The wire-to-wire Reds were one of the best teams in franchise history.
October 20, 1990. I can’t imagine what was going on that night in Oakland as the Cincinnati Reds prepared to battle the A’s. Fans filing into the coliseum. Anticipation arising in the clubhouses. Managers mulling. Writers wondering. This wasn’t supposed to happen, was it?
They said the Reds couldn’t do it. The defending champions in Oakland were cooking. Heavily favored, the A’s had just come off a sweep of the ALCS and had a four-headed monster in José Canseco, Mark McGwire, Walt Weiss and Willie McGee.
The Athletics won the American League West by a whole nine games and their record bested the Cincinnati Reds by a daunting 12 games. They were entering their third consecutive World Series. Everybody loved Oakland to repeat and defend their 1989 championship. Then, in Game One, Eric Davis walked to the plate.
That specific at-bat took the attitude of the ball club to a whole new level. It installed the confidence that Cincinnati could flip the script. Dave Stewart started on the hill for the A’s that night at Riverfront.
Stewart pitched a career 2.77 ERA in 22 postseason appearances. Coming into the 1990 World Series, Stewart had six straight postseason wins. He only went four innings against the Reds, giving up four runs.
After a first inning walk to Billy Hatcher, Eric Davis took Stewart’s first offer to deep center. A classic No. 44 no-doubter. The top of the lineup would wreak havoc again their next time around, scoring another two runs in the third. After a four-pitch walk to Barry Larkin, Billy Hatcher lit a match and caught fire.
Hatcher’s blistering RBI-double in the third inning of Game 1 would be the first of seven consecutive hits. Hatcher would score three times en route to a 7-0 win. He’d score six runs for the Reds in the 1990 World Series, slashing an absolutely absurd .750/.800/1.250. And yes, according to Cooperstown, that 2.050 OPS is only second to Lou Gerhig’s 2.433 OPS in the 1928 World Series.
Billy Hatcher’s seven consecutive hits, batting average and on-base percentage are all still World Series records. One of Hatcher’s bats he used to accomplish those feats sits in the Hall of Fame today.
Game 2 is where the entire collective effort of the 1990 Reds really shines. Even with Larkin and Hatcher going 7-for-9 out of the one-two spot, the A’s kept answering. Ricky Henderson and the A’s were able to hit Reds pitcher Danny Jackson for a few innings.
Jackson left the game in the third inning after Cincinnati found themselves down 4-2. This is where the Reds picked up the shield to their sword. This is where the pitching met the hitting and the Big Red Machine took off.
Scott Scudder relieved Jackson, striking out two and allowing no hits. All-Star pitcher Jack Armstrong followed it up with three solid innings only allowing one hit. After an RBI-single from Ron Oester made the game 4-3, the bullpen kept Cincinnati in the game and Norm Charlton would retire three straight in the 8th.
Billy Hatcher leads off the bottom of the 8th and rips a triple off of Bill Welch. He’d score off an RBI groundball from Glenn Braggs, tying the game. Rob Dibble would enter the game to defend Hatcher’s work, ending both the 8th and the 9th inning with powerful strikeouts. Joe Oliver would walk it off in the 10th for the Reds, scoring Billy Bates on an RBI-single and winning the game 5-4.
Game 3 only saw the Reds capitalize on their perfect hitting and pitching combo. Tom Browning battled through the game to get the win in Game Three at Oakland, after leaving Riverfront Stadium in Game Two to see the birth of his child. It was a wild week for Browning, who got help from the Cincinnati offense that day in the third inning.
Already up 2-0 in the series, the Reds rolled into the Coliseum and rallied against the Athletics in the third inning of Game 3. Cincinnati batted around the lineup, scoring seven runs off of seven hits. All but two players in the lineup scored at least one run in Game 3. Another nasty shutdown from Dibble and Myers finished the Reds an 8-3 victory– brooms at the ready.
That brings us to October 20, 1990. My parents got married that night (Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!) I’m told it was quite the reception. But it was only one of the many, many parties in Cincinnati that night. Much like before a wedding, there were nerves at the game. Those nervous butterflies telling you that tonight’s the night.
Those butterflies only fluttered more at the start of Game 4. Billy Hatcher got hit by the seventh pitch of the game, then got caught steeling. He was taken out of the game due to the injury suffered upon being hit by that pitch. Then the A’s rattled Rijo right off the bat.
It was a pitching rematch of the first game, Dave Stewart versus Jose Rijo. The A’s got to Rijo early scoring a run off of two hits. Eric Davis would also have to leave the game with an injury. And now the nervous ache really set in for Cincinnati. Could it unravel?
Not if Jose Rijo had anything to say about it. Even when the bats went cold, Rijo never looked back from that first inning. He would retire 20 consecutive batters, capping off his night with a caught-him-looking strikeout for the first out of the ninth.
Randy Meyers came in and battled Jose Conseco in a great at-bat. And then, at about 8:15 PM ET, Meyers got Carney Lansford to pop up foul behind first base. Todd Benzinger caught it over his head and the 1990 World Series belonged to the Cincinnati Reds.
Rijo’s incredible starts in Game 1 and 4 earned him World Series MVP honors. It’s argued that Billy Hatcher could have earned MVP (2.050 OPS!). But Cincinnati absolutely needed that start from Rijo in Game 4 to seal the deal. Rijo pitched 15.1 innings in the 1990 World Series, giving up only one run off of nine hits with 14 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.59.
The 1990 Cincinnati Reds are such a fun team to look back on. They were the complete package. They defied so many norms. They went wire-to-wire, never letting off of the gas. They created a bullpen so nasty it’s referred to as some sort of superhero squad.
The 1990 Reds gave us moments, records and hitters that have helped define the Cincinnati franchise. They became champions as some of the biggest underdogs in World Series history.
Now, it’s been 30 years. Three decades. And before you get sad that we haven’t made it back, remember we’ll be going for the extreme feat of winning ten World Series games in row, dating back to Game 7 of 1975, whenever the Reds do make it back.
But until then, let’s celebrate The Nasty Boys. Let’s celebrate World Series MVP, Jose Rijo. Let’s celebrate Larkin, Hatcher, Sabo, Davis, and of course, ol’ Lou and the whole 1990 team. They sparked magic that October 30 years ago, they gave us a night to cherish forever.