OAKLAND, OCT. 21 -- It ended with Eric Davis in the hospital and Jose Canseco in limbo, with Rob Dibble inciting and Dave Stewart fuming, with one dynasty fading and another perhaps in the works. Most importantly, of course, the 87th World Series concluded with the Cincinnati Reds as chest-puffed champions and the Oakland Athletics as befuddled runners-up.

Saturday night's climactic Game 4 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum brought a tense and curious final act to the most improbable of scripts. It was a game that, by its dramatic conclusion, was more remarkable for who wasn't around than for who was.

Davis was at nearby Merritt Hospital with bruised ribs and a severe contusion of his kidney that caused him to spend the night in intensive care. Fellow Reds outfielder Billy Hatcher had been there with a badly bruised hand courtesy of one of Stewart's first-inning fastballs, but was in the dugout by game's end.

Canseco, Oakland's ailing and recently ineffective slugger, was benched. And A's relief ace Dennis Eckersley was in the position in which he spent a distressingly large portion of the Series -- standing in the bullpen while the Reds charged toward their sweep with a two-run eighth inning that was the difference in a majestic pitching duel between Stewart and Cincinnati ace Jose Rijo.

As was the case all last week, Saturday's Reds came up with the plays, benefited from the breaks and claimed the victory. The Reds' 2-1 triumph gave them the 15th four-game sweep in Series history, and one of the most stunning whitewashes at that. The talk of long-term dominance that marked the A's pre-Series posturing suddenly shifted down the hallway.

"It sure was a strange night," said Cincinnati reliever Dibble, moments before unleashing a stream of biting remarks that would enrage Stewart, among others. "But strange nights are okay as long as you win. . . . We look like we've been through a real war, huh? Well, like they say, you should see the other guys. Maybe we'll try this dynasty thing for a while."

Such musing was a quantum leap in but six days for the Reds, who entered Tuesday's Game 1 just begging to be noticed despite their wire-to-wire romp through the National League West and six-game defeat of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs.

The Reds were to be fodder for the Athletics' march to greatness. Cincinnati played sub-.500 baseball for the season's last three months. The Reds had a struggling, hurting superstar in Davis and a supporting cast that was talented but mostly unproven on the big stage.

"Who picked us to win?" Manager Lou Piniella mused. "Probably just me, the guys on the team and their families. And I'm not even sure about the families part."

But the Reds seized control from the start. Davis's first-inning home run in Game 1 began a demoralizing battering of Stewart. Cincinnati took Game 2 with a tying run in the eighth against 27-game-winner Bob Welch and won it vs. Eckersley in the 10th. Then the Reds came here and clobbered the A's once more and edged them again.

They batted .317 for the series, Oakland .207. They outscored the A's 22-8 and outhit them 45-28. The A's were outclassed in virtually every facet. They didn't score a run after the third inning of any game.

Most valuable player Rijo beat Stewart twice. Barry Larkin proved a more irritating leadoff man than Rickey Henderson. Hatcher went nine for 12 -- setting a World Series record for the highest batting average with 10 or more at-bats -- and begoggled third baseman Chris Sabo nine for 16, with two homers in Game 3 and five RBI.

Canseco and teammate Mark McGwire batted four for 26 with two RBI. Henderson was on base eight times and stole three bases but scored just twice.

Cincinnati's "Nasty Boys" trio of bullpen flamethrowers provided 13 innings of scoreless relief -- yielding seven hits and three walks and striking out 12 -- but Eckersley and his cohorts gave up six runs on 18 hits and seven walks in 12 1/3 innings. Piniella's managing was flawless, Tony La Russa's often suspect.

"We were beaten up, down and all around," A's outfielder Dave Henderson said. "We were beaten to every punch, every attack and counterattack. We were outpitched, outhit, outfielded, outthought and out-attituded. . . . Otherwise, we hung right in there."

The Reds became the first team to sweep a club that had swept its way through the playoffs, and La Russa suggested that Oakland's effortless bypassing of the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series was more hinderance than benefit.

"It has to do with how you're peaking as you come into the series," he said. "When we won it last year, we built up and were at our best in the end. This time, we were kind of coasting. . . . But I give credit to Lou. He had his club peaking at the right time."

The fall of the A's was not pretty. Going into the Series, they were 91-2 when they led into the eighth inning; yet they were ahead going into the eighth twice against Cincinnati and lost both times, with Eckersley idle in Games 2 and 4 when the Athletics' grip proved less than firm.

They bickered internally, finding fault with Willie McGee's free-swinging ways in Game 1 and Canseco's concentration in Game 2. They stayed combative to the end: Dibble's post-Game 4 criticisms of Stewart's "throwing at" Hatcher led Stewart to respond angrily.

"What does he know about baseball?" steamed Stewart, challenging Dibble to meet him in a runway later. "All he is is a thrower. Send him back here when he knows how to pitch."

The A's have some patching to do. Instead of winning consecutive championships, they lost their second World Series in three years -- and in strikingly similar fashion to their 1988 five-game loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

McGee is a free agent and apparently unpopular among the other A's, although management seems intent upon re-signing him. Barring a resurgence by Mike Moore, the starting pitching is thin behind Stewart and Welch (another free-agency candidate). The first Canseco trade rumors have surfaced.

The Reds are young, hungry and likely to improve. The only malcontent is Dibble, who can be silenced with a raise.

Said Piniella: "My {spring-training} message to the players, simply stated, was: 'You've played together four or five years, now it's time this club goes on and wins. It's your turn, let's gear ourselves up for that.' And that's exactly what they did. . . . This was a wonderful accomplishment."