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 bewildered A's home empty-handed.
Center fielder Billy Hatcher followed his 3-for-3 performance in Game 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 Oakland starter Bob Welch and relief pitcher Rick Honeycutt.
It was catcher Joe Oliver who delivered the game-winning hit in the 10th, driving home rookie Billy Bates with a bouncer down the left field line.
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 A's 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 stopper Dennis 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 singled down the right field to send 55,832 at Riverfront into hysterics.
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.
The Reds got what they needed. They 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.
But for eight innings, it looked very much like 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.
Reds right-hander Jose Rijo may have shut down the Oakland offense in Game 1, but left-hander Jackson saw a different A's lineup last night; different in more ways than anyone was willing to admit.
For one thing, Carney Lansford had replaced Willie McGee in the second spot, which meant that Rickey Henderson was back in business. For another, Dave Henderson had moved into the fifth spot, which had to mean better pitches to hit for Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.
It didn't take very long for the changes to have an impact on this best-of-seven Series.
Rickey Henderson led off the game with a single and quickly stole second. He was on base four times the night before, but McGee never met a first pitch he didn't like, so there was no opportunity to take advantage of Henderson's base speed.
Lansford has spent much of the season creating those opportunities, and he allowed Henderson to steal second on the first pitch before laying down a sacrifice bunt. Jose Canseco followed with a ground out to bring home Oakland's first run of the Series.
That might have been enough to limit McGee's playing time the next few games, but it apparently wasn't enough to cause a significant momentum shift -- at least not yet. The Reds came back to score two runs off Welch in the first to regain the advantage, though only temporarily.
Barry Larkin and the red-hot Hatcher opened the first with back-to-back doubles and both would come around to score, but Welch settled in while the A's climbed all over Jackson.
Canseco knocked the air out of the notion that he's hurting to much to hit the long ball, sending a shot into the second deck in right field to tie the game in the third inning.
It was the first home run of the postseason for the A's, who did not raise a forearm in the playoffs and had not homered since Harold Baines hit one Oct. 3. Canseco, who has been handicapped with a sore back and a sprained finger, had not homered in more than a month -- his last coming off Minnesota's Kevin Tapani Sept. 16.
The A's went on to load the bases with a single and two walks before Ron Hassey broke the tie with a sacrifice fly and Mike Gallego handed Jackson his shower shoes with a run-scoring single.
Jackson lasted 2 2/3 innings and gave up four runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks in the worst postseason start of his career.
As with Stewart the night before, Jackson came in with some impressive October stats only to run out of luck in the early innings. He was 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA in six previous postseason games, but could not sneak past the heart of the Oakland lineup in either the first inning or the third.
The Reds had a chance to get him off the hook in the third when Larkin singled and Hatcher delivered his fourth double of the Series, but Welch was spared a run when Hatcher's gapper to left-center bounced over the fence to hold Larkin at third and Cincinnati wasted a second-and-third, no-out situation.