CINCINNATI -- Does Eric Davis, bad shoulder and all, look just a little like Kirk Gibson? Is Jose Rijo, the right-hander on the roll of a lifetime, beginning to bear a resemblance to Orel Hershiser?
Funny how one solid fact, like that Gibson homer of 1988 or Rijo's decisive victory over Dave Stewart Tuesday night, can obliterate millions of words of abstract speculation. A World Series that was of dubious interest before it began is now, thanks to this night of concrete work, one of high drama.
The Reds did not just beat the world champion Athletics, 7-0, in Game 1 of this 87th World Series. The Reds gave them a front-to- back thumping with all manner of symbolic trappings.
To upset the A's in a Series, you have to get them thinking. Prove to them that you're not intimidated. Show that you grasp their flaws. And show that you have worthy heroes too.
A lot of that went on here Tuesday night.
First and foremost, Stewart looked awful. He was wild -- with four walks in four innings as 25 of his first 43 pitches were balls. Attempting to lay a 3-0 pitch down the pipe, Stewart bounced his fastball to the screen.
When the A's stopper did throw strikes, they traveled a long way. Eric Davis crushed a first-pitch fastball so thoroughly that he had time to stand and admire his 400-foot two-run homer over the center field wall. Billy Hatcher's RBI double was traveling about 150 mph when it zoomed over Carney Lansford's head.
After more than 1,100 innings in the past four seasons -- far more than any pitcher in the game because of his postseason work -- is Stewart's mortality showing? And if the A's need him to come back twice on three days' rest, will he improve?
"He wasn't right," said A's Manager Tony La Russa. Asked if a six-day hiatus might have gotten Stewart out of sync, La Russa said: "I've learned that explanations sound like excuses. Let's just say he was not quite right."
The A's entered this Series with a 10-game postseason winning streak. Half -- five wins -- belonged to Stewart. The A's success for the past two Octobers has, out of all normal baseball proportion, been Stewart's success. He's the heart of this team.
Ignore what Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco say, even on their pay-to-listen 900 numbers. (Yes, Rickey has one too now -- The Man Of Steal Line.) They're the gifted, fun-loving children in the A's locker room who sometimes get out of hand and have to be reprimanded. Nobody on the A's takes their bravado seriously. The worst they can do is inspire the A's foes. Stewart is the A's adult. What he says and how he performs sets the Oakland tone.
In the '88 Series, the A's lost both games Stewart started. Both times the Dodger foe was . . . Tim Belcher. About as famous a name as Jose Rijo.
Like the Dodgers in '88, the Reds needed an emotional jump-start to prove to themselves they belonged on the field with the A's. Davis provided it. Over the weekened Manager Lou Piniella suggested that Davis, because of his various injuries, bat leadoff and, essentially, give up trying to be a power-hitting cleanup man.
"I had a little meeting with Lou," said Davis. "It was pretty much to the point. I told him I didn't want to do it. I've been batting fourth most of my career and that's where I want to stay for this Series."
"We got our big guy going tonight," said Hatcher, whose walk, single, double, double night was not as vital to his team's confidence as Davis's homer, RBI single and long fly out. "It took a load off his shoulders and ours. . . . Maybe Lou made him a little upset and that was just Eric telling Lou, 'Leave me at fourth.' "
While Davis looked good in every at-bat, and almost made a tumbling catch to rob Henderson of a double, the A's comparable strongman -- Canseco -- still seemed pained by back and wrist injuries. When the Reds took an extra base on his arm, he stood in right field and shook his wrist conspicuously.
Davis wisely is playing the Caveman Kirk role to the hilt. Asked if his diving catch attempt hurt his shoulder, Davis said: "It hurts my shoulder when I'm just standing here. I don't think about how I feel when I'm between the white lines. My shoulder was still on my neck when I got up, so I knew I was all right."
The Reds, like the '88 Dodgers, also got a look at some of the A's mini-flaws. Mike Gallego, out of position at shortstop because of Walt Weiss's knee injury, made a ludicrously wild throw to the plate to help generate the Reds' fourth run. Willie Randolph, filling in at second base, failed to make a potential inning- ending double play. Chris Sabo followed instantly with a two-run hit.
The emergence of Rijo as a pitcher who relishes big games also gave this game extra impact. Twice he faced McGwire with a total of five men on base and twice Rijo got McGwire to end the innings meekly. Once, Rijo even fielded a ground ball through the middle behind his back -- out of necessity.
"Rijo got what he deserved -- seven shutout innings," said La Russa generously.
As usual, Rijo had to have his postgame fun. Against the Pirates, he said, "It's over," before it was over and, poking fun at himself, he wore an "It's Over" T-shirt on Monday. After this game, he praised the A's but added, "Pittsburgh's lineup might be just a little tougher than Oakland's."
Statistically, Rijo is right. The Pirates hit right-handers better than the A's, who have eight righty hitters.
Rijo also had the incentive of knowing his father-in-law -- Hall-of-Famer Juan Marichal -- was in the stands. "He works for the A's," said Rijo, "so he can't say much to me. But just having him here watching me is so important to me. I want to look good when he's watching. I even play golf better when I play with him."
This victory puts the Reds in the picture. Especially because a seventh game here probably would pit Rijo and Stewart in a rematch. Rijo's ERA is a full run lower in Riverfront than on the road. Stewart, on the other hand, gives up twice as many runs on the road as he does in the huge Oakland Coliseum. Rijo may not match up to Stewart overall. But he might in this park.
So what have we got? Rijo proves he can stop the A's. The Reds prove they can beat Stewart and beat him soundly. The Nasty Boys get two innings of shutout work. Davis breaks out of his playoff slump. Canseco and McGwire both continue to hit as they did against Boston, which is not much at all. The Reds run on the A's outfield arms, as they said they would, and the A's makeshift infield messes up a little.
Is that enough for one night?
Next, we get the biggest mismatch in many a year. Bob Welch (27-6) against Danny Jackson (6-6). The joker in the deck, however, is that Welch has been a poor postseason pitcher in other years and Jackson has been superb. Jackson stopped the Pirates on one hit for six innings to clinch the NL pennant. Welch will, no doubt, recall that Oct. 17 is the anniversary of the World Series Earthquake -- a day when he was scheduled to pitch but instead went home to find his house destroyed.
On one hand, the A's are the A's are the A's. On the other, as Yogi Berra said, could this be de'ja` vu all over again?