory season.
Neither Stewart nor Welch could shut down Hatcher, who has reached base in all nine of his plate appearances in the series. The A's gave up on him in the ninth inning, walking him intentionally with a runner at second and two out.
"Everything is just happening for me right now," he said. "I'm just putting the bat on the ball. But we have two more games to win. If we can win two more, they can have that record. I want the ring."
First, they'll have to visit Oakland.
"We feel really good right now, very confident," Hatcher said "But we know we're playing the world champions. We know they had won 10 straight postseason games [coming into the Series], so we're not overconfident at all."
The A's just couldn't shake them. They scored a run in the firs and three more in the third, one of them on Jose Canseco's first home run since Sept. 16. But Welch needed to be dominating and he wasn't.
Barry Larkin and Hatcher opened the first with back-to-back doubles and both would score. The Reds added a run in the fourth on an RBI single by Ron Oester and tied the game in the eighth.