#103: 1990 World Series

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Note: Leverage Index is an average of the leverage of situations, with 1 being average, below 1 being low-pressure, and above 1 being high-pressure.

1990 was an odd little World Series. It was a 4-game sweep. 2 of the games weren’t contests at all and can safely be called bad games. The other 2 were above average and can safely be called great ones. Here’s a list of World Series that had 2 games with an average leverage under 0.50 (remember, 1 is just average):

  • 1923 – 6 games
  • 1940 – 7 games
  • 1959 – 6 games
  • 1960 – 6 games
  • 1965 – 7 games
  • 1968 – 7 games
  • 1977 – 6 games
  • 1982 – 7 games
  • 1990 – 4 games
  • 2001 – 7 games

If you’re curious, there are only 57 such games in World Series history. 20 of them clustered in 10 years is unusual enough. For 2 to have happened in a sweep? It’s definitely irregular; as you can see, no other sweep or 5 game Series produced 2 games with an average leverage under 0.50.

So why didn’t 1990 rank lower? It had 2 really strong games, both registering over 1.4 in leverage. 60 games in World Series had a leverage of 1.5 or higher, making great games only slightly more common than bad ones. 1990 featured one of those 60, and the first we’ve come to so far on the list.

Like I said, it was an odd World Series.

HOF-er Barry Larkin won his only championship in 1990, with a surprising sweep of the heavily favored A’s.

The Teams

The 1990 Cincinnati Reds (91-71) were something of a surprise. The team had been pretty good throughout the mid to late 80’s, finishing 2nd in the NL West in 4 straight years from 1985-1988. In ’89, however, they plummeted to 5th in the division, losing 87 games. In August of ’89, manager Pete Rose was banned from baseball for gambling. The offense was middling and run prevention was just plain bad. Much of the same cast of players returned for ’90, so the one year turnaround wasn’t exactly expected. The pitching staff, Cincinnati’s biggest liability the year before, had become the team’s greatest strength. Tom Browning (15-9, 3.80) ate innings and was the nominal ace, but he was possibly the worst of the team’s primary starters. 25 year old Jose Rijo (14-8, 2.70) led the team in complete games (7) and strikeouts (152). Equally young Jack Armstrong (12-9, 3.49) was impressive, and Danny Jackson (6-6, 3.61) emerged as a reliable starter down the stretch. Of course, when you talk about the pitching on the 1990 Reds, folks generally don’t want to hear about the starters (although I think Jose Rijo might be the most criminally underrated pitcher of his generation). In 1990, it was all about the Nasty Boys. The appropriately nicknamed bullpen (not for hygiene reasons, but for the pitches they threw… ok, and maybe some hygiene too, considering they were ballplayers in 1990) was magnificent. Lefty closer Randy Myers (2.08, 31 saves, 10.2 K/9) dominated in his first season in Cincy, coming over from the Mets in a trade for John Franco. Norm Charlton (12-9, 2.74) moonlighted as a starter, and an effective one, but struck out 57 in 50.2 relief innings during the regular season. Perhaps the most memorable of the big three was the hardest throwing one of all – Rob Dibble (8-3, 1.74, 136 K’s in 98 IP, 11 saves). To a lesser extent, the Nasty Boys also included Tim Layana (3.49, 2 saves) and Tim Birtsas (3.86, 7.2 K/9). It was a deep and dominant pen. While the offense wasn’t a juggernaut, it had some stars. CF Eric Davis (.260/.347/.486) hit 24 HR and was 21/24 in SB attempts. 2B Mariano Duncan (.306/.345/.476) hit 11 triples, 10 homers, and stole 13 bags.  SS Barry Larkin (.301/.358/.396) stole 30 bases, 3B Chris Sabo (.270/.343/.476) led the team with 38 doubles and 25 homers while stealing 25 bases to boot, 1B Hal Morris (.340/.381/.498) emerged as a useful hitter in a partial season, and RF Paul O’Neill (.270/.339/.421) was solid as well.

The Oakland Athletics (103-59), however, were the heavy favorites and defending champions. At just 3.52 runs allowed per game, the A’s were half a run better than almost everyone else in the AL. The 2 men at the top of the rotation, Dave Stewart (22-11, 2.56, 166 K’s, 11 CG, 4 shutouts) and Bob Welch (27-6, 2.95), were chiefly responsible, but the rest of the rotation lagged a bit: Scott Sanderson (17-11, 3.88) was a decent inning eater with good run support, Mike Moore (13-15, 4.65) walked more batters than he struck out, and Curt Young (9-6, 4.85) wasn’t particularly good either. Moreso than the aforementioned Reds, the A’s pitching strength was bullpen dominance. Dennis Eckersley (0.61, 48 saves) turned in possibly the greatest relief season in history – in 73.1 innings of work, he issued just 3 unintentional walks while striking out 73. And did you see that ERA? It’s dizzying… Eck managed to have an ERA+ of 603 that year. Those aren’t even video game numbers, because if any video game allowed you to do that, it’s broken. The rest of the pen was phenomenal as well; Todd Burns (2.97), Gene Nelson (1.57, 5 saves), Rick Honeycutt (2.70, 7 saves), and Joe Klink (2.04) all excelled at keeping runs off the board. The A’s offense was star-studded as in previous years, naturally. LF Rickey Henderson (.325/.439/.577) hit 33 doubles, 28 homers, scored 119 times, stole 65 bases, and won the AL MVP. RF Jose Canseco (.274/.371/.543) hit 37 homers and drove in 101. 1B Mark McGwire (.235/.370/.489) led the team with 110 walks, 39 homers, and 108 RBI. CF Dave Henderson (.271/.331/.467) hit 20 homers. The team swept the Red Sox in the ALCS, outscoring Boston 20-4 in the 4-game set. Oakland was on fire, and they had the better team and the postseason experience.

Game 1

Other pitchers may have gotten more attention for either due to traditional stats like Wins, but Dave Stewart and Jose Rijo were the best pitchers on either team, and they faced off in Game 1. In the bottom of the first, Eric Davis hit a 2 run homer off the defending World Series MVP, driving in CF Billy Hatcher (be prepared to hear his name a lot). In the 3rd, with Larkin on 1st, Hatcher doubled him in for a 3-0 lead, advancing to 3rd on a relay throw error from Mike Gallego. Paul O’Neill put the ball in play to bring home Hatcher, and Cincy led 4-0. In the 5th, Oakland would get the tying run to the plate in the form of feared slugger Mark McGwire, but Rijo escaped the bases loaded jam, inducing a pop-up from McGwire to end the inning. In the bottom half, with Stewart already chased from the game and replaced by Todd Burns, Hatcher doubled and would again be driven in by Davis, this time on a single. Two batters later, Chris Sabo singled in two more runners, and Cincinnati had a commanding 7-0 lead. Rijo would have only needed 1, as he was dominant through 7 innings before turning things over to Dibble and Myers, who held things scoreless for a 7-0 final.

Average leverage: 0.455


Game 2

1990 wasn’t a great World Series, mostly thanks to Games 1 and 3, two really uncompetitive duds, but Game 2 was a truly great World Series game.

With Danny Jackson facing CYA winner-to-be Bob Welch (sadly, not the same Bob Welch that was in Fleetwood Mac and gave us the immortal “Ebony Eyes”), Game 2 gave us the finest game of the Series. The scoring started early, with Rickey Henderson leading off with a single, stealing 2nd, and coming around to score after a bunt and a groundout. Oakland took 3 batters to score, and Cincinnati matched them in 2 – Larkin led off with a double, and Billy Hatcher, coming off a Game 1 where he reached base all 4 times he batted, including 2 doubles, doubled Larkin in to tie things up. Hatcher took 3rd on a sac-fly and scored on a Davis groundout for a 2-1 lead. In Oakland’s 2nd, an error from Jackson put the tying run in scoring position, but after getting to 3rd, he wasn’t able to score. In the 3rd, however, Canseco homered to tie things up. McGwire singled, Dave Henderson and Willie Randolph walked, and a sac-fly from Ron Hassey brought McGwire home to take a 3-2 lead. Henderson advanced to 3rd on a pickoff throwing error from Reds C Joe Oliver, and he’d score on a Gallego single to give Oakland a 4-2 lead. The Reds quickly mounted a threat in the bottom half of the 3rd, with Larkin leading off with a single followed by a ground rule double from – guess who – Hatcher. With 2 men in scoring position and no outs, Welch somehow got out of the jam with a short fly and two groundouts. In the 4th, Oakland batted several times with RISP but came away still holding the 4-2 lead. In the bottom of the 4th, Oliver doubled and Ron Oester drove him in with a single to close the gap to 4-3. The score held without incident until the 8th, when Hatcher led off with a triple. O’Neill walked and Welch got Davis to fly out to shallow right, holding the runners. Rick Honeycutt replaced Welch and Glenn Braggs put one into play to score Hatcher and tie the game at 4-4. Dibble and Honeycutt retired each side in the 9th, and Dibble repeated the feat in the 10th. In the Reds’ 10th, facing Dennis Eckersley, Billy Bates pinch hit for Dibble with one out and singled. Chris Sabo then singled. Joe Oliver then hit a walk-off single, giving Cincinnati a 2-0 lead in the Series as things headed west.

Average leverage: 1.555

Game 3

In the 2nd inning of Game 3, Chris Sabo homered for the Reds and Harold Baines answered with a 2 run bomb for the A’s, and it looked like it could be another game like the instant classic played 48 hours earlier. Those thoughts ended in the next half-inning. Here’s the sequence of Reds hitters against A’s pitcher Mike Moore:
Larkin – pop out in foul territory
Hatcher – single
O’Neill – reached on McGwire error, Hatcher to 3rd
Davis – RBI single, O’Neill to 3rd, Davis to 2nd on throw (Reds tie 2-2)
Morris – RBI groundout, Davis to 3rd (Reds up 3-2)
Sabo – 2 run HR (Reds up 5-2)
Todd Benzinger – single
(Scott Sanderson “relieves” Mike Moore)
wild pitch, Benzinger to 2nd
Oliver – RBI double (Reds up 6-2)
Duncan – RBI single (Reds up 7-2)
Duncan steals 2nd
Larkin – RBI triple (Reds up 8-2)
Hatcher – groundout to end the inning

Rickey Henderson led off the bottom of the 3rd with a HR, but after that, nothing else happened. It was close and interesting for only 2 innings. All Oakland accomplished was getting Billy Hatcher out for the first time all Series. He only went 2-5 in this one.

Average leverage: 0.450

Game 4

Rijo and Stewart faced off again, and this time the pitching matchup played as advertised. Oakland took a 1st inning lead on a Carney Lansford RBI single. After that, both pitchers just traded zeros, with Oakland still clinging to a 1-0 lead after 7 innings. In the 8th, however, the tide turned against Stewart. Cincinnati loaded the bases with 2 singles and a throwing error from Stewart. With ducks on the pond and nobody out, Braggs grounded into a forceout, scoring Barry Larkin. With runners on the corners, Hal Morris hit a deep sac-fly to RF, scoring Herm Winningham for a 2-1 Cincinnati lead. Rijo got through the 8th and struck out Dave Henderson to start the 9th before turning things over to Randy Myers. Myers got a groundout from Canseco and got Lansford to pop up into foul territory to finish the sweep.

Average leverage: 1.41


Early in this series, we looked at the 1928 World Series. In that Series, Babe Ruth batted .625, setting a Fall Classic record that would stand for 62 years. The record would be broken by Reds sparkplug Billy Hatcher, who batted .725, going 9-12 with 4 doubles, a triple, and two walks. His OBP was .800! His OPS over 2! And again, we’re talking about Billy Hatcher here. Billy Hatcher played 1233 regular season games and reached base at least 4 times in 31 of them. He reached base 5 times in a game once. In the first two games of the 1990 World Series, he batted 9 times and reached base 9 times, 4 times in Game 1 and 5 times in Game 2. It was a historic performance, to say the least.

And it wasn’t even good enough for MVP honors. Those went to Jose Rijo, who threw 15.1 innings, allowing 14 baserunners and 1 run while striking out 14.

For the 2nd time in 3 years, a World Series game ended in the 10th inning with a walk-off against Dennis Eckersley. And for the 2nd time in 3 years, a heavily favored Athletics team was beaten soundly by the NL champion.

It’s the most recent World Series appearance for either team, the last Series ever played at Riverfront Stadium, and the 102nd most competitive World Series ever played.

Average leverage: 0.9675

About Brent Blackwell 172 Articles

Brent Blackwell also writes for College Football By The Numbers at www.cfbtn.com.

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