Paul O'Neill showed that big games can be won in the outfield as well as at the plate.
O'Neill drove in both of Cincinnati's runs and snuffed out a Pittsburgh threat with a rocket throw from right field, sending the Reds past the Pirates 2-1 Friday and evening the National League playoffs at one victory each.O'Neill singled in a run in the first inning and then snapped a 1-1 tie with an RBI-double in the fifth. But O'Neill was more pleased by what he did in the outfield in the sixth inning.
The left-hander unleashed a powerful, perfect throw after catching a fly ball to nail Andy Van Slyke trying to advance from second to third. The double play halted a Pirate rally that had threatened to tie the score.
"You can save runs in the outfield just like you can drive them in," said O'Neill. "Those plays are as exciting as any in baseball. They happen very quickly and they don't happen very often."
"That throw was right on the money," praised Cincinnati Manager Lou Piniella. "Defense has been one of the main strengths of our ball club all year and that was just an outstanding major league play."
"Paul's got a tremendous arm," noted Reds' reliever Rob Dibble. "He's been throwing guys out like that all year."
Pittsburgh Manager Jim Leyland figured the Pirates had a great chance to tie it if it hadn't been for O'Neill's magnificient throw.
"Van Slyke tried to get to third with one out so he could score on a sacrifice fly," noted Leyland. "I don't have any problem with that. He was very aggressive and I like my players to be aggressive."
"That throw may have been the turning point," echoed Pittsburgh first baseman Gary Redus. "If Van Slyke gets in there, I think we would have scored. O'Neill made a perfect throw."
Shortstop Barry Larkin provided spectacular defense in the ninth to help preserve the win. He ranged far to his left to spear hard ground balls by Barry Bonds and R.J. Reynolds that appeared headed for hits up the middle. Larkin came up throwing both times and turned potential hits into outs.
The Reds and Pirates will take Saturday and Sunday off before the best-of-seven series resumes Monday in Pittsburgh.
"We needed this win," said Piniella, whose club was edged 4-3 by the Pirates in Thursday night's opener. "Certainly we didn't want to go to Pittsburgh down two games. I feel we're in good shape now going to Pittsburgh. We won four of six regular season games at Three Rivers Stadium."
"Before the series, I said we'd be happy with a split here," said Van Slyke. "But after today we have to be disappointed because we had chances to score and win."
"We know the teams are evenly matched," added Bonds. "Ain't nobody going to be swept."
Cincinnati starter and winner Tom Browning pitched six innings, limiting Pittsburgh to one run and six hits. The left-hander struck out three and walked three. Dibble pitched 1 1-3 innings and Randy Myers worked the final 1 and 2-3 innings for a save.
Pittsburgh starter Doug Drabek went the distance and was the hard-luck loser, yielding only five hits and two runs, while striking out eight and walking two.
"Drabek is our ace and he pitched a great game," said Leyland. "They beat our best."
O'Neill's second RBI of the game in the fifth staked Cincinnati to a 2-1 lead. With two outs, Herm Winningham reached first on a fielder's choice, stole second and scored on O'Neill's double over the head of left fielder Bonds and off the wall. Bonds said he would have caught the drive had it not been for a bright and blinding sun.
"I saw it come off the bat and I put my glasses down, but I never saw it again," said Bonds. "It stayed in the sun. If there's no sun, I make that play."
"It was tough out in left field today," acknowledged O'Neill. "Eric (Reds' left fielder Eric Davis) came in after the first inning and said to run out anything hard hit to left field because the sun is tough out there."
The Pirates, trailing 1-0 since the first, tied it in the fifth on an unlikely home run by Jose Lind to left. Lind, the eighth hitter in the lineup, hit just one homer during the season and has just six in his three years.
The Reds grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first, but splendid clutch pitching by Drabek kept them from scoring more. Larkin drew a leadoff walk, stole second, moved to third on Winningham's line single to right and scored on O'Neill's flare to right, just past the glove of second baseman Lind.