Pirates, Reds are starting over--still evenly matched


CINCINNATI -- The talk is of a "whole new season" and how unimportant the first 12 games were.

It is difficult to argue with the logic, because the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds begin the 1990 National League Championship Series tonight after a 6-6 split that included four victories in each other's park.

"That season is over with," said Eric Davis. "April to October doesn't count. All the statistics have disappeared."

"What happened during the regular season is irrelevant," said Reds pitcher Danny Jackson, a key member of the 1985 world champion Kansas City Royals. "There is a different kind of pressure now."

Such as the pressure to erase a decade of futility. This is a rematch of the 1979 playoffs, the previous time either team made it this far.

The Pirates won that series, 3-0, and went on to the world title by rallying from a 3-1 deficit against the Baltimore Orioles.

In fact, these two teams squared off four times in the NL playoffs during the 1970s, the Reds taking the other three.

The personnel has changed dramatically on both sides since the days of the Lumber Company and the Big Red Machine, and most observers see a tight series that could be determined by luck.

It figures to be a battle of Pittsburgh's ability to get its offense, led by Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, unwound early in games against the Cincinnati starting staff's ability to hold the line.

At least, that's how the Reds see it.

"If we can get leads going into the sixth and seventh innings, we'll be tough to handle," said Cincinnati reliever Rob Dibble. "We're able to shut people down with our bullpen."

"Not to say their bullpen isn't good," said Jackson. "But if there is any kind of edge in this series, I would say ours has it."

Dibble has struck out an average of 12.3 hitters per nine innings and allowed a .183 batting average. Randy Myers has permitted only three of 32 inherited runners to score, averages 10.2 strikeouts and has a .193 average against him.

And now Norm Charlton, who took a sabbatical from the group to fill in for injured starters, is rejoining them.

"This is best for the ballclub," said Charlton. "The thing that allows me to go back there is that [Tom] Browning and Jackson are pitching well. That's good news."

Even the Pirates agreed.

"Being able to get to them early is the key," said Wally Backman. "They're going to have three short guys in the bullpen who are all quality stoppers. You want to try to keep them out of the game."

But if any team has the firepower to get unwound quickly, it is Pittsburgh, which came rolling through the stretch with 10 victories in 11 games when the Eastern Division was on the line.

Meanwhile, the Reds clinched the West during a rain delay of a losing game and coasted to the first wire-to-wire title in the National League since the 162-game schedule was implemented in 1962.

With yesterday's 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros, they finished 58-59 after a 33-12 start.

"Everyone knew it would be hard for the Reds to keep up the pace," said Pirates reliever Ted Power. "Here, we had the Mets on our tails. That kept us going."

The Reds' aim is to work hard against the top of the Pirates' order, so Bonds and Bonilla arrive at the plate to empty bases.

"If you've got to face Bonds and Bonilla, you want to do it with nobody out there," said Jose Rijo, the Reds' Game 1 starter against veteran Bob Walk.

"I'm healthy now. I think I can do what I want. I'm not unbeatable, but I like my chances."

Cincinnati's best player, Davis, has been hurting much of the season and still is nursing a sore shoulder suffered in a crash into an outfield fence.

"This is what you get banged up for," he said. "This is a playoff game. If you come in here with your head down, you're in the wrong place."

Manager Lou Piniella has been concerned about the mental state of his team, but he joked yesterday about the Pirates' contention that Rijo is a "hot dog" on the mound.

"The last six weeks, Jose has been as dominant as anyone in the league. He's at the top of his game," said Piniella. "If a few of their players call him a hot dog because he said he can beat them, so be it. It's a great thing to say if you can back it up."

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