The Cincinnati Reds won the National League West division by five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. They 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, by the 1984 Detroit Tigers. The Reds then defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, four games to two, in the National League Championship Series.
The strength of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen and timely hitting led them to a quick sweep of the AL champions. The Reds' bullpen had three primary members—Norm Charlton, Randy Myers, and Rob Dibble—collectively they were known as the "Nasty Boys", who wouldn't let the A's score against them in nearly nine innings of work. Media talk of a forthcoming A's dynasty led Reds fans to call their own team the "dyNASTY." The Nasty Boys originally referred to five pitchers, with the other two being Tim Layana and Tim Birtsas (though history relates it to the aforementioned three). On his XM show, Dibble still adds these two pitchers into the "Nasty Boys", stating it was a collective bullpen effort.
The Oakland Athletics won the American League West division by nine games over the Chicago White Sox. They 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 included 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 (with enough plate appearances to qualify for the NL batting title) 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.
NL Cincinnati Reds (4) vs. AL Oakland Athletics (0)
The schedule called for the seven-game series to be held Tue–Wed, Fri–Sat–Sun, Tue–Wed. Games 5, 6, and 7, however, were not necessary. This was the first World Series to begin play on a Tuesday since 1984, and the last until 2014 (all World Series between 1985 and 2006, with the exception of this one, were scheduled to begin on a Saturday, while those from 2007 through 2013 featured Wednesday starts). The change in this instance was necessitated by an early season lockout which had caused the first week of the season to be postponed. In order to make up the postponed games, the regular season was extended by three days, causing the postseason to begin on a Thursday rather than a Tuesday, as had been the practice for many years.
When Oakland Athletics pitcher Dave Stewart entered to pitch Game 1, he had a six-game postseason winning streak going, which ended after four innings of work.
The Reds got out of the gate quickly with a two-run home run (that nearly hit the CBS television studio where anchor Pat O'Brien was sitting in left-center) from Eric Davis in the bottom of the first inning off A's ace Dave Stewart. Billy Hatcher helped out offensively in a big way by starting his streak of seven straight hits in the series after a walk in the first inning. José Rijo settled in after the early lead and cruised to a surprise Cincinnati victory. The following day's headline in The Cincinnati Post captured the city's surprise with the headline, "Davis Stuns Goliath."
Eventual Cy Young Award winner Bob Welch opposed postseason veteran Danny Jackson in Game 2. Rickey Henderson manufactured a run for the A's in the first by getting a hit, stealing second, getting sacrificed to third, and scoring on a groundout. The Reds came right back in the bottom of the first. Barry Larkin and Billy Hatcher hit consecutive opposite field doubles and Hatcher would score on Davis's groundout.
In the third the A's got the lead back. José Canseco hit a rocket into the right-center field stands to tie the game (his only hit of the series). A base hit by Mark McGwire and two walks followed, knocking Jackson out of the game. With the bases loaded, Ron Hassey hit a sac fly and Mike Gallego singled to center to give the A's a 4–2 lead.
The A's, however, would not score any more runs thanks to the relief pitching of All-Star game starter Jack Armstrong and the threesome nicknamed the "Nasty Boys": Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton, and Randy Myers.
The Reds got a run closer at 4–3 on pinch hitter Ron Oester's RBI single that drove in Joe Oliver in the fourth; incidentally, this would be the last plate appearance of Oester's career, all 13 seasons of which were spent in Cincinnati. The Reds tied it in the eighth when Hatcher tripled over the crippled Canseco (who was suffering from back spasms throughout the playoffs) and scored on a force play.
During Game 2, Reds pitcher Tom Browning's pregnant wife Debbie went into labor during the game. Debbie left her seat in the fifth inning to drive herself to the hospital. As the game went on, the Reds wanted Browning ready to pitch just in case the game went well into extra innings. Thinking that Browning was en route to a nearby hospital, the Reds had their radio broadcaster Marty Brennaman put out an All Points Bulletin on Browning, a bulletin that was picked up by Tim McCarver on CBS television, who passed it along in the ninth inning.
In the tenth, the Reds broke through to win the game off A's closer Dennis Eckersley. Utilityman Billy Bates chopped an infield single off home plate to start the inning. Chris Sabo singled to left to put runners on first and second. Then Oliver hit a bouncer that hopped over third base and down the line to drive in Bates with the winning run.
This was the last of five World Series to be played at Riverfront Stadium (1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, and 1990). As of 2016, Great American Ball Park has yet to host a World Series.
In Game 3 the Reds took a 3–0 series lead on the defending champs. Tom Browning started for the Reds while Mike Moore, who had two wins in the 1989 World Series, got the assignment for Oakland. In the second inning, Chris Sabo put the Reds up 1–0 with a solo homer. The lead was short lived as DH Harold Baines hit a soaring two-run homer to give the A's a 2–1 lead in the bottom of the second.
In the third, the Reds put the game completely out of reach with a seven-run inning. It all began with Billy Hatcher's eighth hit in nine at-bats (he had rapped into a double-play in the first inning ending his streak of seven straight hits). Paul O'Neill then singled off the glove of first baseman Mark McGwire to put runners on first and second. Eric Davis drilled a sharp single to center scoring Hatcher to tie the game and advancing O'Neill to third. Following an RBI groundout by Hal Morris that put the Reds ahead, the Reds went up 5–2 when Sabo hit his second homer of the game into the left field stands. Todd Benzinger then singled and Joe Oliver hit an RBI double. Mariano Duncan drove Oliver home with a single, stole second, and scored himself when Barry Larkin hit a gapper. The A's now trailed the Reds 8–2. Rickey Henderson's third inning solo home run made it 8–3, but Tom Browning pitched effectively for six innings to earn the victory. Dibble and Myers provided three scoreless innings in relief to put the Reds one win away from the title.
Game 4 was a pitchers' duel between Dave Stewart and José Rijo (the Game 1 starters) that eventually culminated in the Reds sweeping the series. Despite a 3–0 series lead, the Reds' advantage became tenuous when Davis and Hatcher both left the game with injuries in the early innings. The A's got on the board in the first, when Willie McGee doubled and Carney Lansford singled him in. The game remained 1–0 until the eighth, when the Reds finally got to Stewart. Barry Larkin singled up the middle, Herm Winningham followed with a bunt single, and Paul O'Neill reached on a throwing error by Stewart to load the bases. Glenn Braggs' groundout and Hal Morris's sacrifice fly gave the Reds a 2–1 edge, which was preserved by both Rijo, who at one point retired 20 straight batters, and Randy Myers who got the final two outs. The A's became the first team ever to be swept in a World Series after sweeping the League Championship Series. This was later duplicated by the 2007 Colorado Rockies and the 2012 Detroit Tigers. Additionally, this was the first time since 1938-1939 (when the New York Yankees won both times; the Yankees also did it in 1927 and 1928) that two consecutive World Series ended in a four-game sweep, which would be repeated in 1998-1999 (both won by the Yankees), and again in 2004-2005 (won by the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, respectively).
The 1990 World Series would be the Reds' fifth championship but would also be remembered as one of the biggest upsets in baseball history.
Cincinnati Reds' pitcher José Rijo became the second Dominican born player to earn World Series MVP honors. Fourteen years later (2004), Manny Ramírez of the Boston Red Sox became the third. The first Dominican born to earn World Series MVP honors was Pedro Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981, along with his co-MVP teammates Ron Cey and Steve Yeager.
Meanwhile, Reds outfielder Billy Hatcher set a Series record with seven consecutive hits. In addition, Hatcher's .750 batting average (9 for 12) broke a four-game-Series mark set by Babe Ruth (.625 in 1928).
1990 World Series (4–0): Cincinnati Reds (N.L.) over Oakland Athletics (A.L.)
This was the first of four consecutive World Series to be televised on CBS. From 1976 to 1989, World Series telecasts alternated between ABC (in odd numbered years) and NBC (in even numbered years). Also during the 1990 World Series, Lesley Visser became the first female sportscaster to cover a World Series. Serving as field reporters for CBS were Jim Kaat (the Reds' dugout) and the aforementioned Visser (the Athletics' dugout).
Vin Scully returned to CBS Radio's coverage of the World Series for the first time since 1982 (Scully then called the 1984, 1986 and 1988 World Series for NBC television), calling the series alongside Johnny Bench. Scully would go on to call the next six series for CBS, first with Bench and later with Jeff Torborg.