The Pittsburgh Pirates aren't throwing away their chances of winning the National League playoffs. The Cincinnati Reds are doing it for them.
The Pirates knew they'd have to find a way to beat the Reds' great young arms - Rob Dibble, Randy Myers, Norm Charlton, Jose Rijo - to make it to the World Series. Little did they know they'd also have to beat the arms of Eric Davis, Paul O'Neill and Billy Hatcher.If the Reds don't strike them out, they throw them out.
The Reds' 5-3 victory in Game 4 Tuesday night gave Cincinnati a 3-1 edge in a series few expected one team to dominate so convincingly. Not only have the Pirates had little offense, they've had no defense for the Reds' defense.
"Everybody's talked about the Pirates outfield . . . well, we're showing the world the Reds' outfield can play, too," O'Neill said.
The Reds have out-homered the Pirates 4-3, have outhit them .256-.225 and have a 2.50 earned run average to Pittsburgh's 4.11. The Reds' bullpen has allowed only two earned runs in 122/3 innings and has limited the Pirates' dangerous 3-4-5 hitters - Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds - to a .222 average and three RBIs.
The Killer Bs have become the Killer ZZZZZs.
Bonds and Bonilla, who had 65 homers and 234 RBIs during the season, have zero homers and two RBIs. Bonds, the NL's likely Most Valuable Player, has no homers and no RBIs. And, in several ineffective at-bats against the Reds' Nasty Boys bullpen, no chance.
"I know we're going to wake up eventually," Bonds said. "But we may find ourselves waking up to play golf unless we wake up . . . ."
If they don't wake up tonight, the Pirates' tee-off times begin Thursday morning. Their backs are so far against the proverbial wall that Van Slyke said, "It's a good thing the paint's dry or we might stick."
What has kept the Pirates at arm's length has been a Reds' outfield "that's thrown out more runners in this series than you usually see in a whole month," losing pitcher Bob Walk said.
Paul O'Neill threw out Van Slyke at third in the turning point of the Reds' 2-1 victory in Game 2. Every time the Pirates got something going in Game 4, the Reds turned right around and threw it back in their faces.
"We've been doing some unbelievable things," Hatcher said.
"We've got an unbelievable feeling right now," Rijo said.
The Reds took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on O'Neill's solo homer and Chris Sabo's sacrifice fly. Van Slyke singled, stole second and scored on Sid Bream's double in the bottom of the inning, but center fielder Hatcher easily threw out Bream trying to score on Jose Lind's single.
"We're gambling, being aggressive, trying to get something going," Pirates manager Jim Leyland said. "It's no secret we're not hitting."
Sabo's two-run homer made it 4-2 in the seventh, but Jay Bell's solo homer chased Rijo and brought in Myers, who hadn't allowed the Pirates a hit in 22/3 innings.
Bonilla fouled off four straight 3-2 pitches, then drilled a shot off the center field wall than missed being a home run by several feet. Hatcher fell down, but Davis - a three-time Gold Glove center fielder who's playing left to ease the pressure on his aching knees - raced over to play the carom off the wall.
With his back to the infield, Davis wheeled and threw a 300-foot line drive that just beat a sliding Bonilla.
Bonilla could only shake his head, "If he doesn't make a perfect throw, Barry drives me in and it's a tie game and maybe we're still playing. That's the way it's been the whole series. They've made all the throws."
"What's amazing is, a couple of innings before he (Davis) made a throw that almost went 15 rows over our dugout," Van Slyke said. "Then he makes an absolutely perfect throw. Amazing."
"Every time we get something going, they come up and make a big play and snuff it," Walk said. "We didn't see that many good defensive plays the whole month of September. We're not making bad decisions, they're making perfect plays."
Davis' throw was such a momentum-buster, there is no doubt in Rijo's mind it decided the series.
"It's pretty much over, unless they make a great comeback," said Rijo, who gave up six hits and three runs in seven-plus innings. "It's obvious we play harder when we need to win. We wanted this one. We played harder."
The one thing the Pirates have going for them is tonight's starter, Doug Drabek (22-6), who is 12-3 following a loss. They're also 5-3 in Cincinnati, should the series return there Friday night.
"We're capable of a three-game winning streak," Walk said.
But the Reds are outhitting them, outpitching them, outdefensing them and just plain getting them out. And now the Reds are 27 outs away from the World Series.
"I feel we're going to run a quality pitcher out there every day, so if we can make the plays behind him and put some runs on the board with our bullpen, we're in good shape," manager Lou Piniella said.
Good shape? All the Reds have to do to win their first NL championship since the Big Red Machine of 1976 is play .333 baseball the rest of the series.
And the way the Reds are talking, they're not about to throw this one away.
"We haven't won anything yet," Sabo said. "But we're feeling all right."