WHEN BASEBALL fans speak of a team's becoming a "dynasty," they don't mean it has to reign for as long as the Ming or the Hapsburgs -- just win three or four World Series in a row. That's no easy thing in itself, of course -- the last to do it were the Oakland Athletics of the early 1970s -- but now and then it seems to be within reach for some particularly overwhelming group, such as the current edition of the Athletics.

The A's, winners of last year's Series, rolled up 103 victories this season, swept through the American League playoffs and approached with considerable confidence a World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, some of whom let it be known they were happy just to be there. By Saturday night they were a good bit happier, and the dynastic hopes of the House of Oakland were disappointed.

This was the second time in three years the A's had suffered embarrassment in a World Series. In 1988 they were upset by the Los Angeles Dodgers when people named Hershhiser, Gibson and (Mickey) Hatcher played above expectations. This time it was people named Rijo, Sabo and (Billy) Hatcher who helped bring the A's down in four straight games.

In the clubhouse Saturday night, the A's best big-game, pitcher, Dave Stewart, reflected on how a long season's work could be overshadowed by just four bad games. Call it the Cleveland Syndrome, after the 1954 Indians, who won 111 games and went on to lose four straight in a World Series remembered only for one spectacular catch by Willie Mays of the New York Giants.

The Indians haven't won a pennant since, but the A's seem equipped to bounce back, although perhaps slightly chastened, which often isn't such a bad thing for a vastly talented ball club. In the meantime, the grand old baseball town of Cincinnati gets a chance to celebrate its unexpectedly good and winningly modest (for now at least; in a year they may be talking about a dynasty) Reds and then enjoy a year as champion -- a welcome break after a year and more of the Pete Rose scandal.