CINCINNATI, OCT. 16 -- Opening games of baseball series in October are message-sending moments, and the Cincinnati Reds' feats tonight were much more piercing than anything Hallmark offers. The Oakland Athletics came into Game 1 of the 87th World Series chasing history. They proceeded to spend most of their evening in Riverfront Stadium chasing Reds hits.
Seemingly overmatched but hardly overwhelmed, Cincinnati gave notice that it will not be more postseason fodder for the A's in this showdown of ambitious upstarts versus unyielding front-runners. The Reds struck early and often, dispensing with Oakland ace Dave Stewart after four wild and rocky innings and going on to a stunningly routine 7-0 victory before 55,830.
"We told them right away that we're not going to lay down and die for them," said Reds starter Jose Rijo, a onetime Oakland pitcher who won with seven innings' work.
"We got our confidence up right away. This was the most important game of the Series for us, since we were new to this situation and all we've been hearing was about how the A's were going to crush us."
Billy Hatcher and the hobbling Eric Davis led the Cincinnati assault, which began with Davis's two-run home run in the first inning and ended with a three-run fifth against Todd Burns. Hatcher had two doubles and a single among the Reds' 10 hits, was on base four times and scored three runs.
Davis added a run-scoring single to his blast off Stewart to finish with two hits and three RBI.
"I didn't give us a lift," Davis said. "I gave us the lead. That's what we needed most."
Stewart was uncharacteristically generous in his second career postseason defeat, surrendering three hits and four walks before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth after a 34-strike, 30-ball performance.
And that was more than enough for Rijo, who labored through a 104-pitch stint in which Oakland left eight runners on base. Rijo managed to induce A's slugger Mark McGwire to strand five runners in consecutive at-bats and turned matters over to "Nasty Boys" Rob Dibble and Randy Myers with a most comfortable seven-run lead.
Afterward Rijo pronounced that the Reds' National League Championship Series victims, the Pittsburgh Pirates, "might be a little tougher than Oakland." He insisted later he merely had suffered a verbal slip, but it already was apparent that most chests in the Cincinnati clubhouse had puffed considerably.
"Any team that wins the first game of a series has a little extra confidence and momentum," Oakland Manager Tony La Russa said. Stewart "just wasn't right. He had control problems, and when he threw strikes he just had too much of the plate. . . . That's what happens when you make mistakes against a good-hitting team."
The A's had a 10-game postseason winning streak snapped -- the second-longest such string of all time -- while the Reds came away victorious in their first World Series game since 1976.
The only thing now between Oakland and a 0-2 deficit is Game 2 starter Bob Welch, he of the 27 wins during the regular season but also of a 3.94 ERA on the road. For his career, Welch's postseason road ERA is 5.03. He'll oppose Cincinnati's lone player with prior World Series experience, left-hander Danny Jackson.
Tonight's defeat might have been a crusher for anyone with less resiliency than the A's, for Oakland had Stewart -- who was 7-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 12 previous postseason appearances -- on the mound.
Yet the A's seemed curiously vulnerable.
Jose Canseco, Willie McGee, Rickey Henderson and Dave Henderson all are ailing. Without the designated hitter in effect, the bottom portion of their lineup consisted of Terry Steinbach, Willie Randolph, Mike Gallego -- who combined for 14 homers and 121 RBI during the regular season -- and Stewart.
Still, the Reds were in flux too.
Manager Lou Piniella asked Davis before the Series about moving from his cleanup spot to leadoff. Davis declined, saying his aching knees and tender left shoulder wouldn't let him be as reckless on the bases as Piniella would have required.
Davis's season has been a painful, disappointing one. He had nine of his 24 home runs and 29 of his 86 RBI during comparatively healthy five-week stretch during August and September in which he hit .357.
But he damaged the shoulder Sept. 27 running into an outfield wall as he tried to make a catch, and his swing has suffered badly since.
"The shoulder hurts just sitting here," Davis said after the game.
He was four for 23 during a nightmare of an NLCS in which he managed to pull just five balls to the left of second base. He hadn't homered since Sept. 26, and he scrapped the injury-induced adjustments in his swing and approach that he tried during the playoffs.
But when Stewart tried to sneak a first-pitch fastball by Davis with two out and Hatcher on first base via a walk in the first inning, Davis became the 22nd player to homer in his first World Series at-bat. And he did so in imposing fashion, lifting a line shot into a cameraman's box left of the 404-foot sign in center field for a 2-0 Cincinnati lead.
"We got our big guy going tonight," Hatcher said. "I think he took a load off his shoulders in the first inning. I think Lou made him upset when he wanted him to bat leadoff, and this was his way of saying he wants to bat cleanup."
Said Piniella: "He'll stay right in the four spot" Wednesday.
Stewart's struggles had just begun. The burly right-hander walked Chris Sabo and Mariano Duncan in the Reds' second but escaped unscathed. He wasn't so fortunate in the third.
Barry Larkin drew a leadoff walk, then Hatcher yanked a stinging line drive into the left field corner for a double. Rickey Henderson retrieved the ball flawlessly, but shortstop Gallego's relay sailed high over catcher Steinbach as Larkin scored.
The error sent Hatcher to third, and he scored for a 4-0 advantage on Paul O'Neill's bouncer that Stewart ran down along the first base line.
"I just wasn't sharp," Stewart said. "I didn't have a real 'out' pitch, not a good fastball or forkball. . . . This is a big psychological lift for them."
Rijo meanwhile battled through the early innings to keep Oakland at bay. He got Henderson and Canseco on called third strikes in the first inning, then stranded Carney Lansford at third in a two-hit Oakland second by striking out Gallego with a down-the-pipe fastball.
Henderson (three hits) managed a one-out double in the third when Davis couldn't hold his liner after a dive in left field, but Rijo walked Canseco with two out and got McGwire on a grounder to Larkin.
McGwire again was a rally-killer in the fifth. Doug Jennings pinch-hit for Stewart and delivered a one-out single, and the A's loaded the bases with two outs on McGee's single and another walk to Canseco. McGwire popped out to second.
Both key pitches to McGwire were badly placed sliders, Rijo said. "I have to be honest," he said. "I got lucky."
Cincinnati quickly padded its lead against Burns with a three-run, four-hit outburst. Hatcher doubled, O'Neill walked and Davis scorched an RBI single to left. Hal Morris grounded out sharply, but Sabo skipped a two-out, two-run single through the middle for 7-0.