National League: Cincinnati Reds (91-71) - Ninth World Series (Won in 1919, 1940, 1975, 1976)
American League: Oakland Athletics (103-59) - Sixth World Series (Won in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1989)
It wasn't supposed to be close. These two teams didn't deserve to be on the same field, much less play against each other in the World Series. It was a team about to establish itself as a great baseball dynasty against a team that had eked into the playoffs with a patchwork lineup, with only a strong relief corps as something to brag about. The 1990 World Series was expected to be a bloodbath.
And it was. Except the wrong team won.
After sweeping the World Series in 1989, the Oakland A's came back even stronger in 1990. Jose Canseco was healthy the entire season, Rickey Henderson won the AL MVP award in one of the best all-around seasons of all-time, and Dave Stewart won 20 games for the fourth straight season. They made mincemeat of the AL West, swept the Red Sox in the ALCS, and started licking their chops at the prospect of playing the lowly Reds in the World Series.
Meanwhile, all Cincinnati had to brag about was their bullpen, nicknamed the Nasty Boys both for their personality and for their stuff on the mound. Their lineup was above-average at best, their pitching staff was good but not great, and they were expected to be nothing more than a footnote in the story of Oakland's dynasty.
But then Cincinnati's Eric Davis hit a two-run home run off Stewart in the first inning of Game 1, leading the way to a 7-0 Cincinnati victory that put to bed all the talks comparing Oakland to the 1927 Yankees.
Their chances at a sweep gone, Oakland's started making careless mistakes. Over the course of a long season, Oakland's offensive prowess could usually cover up little mistakes, but in a four-game series with everything on the line, they were magnified. Such as when Canseco took a poor angle on a Billy Hatcher line drive in the 8th inning of Game 2. Hatcher ended up with a triple and later scored the game-tying run. Cincinnati won that game in 10 innings, taking a 2-0 lead. Then came Game 3, when Mark McGwire committed an error on a soft grounder in the third, which led to six unearned runs for the Reds and another stunning victory.
All the while, Oakland couldn't touch Cincinnati's pitchers, specifically their bullpen. In fact, Oakland didn't score a run after the third inning the entire series. The nadir came in Game 4, when the A's could manage only 2 hits against Cincinnati ace Jose Rijo. As expected, the series was over in four games. Like nobody expected, it was the Reds who were celebrating after Game 4.
Game 2. It showed the best of Canseco - a towering second-inning home run that played a part in Oakland taking a 4-2 lead - and the worst of Canseco - his misplay of Hatcher's liner, a play he botched so badly that it caused manager Tony LaRussa to curse him out in public and eventually bench him for Game 4. The game also showed off Cincinnati's biggest strength. After falling behind 4-2, the Reds went to their bullpen, and the Nasty Boys threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings the rest of the way. Then, Cincinnati showed that you can win without power, as three weak ground ball hits led to their game-winning rally in the 10th.
The writers picked Jose Rijo, which was a perfectly fine choice; Rijo won games 1 and 4, giving up only 1 run in 15 innings in the series. But they could have easily picked Hatcher, who started the series with seven straight hits and ended up hitting .750 for the series. In fact, the only thing that could stop him was being hit by a pitch in Game 4. While his teammates were celebrating the championship on the field, Hatcher was in the hospital with a broken wrist.
(Home team in Bold)
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:
90. 1990 - Cincinnati (N) def. Oakland (A) 4-0
91. 1966 - Baltimore (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-0
92. 1927 - New York (A) def. Pittsburgh (N) 4-0
93. 2004 - Boston (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-0
94. 1932 - New York (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-0
95. 1908 - Chicago (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-1
96. 1999 - New York (A) def. Atlanta (N) 4-0
97. 1963 - Los Angeles (N) def. New York (A) 4-0
98. 2010 - San Francisco (N) def. Texas (A) 4-1
99. 1937 - New York (A) def. New York (N) 4-1