CINCINNATI -- Please, Doc, just let us wake up. We know these are only the aftereffects of the anesthetic. Soon, the surgery will be over. We'll all wake up and . . .

Ahhhhhh, you mean it's all real !!??

Yes, the Oakland A's have had better nightmares than this World Series.

If baseball's defending champions aren't spooked out of their wits, and maybe hallucinating some too, then it's 'cause they're totally unconscious after what has hit them in the first two games.

Is it really possible that Dennis Eckersley lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 5-4, in sudden death in the 10th inning? Wasn't that the score of the Kirk Gibson Game? When did Eck become Prometheus, suffering the same pain repeatedly?

Did the Reds actually win on a ground ball hit by Joe Oliver that nicked the outside edge of the foul line? And who started the rally off the greatest relief pitcher in the universe? Yes, Billy Bates: zero career hits as a Red.

After their legendary embarrassment in the 1988 Series, the proud, often downright vain A's thought those who learned from history would not be condemned to repeat it.

Soooorry. What we have in the works here is A's Agonistes.

Is Billy Hatcher, who has begun this Series with seven straight hits and nine consecutive times on base really Mickey Hatcher, the unknown Dodger who drove the A's crazy two Octobers ago?

Are Ron Oester and Glenn Braggs, whose pinch-hit RBI tied this game, really the Dodger Stunt Men in disguise? Will they pull off their simulated human-skin masks and reveal themselves to be Mike Davis and Rick Dempsey?

After Game 1 we knew that injured Eric Davis was really Kirk Gibson and Jose (0.00) Rijo was Orel Hershiser. But the events of Game 2 in Riverfront Stadium Wednesday night seem to carry the notion of baseball reincarnation to extremes. Can a game as fabulous as this Reds win really be nothing more than a reductio ad absurdum ? What have these A's done to offend the gods to such a degree?

It's not just that the hugely favored A's -- Jose Canseco flatly predicted a sweep -- have lost. It's the way they have lost and the people who have been picked to bear the pain.

Dave Stewart, the Ace, lost Game 1. Eckersley, for three years almost perfect -- except in his first Series save chance -- lost this one.

Manager Tony La Russa, the brains of the outfit, managed horribly in this one. It will take a week to dissect his dubious decisions, several of which did not blow up in his face. Most of all, why did he get Eckersley warm in the bullpen twice -- in the eighth and ninth innings -- then not use him until the 10th? La Russa may not have done that all year. When Eck gets up, Eck comes in. He doesn't heat, cool, heat, cool, then finally heat up, come in and lose.

As for Canseco, he's got to be having second thoughts about this Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali braggadocio act. If he doesn't get the message -- that baseball always comes back to bite you -- after this game, then maybe he never will. Canseco drove in one run with a groundout and another with a home run.

Yet he had as horribly unflattering a game as a man could fear. He misjudged Barry Larkin's leadoff double in the first inning; that proved to be worth two Reds runs. He fell fielding another ball. He threw wildly to the plate in a crisis and was only saved because Hatcher was held at third. He let a routine liner fall in front of him.

Above all, however, Canseco made a huge mental error in the bottom of the eighth with the A's holding a 4-3 lead. In that situation, you guard the lines in the infield and play an exaggeratedly deep outfield to prevent any ball from getting up the gap or over your head.

Hatcher hit a high liner that never made it to the warning track on the fly. Yet the ball ticked off Canseco's glove and ended up a triple. When Braggs scored Hatcher with a ground out, the Dy-Nasty Boys were faced with a tie game and the prospect of seeing the whole Nasty Boys bullpen, if needed.

"If you're going to win, you have to catch that ball," said La Russa, coldly and evenly. "Canseco did not get a very good jump. The question is why?"

La Russa, asked if it hurt more to lose games with Stewart and Eckersley, answered: "No, it makes it better. When you take your best shot, if you lose, you have no complaints or regrets."

What have we here? A tone of philosophical resignation already? With the next three games back in the Oakland Coliseum?

The A's have to be forgiven for anything they say or think after this game. Ballplayers are superstitious as a group. And these two games would make an irrationalist of Isaac Newton.

"We didn't come here to be an opponent. We came here to win the World Series," said Reds Manager Lou Piniella after this miraculous 11:57 p.m. finish. Lou loves the ponies. But he's never held a ticket on a long shot like the one to which he holds the reigns right now.

As this Series returns to Oakland, much of underdog- loving America will feel something akin to euphoria at this ghostly repeat of one of the greatest of all World Series. Nobody brings chicken soup to Goliath.

Still, if the A's -- battered and bruised from the top of their lineup to the bottom -- can resurrect their spirit in the face of these first two games, they will lay the groundwork for great deeds. How many times in the last two winters have the A's asked themselves, "If only we could go back and play the Dodgers again. If only we hadn't let our nerves get the better of us, if only we hadn't pressed when we got down."

Now, the A's get to go back in time. It is October 1988 again -- or as much a recreation of that moment as any mind could imagine. They get to live their worst hour all over again. They can make it right. Or they can suffer a repeat of pain the likes of which few athletic teams have ever known.