For the second time in three years, the Oakland A’s met the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. The result of 1990 was the same as 1988—not only did Oakland win, but they did it in four straight.
You can read more about the regular season paths of the A’s and Red Sox at the links below and about the key players who shaped their success. This article will focus on the events of the 1990 ALCS.
Homefield advantage was done by rotation rather than merit, so in spite of Oakland’s dominant 99-win campaign, Fenway Park was the venue for Saturday night’s Game 1. And there was a marquee pitching matchup awaiting the prime-time audience. The A’s sent Dave Stewart to face the Red Sox’ Roger Clemens. Both were 20-game winners in 1990.
The game went according to script, as Stewart and Clemens were in control. Boston got on the board first when Wade Boggs hit a solo blast over the Green Monster in the fourth inning. Oakland threatened in the sixth when Clemens walked the first two batters, before a line drive double play off the bat of Harold Baines killed the threat. It was still a 1-0 game going into the seventh inning when Larry Andersen came on in relief of Clemens.
Andersen promptly walked Mark McGwire. A one-out single by Jamie Quirk put runners on the corners and a sac fly from AL MVP Rickey Henderson tied the game. Boston manager Joe Morgan tried another reliever, Tom Bolton in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff single to Jose Canseco, who was bunted to second, stole third and scored on Carney Lansford’s single to right. The A’s had manufactured a 2-1 lead. In the ninth, facing another reliever in Jeff Gray, Oakland unloaded for seven runs and the final score was a deceptive 9-1.
There was now a big dropoff in the Red Sox rotation. Dana Kiecker had a nice year in 1990 with a 3.97 ERA, but having him in a must-win spot wasn’t anything Boston fans would have wanted. Oakland just rolled out another ace. This time it was Bob Welch, who merely won 27 games in 1990 and captured the AL Cy Young Award.
The Red Sox threatened in the second before Tony Pena grounded into a double play. They threatened again in the third when Luis Rivera hit a leadoff double. This time productive outs brought the run around and Boston again had a 1-0 lead.
It only took until the fourth inning for the A’s to respond on Sunday night. Wille McGee ripped a leadoff double and scored on a Baines single. In the sixth, they peppered away at Kiecker for four straight singles, but another Baines double-play ball was mixed in there. Reliever Greg Harris was able to escape the inning with no damage. The Red Sox missed their own opportunity in the bottom of the frame when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Tom Brunansky grounded out.
The combination of the seventh inning and Larry Andersen did Boston in again. Although to be fair, the reliever did come on after Mike Gallego and Rickey Henderson had started the inning with singles. Oakland pushed across the lead run. The Red Sox looked ready to answer in the bottom of the eighth when Boggs and Ellis Burks singled with one out. Oakland manager Tony LaRussa played matchups—he used lefty reliever Rick Honeycutt to get Boston’s talented leftfielder Mike Greenwell. Then the manager went to closer Dennis Eckersley to strike out Dwight Evans and preserve the 2-1 lead.
The A’s again used the ninth to get some insurance. After McGee bunted his way on and Canseco walked, Baines doubled to right, McGwire singled to left and the score was 4-1. Eckersley made it stand up. Oakland was going home with 2-0 series lead.
On a Tuesday afternoon in Oakland, the A’s sent Mike Moore to the mound to face the Red Sox’ Mike Boddicker. In the top of the second, Greenwell worked a one-out walk, Evans singled and Brunansky drove in the run with a sac fly. Boston again led 1-0, but given the results thus far, Red Sox Nation could be forgiven if there was any lack of excitement over an early lead.
The pattern of Oakland comebacks continued. Canseco led off the fourth with a walk and Baines singled. McGwire struck out, but a successful double-steal on the third strike had the A’s in business. Dave Henderson tied the game with a sac fly and Willie Randolph delivered a two-out single to make it 2-1.
That was all Moore was going to need, although Boston generously gave up more in the sixth, with two errors and a hit batsman creating two runs and a 4-1 lead. Moore worked into the eighth until the Red Sox put two men aboard and brought Greenwell to the plate as the tying run. LaRussa again went to Honeycutt for the lefty-lefty matchup and again Honeycutt delivered. Eckersley again closed it out. And again, Oakland beat Boston in a postseason game.
Clemens and Stewart came back on short rest for Game 4 the following afternoon, but the Red Sox ace didn’t last long. In the bottom of the second, Lansford singled with one out. Terry Steinbach singled to left and a Greenwell throwing error put the runners on second and third. McGwire’s groundball out drove in the run. Clemens was in position to get out of it, but when he walked Willie Randolph, the pitcher lost his cool at home plate umpire Terry Cooney and got himself ejected.
With the Red Sox in the pen surprisingly early, light-hitting Mike Gallego ripped a two-out double that made it 3-0. The Boston relief corps did its job the rest of the way, and Oakland never scored again. But Stewart was simply unhittable. He carried the shutout into the ninth inning before a Burks double and Jody Reed single cut the lead to 3-1 and gave the Red Sox three shots with the tying run at the plate.
Honeycutt came on and promptly got Wade Boggs to ground into a double play. Another groundball out from Greenwell ended the series. Oakland had its third consecutive American League pennant.
Stewart’s two dominant starts made him an easy choice for 1990 ALCS MVP. Oakland also showcased the versatility in its lineup—even though McGwire and Canseco only combined for four hits, they also combined for eight walks. And other bats could do the damage, notably Lansford, who went 7-for-16, along with Baines and Steinbach who had five hits apiece in the four games.
For both teams, this series marked the ending of an era. Boston had won the AL East three times over the previous five years, but this core group of players would not return to October. It wasn’t until 1995, after some roster makeover and a realignment that created three divisions per league, that the Red Sox again won their division.
Oakland’s era ending was much more surprising. The A’s were the toast of baseball and the odds-on favorite to win a second straight World Series title. No one could have guessed that they had won for the last time in 1990—the Cincinnati Reds delivered a stunning sweep in the Fall Classic. Oakland lost their hold on the AL West in 1991, and while they returned to postseason play in ‘92, the franchise has not been back to the World Series since 1990.