The 1990 World Series matched the defending champions and heavily-favored Oakland Athletics against the Cincinnati Reds, with the Reds sweeping the Series in four games. It was the most recent National League sweep of the American League. It is remembered for Billy Hatcher's seven consecutive hits. This also was the second World Series meeting between the two clubs (Oakland won four games to three in 1972).
Athletics manager Tony La Russa and Reds manager Lou Piniella were old friends and teammates from their Tampa American Legion Post 248 team.
The Cincinnati Reds won the National League West division by five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers and set an NL record by staying in first place in the division for the entire season or "wire-to-wire", which had been done only one other time (1984 Detroit Tigers) and then defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, four games to two, in the National League Championship Series.
The Oakland Athletics won the American League West division by nine games over the Chicago White Sox then defeated the Boston Red Sox, four games to none, in the American League Championship Series.
The Oakland Athletics were the defending World Series champions, two-time defending American League champions, and favorites against the Reds. The Oakland Athletics became the first franchise to appear in three consecutive World Series since the 1976–1978 New York Yankees. Their lineup consisted of three former AL Rookies-of-the-Year: José Canseco, (1986); Mark McGwire, (1987); and Walt Weiss, (1988). A's outfielder Willie McGee won a batting title that year, but it wasn't the AL batting title. He batted .335 for the NL's St Louis Cardinals before he was traded in late August to Oakland.
Behind starter Dave Stewart and reliever Dennis Eckersley, the Athletics had won 306 games over the prior three seasons
Once again, the defending champion Oakland Athletics returned for their third consecutive Fall Classic determined to start the new decade as they had ended the last. Throughout the late '80s, the A's had maintained dominant play (on both sides of the ball) and many felt the title was a foregone conclusion as the perennial champions had just completed a ten game winning streak thanks to one of the most well balanced rosters in all of baseball. On the mound, Oakland boasted Bob Welch (with twenty-seven wins), Dave Stewart (twenty) and ace reliever Dennis Eckersley who recorded forty-eight saves and a 0.61 ERA. At the plate, the "Dynamic Duo" of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco combined for seventy-six home runs and Rickey Henderson led the American League with sixty-five stolen bases and finished as runner-up for the American League batting title with a .325 average and twenty-eight bombs. Adding to the team's aura of invincibility was the late-August acquisitions of Willie McGee (1990 National League batting champ) from the St. Louis Cardinals and Harold Baines from the Texas Rangers. Their opponents, the Cincinnati Reds were no strangers to postseason play either, but this Reds roster was not the familiar blueprint of the Big Red Machine that had ruled the National League during the 1970's. No player in the line-up had over twenty-five home runs or more than eighty-six runs batted in and their top pitcher finished with only fifteen wins.
It was "David vs. Goliath" for Game 1 as the home team mortals knocked down the visiting giant with a two run blast in the first courtesy of Eric Davis. The Reds added more two runs in the third inning and, with Chris Sabo slashing a two run single, tacked on three additional in the fifth. Cincinnati's Jose Rijo managed things on the other side of the ball and shutout the American League's top line-up with seven hits and five strikeouts. Relievers Rob Dibble and Randy Myers both worked an inning to close out the National Leaguers' 7-0 opening win at Riverfront Stadium.
Still shell-shocked by the upset in Game 1, the A's managed a 4-2 lead after three innings of Game 2. Canseco (who had driven in the first run of the game) led-off his team's three run rally in the third when he sent a long bomb to right. The Reds pulled within a single run after pinch-hitter Ron Oester knocked a run scoring single off Welch in the fourth. Cincinnati then tied the game when Glenn Braggs (another pinch-hitter) brought Bill Hatcher home with a force out grounder in the eighth. After leading off with a triple, Hatcher set a World Series record with his seventh consecutive hit over a two game period. The A's continued to stumble in the ninth as Todd Benzinger shot a Rick Honeycutt pitch to deep left field, but Rickey Henderson saved the go-ahead run by making a sensational leaping catch. In the tenth, pinch-hitter Billy Bates managed a single against the impenetrable Eckersley and Chris Sabo followed suite. Joe Oliver finished the rally (and the game) with a clutch RBI single down the thrd base line. Despite Oakland's bullpen getting all of the pre-game press, Cincinnati's put up the numbers (in the 5-4 triumph) after their relievers combined for 7 1/3 shutout innings.
Now down by two, Oakland retreated home to their own ballpark to rethink their strategy, as the Reds were obviously playing better in the field than they were "on paper". Tom Browning drew the start for the visitors in Game 3 and along with returning relievers Dibble and Myers who continued their on-the-job training. Sabo belted two home runs off Mike Moore (including one in the seven-run third inning) and the Reds racked up another 8-3 victory that moved them within one win of a sweep.
Game 4 was a rematch of the opener between Rijo and Stewart and things finally appeared to turn in Oakland's favor as the Reds fell behind, 1-0, in the first after Oakland's Carney Lansford singled home McGee, who had doubled to left field. Things got worse for manager Lou Piniella's team as both outfielders Hatcher (who hit a Series record .750) and Davis left due to injuries and were replaced by Braggs and Herm Winningham. Rijo persevered after surrendering the lead run and held the A's in tow while his rival Stewart matched him by holding leadoff hitters on base four times in a five inning stretch. Barry Larkin led off the Reds' eighth with a single and Winningham followed with a perfect bunt. Paul O'Neill also beat out an intentional blooper to load the bases and Braggs came through with a force out grounder that netted the tying run. Hal Morris followed with a sac-fly that pushed Cincinnati ahead, 2-1. Rijo (who had retired twenty consecutive batters) was pulled in the ninth in favor of Myers and the reliever responded by inducing Canseco to ground out, and forcing Lansford to foul out for the win and title. In the end, it was a sweep as so many experts had predicted, unfortunately for A's fans, it was the wrong team left holding the broom.