The San Francisco Giants’ backs were against the wall. Sixteen teams had lost the first three games of the World Series in its 89-year history and none of them won the championship. Just three even won the fourth game and all three eventually fell in the fifth.
Giants manager Roger Craig, ever the optimist, said, “We still think they can be beat. It’d be a miracle if we did it, but there’s still that possibility.” San Francisco first baseman Will Clark told reporters, “What do we do? We play one game. Then, if we win, we play another. One at a time. That’s all we can do. We’re capable of winning four straight.”1
Craig chose Don Robinson as his starter. Robinson had been scheduled to start Game Three, then a possible Game Five, and finally when Rick Reuschel came down with a virus and a sore shoulder, Craig gave Robinson the nod. “It really doesn’t make any difference to me,” Robinson said stoically.2 The 32-year-old right-hander had finished the season as the Giants’ third starter, finishing with a 12-11 record and a 3.43 ERA.
Rickey Henderson led off for Oakland and took two balls before hitting one that was so high that many fans initially thought it would be caught. Kevin Mitchell took a few steps back but then turned and watched the ball land about 10 feet beyond the left-field fence.
“To tell the truth, I called that home run before the game,” Henderson said later. “I felt like they were trying to get ahead of me inside with a fastball. I told Dave Parker that I was going to look inside. And that’s where he threw the pitch.”3 Henderson became the 15th player to lead off a World Series game with a home run.
“I think that was a big, big blow to San Francisco,” Oakland second baseman Tony Phillips told reporters. “Boom, we’re right out of the gate, 1-0. They may be thinking ‘Here we go again.’ If you come out with a lot of intensity, that’s like a shot to the midsection.”4 Robinson got the next three batters out on a pair of fly balls and a groundout but the damage was done.
Mike Moore, the winner of Game Two, took the mound for Oakland. The right-hander allowed just four Giants hits in seven innings. After a two-week break due to the earthquake that halted the Series before Game Three, Moore picked up where he left off. Giants leadoff batter Bret Butler bunted down the first-base line for a single in the first but never got any farther when Moore retired the next three batters on nine pitches.
Oakland added to its lead in the second. Dave Henderson led off by lining a double down the left-field line. He moved to third on Terry Steinbach’s fly to right. With the infield playing in, Henderson was forced to hold when Phillips grounded to second. Walt Weiss was intentionally passed with Moore on deck. Moore had batted only once in his eight-year career. The last American League pitcher to get a hit in the World Series was Tim Stoddard of the Baltimore Orioles, who singled in 1979 off Kent Tekulve of Pittsburgh.
Moore swung at two fastballs. Robinson fired another fastball. This time Moore connected with the ball, lining it to center over the head of center fielder Butler for a double. Two runs scored. “Before the game I prayed that I wouldn’t embarrass myself at bat,” Moore said later. “I was looking for a slider, but he threw me a fastball and it hit the middle of the bat.”5
Craig told reporters he would be thinking of that pitch all winter. He said: “I expected him to throw a curveball. I said, ‘I know I’m going to see a curveball, and it’s going to be strike three.’ I don’t think he would’ve even swung at it. The three runs that came from that was the turning point in the ball game.”6
Rickey Henderson followed with a single and Moore scored the third run when Mitchell’s throw arrived late. Craig pulled Robinson at this point and sent in Mike LaCoss. LaCoss walked Carney Lansford and gave up a single to Jose Canseco to load the bases. But he got Mark McGwire to ground out for the final out.
Oakland scored three more in the fifth. Canseco singled with one out. After McGwire struck out, Canseco stole second with Dave Henderson at bat. LaCoss walked Henderson. Steinbach then went the opposite way and tripled into the right-field corner. Two runs scored. Phillips followed with a double to plate Steinbach and the Oakland lead was seven runs.
The A’s added another run in the sixth. Rickey Henderson led off the inning with a triple, his second of the Series, and Lansford singled him home. (Henderson eventually finished with nine hits and a .474 average for the Series.)
The Giants finally showed some life in the bottom of the sixth. After Clark’s two-out single, Mitchell homered. But for many fans, it seemed to “underscore the Giants futility, the majors’ home run leader finally getting his first extra-base hit of the Series when it meant nothing much at all.”7
Oakland manager Tony La Russa pulled Moore for a pinch-hitter in the top of the seventh, and the Giants faced Gene Nelson when they came to bat in the bottom of the inning. Nelson had struggled the previous night and continued to do so this evening. He walked leadoff batter Terry Kennedy. With a 2-and-1 count, to Greg Litton, he served up a fastball that Litton sent over the fence in left, cutting the Oakland lead to four runs. Nelson later said, “Mechanically I was messed up. The last two games I had no idea what was going on.”8
Nelson got Donell Nixon to fly out, then was replaced by left-hander Rick Honeycutt. Craig pulled left-handed-hitting Candy Maldonado off the bench to pinch-hit and he hammered a triple off the right-field fence. Suddenly Giants fans were on their feet and hoping for a comeback. When Butler doubled to left, the noise got louder. Craig returned to his bench and sent up Robby Thompson, who singled to drive home Butler. The Giants trailed by just two runs, 8-6.
After Honeycutt retired Clark on a fly out, La Russa brought in Todd Burns to face Mitchell. With the count 2-and 2, Mitchell sent the ball soaring to left. The crowd roared in anticipation of another home run, but the ball faded and Rickey Henderson caught it on the warning track.
Craig Lefferts took the mound in the seventh for the Giants. With one out, he gave up a single to Lansford and walked Canseco. Craig replaced him with Steve Bedrosian. Bedrosian got McGwire to fly out for the second out. Then he walked Dave Henderson and Steinbach to force home another run. “It changed the momentum back to our side,” Henderson said after the game.9
Burns shut down the Giants in the eighth and Dennis Eckersley did the same in the ninth. The A’s left no doubt who deserved the World Series trophy. The A’s outscored the Giants, 32-14. Only the 1928 New York Yankees scored more runs in a four-game Series when they beat the St. Louis Cardinals by 30-10. The A’s also outhit the Giants, 44-28, including nine home runs, a record for a four-game Series, to four by the Giants.
Because of the 12-day lag between the Series’ first two games and the last two, the A’s used only two starting pitchers: Stewart and Moore. The Giants’ four starters were tagged for 22 hits and 17 earned runs in 13 innings. They lasted only 3⅓ innings on average and left with a collective ERA of 11.77. “We just didn’t do the job in any categories,” said Don Robinson. “Particularly the starting pitching. We never gave the offense a chance.”10
It was a “World Series that will be remembered for a day that the earth would not stand still” as the A’s recorded an unusual sweep of the Giants, taking two weeks interrupted by an earthquake to win the championship.11 They were the first team to sweep a World Series since the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds beat the Yankees in 1976.
Although Oakland celebrated in a champagne-free and relatively subdued clubhouse after the game, there was much relief. Most of the players felt they had redeemed themselves after their loss to Los Angeles in the 1988 World Series. “We’ve had the best record in baseball for two years,” said Dave Henderson. “This year we weren’t going to be denied. When we got back to this point, these ballplayers turned into meat-eating tigers.”12
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I also used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for box-score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other pertinent material.
1 Joseph Durso, “Numbers, Too, Were Against the Giants,” New York Times, October 29, 1989: S2.
3 Frank Blackman, “How Sweep It Is, A’s Are Champs,” San Francisco Examiner, October 29, 1989: C4.
5 Murray Chass, “A Hitting Pitcher Personifies Oakland’s Mastery,” New York Times, October 29, 1989: S1.
10 Joseph Durso, “Series May Hold a Hint of Future,” New York Times, October 29, 1989: C6.
11 Art Spander, “A’s March Foreshadows ’90s Dynasty,” San Francisco Examiner, October 29, 1989: C1.
12 Bill Plaschke, “Bay’s Ball Turns to Broomball,” Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1989: C1.