When Bob Welch passed away at his home on June 10, my mind immediately raced back in time to October 1990. As a fan of the Cincinnati Reds since the early 1980s, I had grown up hearing stories about the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, but I never tasted any of that sweetness for myself until the summer of 1990. With the Pete Rose scandal a full season in the rearview mirror, the Reds finally lived up to the promise they had shown for the past several seasons and raced through the regular season to a division title. After trumping the Pittsburgh Pirates in six games to win the NLCS, the Reds were given no chance against the mighty Oakland A’s in the World Series , especially since Welch rolled into the Fall Classic fresh off a dominant 27-win season.
The Reds surprised everyone by thumping the A’s and 20-game winner Dave Stewart in Game 1 by a score of 7-0, and Oakland sent Welch to the mound in Game 2 in an effort to stanch the bleeding. Cincinnati touched Welch for two quick runs in the bottom of the first inning, but the Cy Young award winner settled in and held the Reds to just one more run while his teammates built a 4-3 lead. In the bottom of the eighth, Welch gave up a leadoff triple to Billy Hatcher and lasted only two more batters before manager Tony LaRussa pulled him from the game. The Reds tied the score later in that inning and won it in the tenth inning on a single by Joe Oliver. The sweep was on, and Cincy brought home their most recent world championship three days later in Oakland.
Although he couldn’t have known it at the time, Game 2 would be Bob Welch’s last World Series appearance in a career that saw six Fall Classic outings, only one of them a win. Despite his stellar season, or perhaps at least partly because of his stellar season, Welch’s star was also on the decline. He would pitch for four more seasons but would never again win even 15 games in any of them.
For Reds fans, seeing our team get the best of Welch on the biggest of stages was especially sweet. He had spent the heart of his career to that point with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Reds’ heated rivals back in the days when both teams played in the old National League West, and he regularly dominated Cincinnati when given the opportunity. Over 34 career appearances against the Reds, Welch compiled a 16-7 record with a tidy 2.32 ERA. Knocking Welch out of a World Series game endeared Hatcher and the rest of the 1990 Reds to fans all the more.
It’s always a sad day when someone dies too young, as Bob Welch did on Monday. But for baseball fans of a certain age, Welch’s death is occasion to step back, if just for a moment, into the crisp, cool air of an autumn night in 1990 and once again relive the glory of our childhoods.