The A’s were Amazed.
The A’s were Awful.
The A’s were Ambushed.
And now, after 4 losses to the Dodgers in 5 World Series games, the A’s are Awaiting 1989.
“My heart is broken right now,” said Tony La Russa, manager of an Oakland Athletics ballclub that won 104 regular-season games, swept Boston in the American League playoffs but will be remembered as the greatest Goliath to fall in the Fall Classic since the 1969 Baltimore Orioles.
“I felt like we let a lot of people down. Fans. The league. Ourselves. Yeah, we let a lot of people down.”
Most of all, the ’88 A’s let history down. Their 104-58 record was the third-best in the American League over the past 30 years. Their playoff triumph over the Red Sox was the first 4-game postseason sweep since the Cincinnati Reds brushed aside the New York Yankees in the 1976 World Series. And they entered this World Series bucking the ’84 Detroit Tigers and the ’86 New York Mets for the Team-of-the-Decade mantle.
All that awaited was one final step against an already overmatched Dodger team that lost its top home run hitter before Game 1, its top RBI man and its top left-handed starting pitcher in Game 3, and its regular catcher in Game 4. The Dodger lineup on the field at the end of Game 4 featured Tracy Woodson at first base, Jose Gonzales in cleanup, Rick Dempsey batting sixth and Danny Heep as designated hitter.
But that lineup won Game 4 and, with Orel Hershiser on the mound, came back Thursday night to win Game 5, 5-2, and complete one of the greatest upsets in 85 years’ worth of World Series.
These Dodgers are being called the worst team to win a World Series, which only serves to rub Oakland noses deeper in defeat.
“If I was them, I’d be upset by that,” La Russa said angrily. “They played 5 solid ballgames. ‘Worst teams’ don’t play 5 solid games in a row.”
That may be true, but the memory has to flash back nearly 20 years to find a more unlikely World Series loser than Oakland. You have to go back to 1969, the year of the Amazin’ Mets, when a team headed by the immortal Al (.454) Weis stunned a 109-53 Baltimore Orioles club boasting the likes of Boog Powell, Frank and Brooks Robinson, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar.
Those Orioles also lost in 5 games.
Dave Parker, the veteran among the young turks in the middle of the Athletic batting order, felt some sense of history as he contemplated the 11 runs and .177 batting average his team amassed during its loss to the Dodgers.
“I’m ticked off,” Parker said. “I don’t want to cry on camera or punch anybody in the face, but it hurts. It hurts inside to lose. We never played up to our potential offensively, and that bothers me.”
Never played up to potential?
Consider the World Series batting totals of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, the A’s ballyhooed Bash Brothers.
During the regular season, Canseco and McGwire combined for 74 home runs and 223 RBIs.
During the World Series, they batted a cumulative 2 for 36. Canseco was 1 for 19 (.053) with 1 home run, 5 RBIs and 5 strikeouts. McGwire was 1 for 17 (.059) with 1 home run, 1 RBI, 4 strikeouts and 2 double plays.
Call them now the Abashed Brothers.
“Not a good time to go into a slump,” Canseco said. “I’m not going to make any excuses. I tried my best. My best wasn’t good enough.”
Said McGwire: “They did a job on us. They had a very good scouting report on how to pitch us. Their pitchers were always making the right pitches at the right time to take away that extra hit, the hit that could’ve kept a big inning going.”
Canseco had predicted a victory for the A’s in 5 games before the World Series started. Turns out, Canseco had the games right, but the winner was all wrong.
“It’s a funny thing,” he said. “You look at it player-for-player and we seem to have the better squad. But they played the better baseball.”
Considering the odds, and the odd little team that felled the mighty A’s, it was suggested in the Oakland clubhouse that this was an embarrassing defeat.
The A’s didn’t appreciate the suggestion.
“Why should we be embarrassed?” pitcher Dave Stewart said. “The Dodgers have the first- or second-best pitching in the National League. They got good pitching here and good pitching will stop good hitting. The Dodgers have always been a good-pitching organization. Why should I be embarrassed?”
Parker asked the same question.
“We’re in the World Series,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to be embarrassed when you’re one of the last 2 teams playing.”
Added McGwire: “We have nothing to be ashamed of. Everybody expected us to win. Everybody expected everything. The Dodgers flat-out beat us. Write about the all the good things we accomplished during the season.”
A nice thought, but history traditionally isn’t so kind. When a staggering favorite loses a best-of-7 series in 5 games, negative things tend to get written.
And in this World Series, the A’s were Abysmal. In this World Series, the A’s got F’s.
MASHING THE BASHERS How Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire fared in the 5 games of the 1988 World Series:
Player G AB R H HR RBI AVG. Canseco 5 19 1 1 1 5 .053 McGwire 5 17 1 1 1 1 .059