OAKLAND, OCT. 20 -- The Cincinnati Reds wobbled, but they refused to fall. Even first-inning injuries to two key performers and a succession of foiled rallies could not derail their charge to a World Series sweep of the Oakland Athletics. Jose Rijo outdueled Dave Stewart and the Reds won their first World Series in 14 years with a 2-1 victory tonight before 48,613 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
By the second inning, the lineups more closely resembled a those in a spring training B game than a World Series showdown. A's Manager Tony La Russa reshuffled his lineup to exclude ailing slugger Jose Canseco, and the Reds suffered through a torturous beginning, falling behind by a run and losing outfielders Billy Hatcher and Eric Davis.
Stewart bruised Hatcher's left hand with a pitch. The severity of Davis's injury -- he did it diving for a line drive -- became clear as the night went on. He was admitted to the intensive care unit at Merritt Hospital with bruised ribs and a severely bruised kidney. He was expected to be hospitalized three to five days.
But Stewart and Rijo remained, and these friends and former A's teammates crafted a pitchers' battle of supreme majesty. Rijo limited Oakland to two hits -- none after the first inning -- and struck out nine in an 8 1/3-inning masterpiece, retiring the last 20 hitters he faced to beat Stewart for the second time in the Series and become its most valuable player.
"This is the greatest feeling I've ever had in my life," he said. "We beat a great team, so that means we are a great team. . . . I hung in there and we hung in there, and now we're the champions. Everyone said we couldn't win, but the Oakland A's are second-best now."
Randy Myers got two outs to preserve the triumph, retiring pinch hitter Canseco on a grounder to third baseman Chris Sabo -- who went three for four tonight to finish the Series nine for 16 -- and Carney Lansford on a foul popout to first baseman Todd Benzinger.
"You're looking at a team that's just realizing its greatness," Reds Manager Lou Piniella said. "The battle all year was for them to believe just how good they are. Maybe now they do."
Stewart was slightly less overwhelming than Rijo but almost as effective in battling through a gritty seven-hitter. He took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning.
Cincinnati went zero for eight with men in scoring position through seven innings and had runners at third base in both the sixth and seventh with less than two out and left them there. But Barry Larkin led off the eighth with a line-drive single to center field, and Herm Winningham (Hatcher's replacement) beat out a bunt.
Stewart's throw then pulled Willie Randolph off first base on Paul O'Neill's bunt to leave the bases loaded with no outs. Glenn Braggs's grounder -- he was Davis's replacement -- to shortstop Mike Gallego produced one run. Then, after La Russa visited the mound and opted to leave Stewart there rather than go to closer Dennis Eckersley, Hal Morris's fly to Willie McGee in right field brought home Winningham with the ultimate Series-winner.
"I fought them all I could," Stewart said. "They earned this. I clawed at them and they clawed at me, and they finally won on a couple bunts and with a couple guys who weren't even supposed to be in there. That tells me it wasn't meant to be for us."
Said La Russa: "To me, Stew is the guy who was in charge of that game. Eckersley wasn't very close to getting in. . . . They just outplayed us from start to finish. Winning feels better than most people think, and losing feels worse."
No team ever has recovered from the predicament the A's faced tonight. Of the 17 previous clubs to face 0-3 World Series deficits, 14 had been swept and three had lost in five games.
Looking to rewrite history, La Russa juggled his lineup. Dave Henderson batted third, Lansford fifth and Mark McGwire seventh -- one spot behind Jamie Quirk, the third-string catcher who had 121 regular-season at-bats and never had played in a World Series despite being eligible three times.
Canseco took his benching without protest. "It's the manager's decision," he said. "I'll go out there when he tells me to, and I'll sit down in the dugout when he tells me to. . . . It's not my preference, but I'll live with it."
And the A's wore their best mask of defiance. As a rallying point they had Stewart, who won 13 of 19 starts after an Oakland loss this year and entered tonight with a 7-2 record and 2.32 ERA in postseason play despite his Game 1 loss to Rijo.
"We were confident we could come all the way back," Stewart said. "We were absolutely sure we were going to send this thing back to Cincinnati" for at least a Game 6.
The A's began well, leading after the first inning for the first time in the Series as La Russa's changes provided quick dividends and key Reds came up lame.
Hatcher was nine for 12 in the series when he approached the plate in the first, but he couldn't elude Stewart's inside fastball. He was in obvious distress but tried to remain in the game, finally leaving before the Reds took the field for the second.
Davis's, however, was the more alarming injury. It occurred as he tried to stab McGee's one-out, first-inning liner to left field. He had the ball momentarily, but it was jarred loose as he struck the ground and rolled. McGee pulled into second while Davis writhed on the ground after he flipped the ball from under him toward the infield..
He too stayed in the game briefly. But televison cameras caught him being all but carried by trainers toward the Cincinnati clubhouse after the inning ended. It seemed unlikely that either would have been able to play again in the Series.
"I was going to have to activate myself," Piniella said. "We won at a very opportune time."
Before the pair departed, though, the A's took the lead. Dave Henderson followed McGee's double by popping out, and the Reds walked Harold Baines to get to Lansford. But he grounded an RBI single through the middle -- at the time, Oakland's third hit in 24 at-bats with runners in scoring position during the Series.
They would have only one more, as McGee struck out with runners at second and third in the second and Rijo -- using more sliders than fastballs -- and Myers didn't permit a base runner thereafter. "They just shut us down, end of story," Lansford said.
Cincinnati threatened against Stewart in the early going but couldn't cash in. Sabo singled with two outs in the second and Todd Benzinger followed with a smash toward the right-center field alley. But McGee ran the drive down from right, a catch that Canseco almost certainly would not have made.
The Reds got Joe Oliver's leadoff double in the third, but wasted it when Stewart retired Mariano Duncan, Larkin and Winningham on meek grounders.
Stewart breezed through relatively uneventful fourth and fifth innings, then survived a rocky sixth in which a faced a bases-loaded, one-out jam after wrapping walks to Larkin and Braggs around Winningham's single.
But Morris obliged by beating a forkball into the ground for a double-play bouncer to second baseman Randolph, and Oakland kept its lead.
The Reds' frustrations mounted in the seventh. Sabo led off by lining a double off the top of the left field wall, missing his third home run in two nights by a foot. Benzinger moved him to third with a grounder to Randolph, but Stewart left him there by getting Oliver on a hopper to Lansford against a drawn-in infield and Duncan on a lazy fly to Dave Henderson.
"I knew all we needed was two runs," said Rijo, who shouted the same message to his teammates in the dugout before their eighth-inning burst. "For a while, I didn't think we were going to get it. But these guys always give me reason to believe."