Game 3 matchup in NL tilts toward left-handers


PITTSBURGH -- A left-hander who has specialized in winning big postseason games and a left-hander who has spent most of his career in the dregs of the National League.

That is the pitching matchup this afternoon when the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates resume the NL Championship Series at Three Rivers Stadium after a two-day hiatus.

The series is tied at 1-1, with both teams having won a one-run game at Riverfront Stadium last week.

Danny Jackson of the Reds is no stranger to big games. In 1985, he twice brought the Kansas City Royals back from the brink of elimination.

In the fifth game of the AL Championship Series, he pitched a 2-0 shutout against the Toronto Blue Jays. Then, in Game 5 of the World Series, he beat the St. Louis Cardinals with a five-hitter, 6-1, and the Royals went on to the title.

But Jackson said that experience does not give him any edge against Pittsburgh's Zane Smith, who has watched postseason play only on television.

"I don't think it'll help me any great deal," said Jackson. "I know basically how to prepare myself for a game.

"As far as situations in dealing with the media, I'm ready for that. The experience is basically the same. It's just repetitious."

The question with Jackson is his health. He was on the disabled list three times this season for a total of 54 days, finishing with a 6-6 record and 3.61 ERA.

His past two seasons have been beset by injury problems after a 23-8 record, six shutouts and 15 complete games two years ago stamped him as one of the best left-handers in baseball.

But Jackson said he wants to hear nothing about his arm or shoulder.

"Physically, I'm fine," he said. "There is nothing wrong with me. That's it. No more questions about my health. I'm tired of hearing them."

Recent performances tend to support the idea that there is nothing wrong with Jackson. He allowed only three runs in his past three starts.

And don't forget that he has that deep Reds bullpen behind him with two days' rest.

"It's always special pitching in the playoffs and World Series, no matter what the circumstances are," he said. "It doesn't make any difference how your season went."

Smith was 6-2 with a 1.30 ERA for the Pirates after he was acquired Aug. 8 from the Montreal Expos for top prospects Moises Alou and Willie Green. He had started his career with the Atlanta Braves.

With the Pirates, he pitched a career-best one-hitter against the New York Mets on Sept. 5, and opponents batted .203 against him while he was a Pirate.

Smith said his biggest problem will be controlling his excitement.

"I think the key for me will be to try not to get too pumped up. It's hard with a game of this magnitude," he said. "I need to stay within myself.

"And Barry Larkin presents a unique problem for me leading off the game because I saw where he is hitting .433 against me."

Not to mention Cincinnati catcher Joe Oliver, who has three home runs off Smith this year, two after Smith joined the Pirates.

"I don't really know why. I just seem to see the ball well," said Oliver. "But it seems like he's got a lot more confidence now that he's with Pittsburgh. He's got a good team behind him."

Smith agreed that "coming to a contender has taught me how to win again. I think when I was with the Braves and Expos, I just forgot what it took to be a winning pitcher.

"At Atlanta I might be ahead, 3-2, in the eighth inning and I'd go to the mound thinking to myself, 'How am I going to blow it this time?' Now I might be behind a run or two, and I think to myself, 'How are are going to win this thing?'

Pirate catcher Mike LaValliere said: "I think our clubhouse attitude was infectious with him. He caught it as soon as he came over."

A finesse pitcher who relies on his changeup often, Smith has not pitched in a week. But the Pirates said they don't think that will be a problem.

"I think the rest will be good for him," said pitching coach Ray Miller.

* It's beginning to appear that Bobby Bonilla will be at third base and R.J. Reynolds in right field for the Pirates today.

Jeff King's bruised lower back is responding slowly to treatments.

"I'm so pumped up about being in the playoffs I would catch if they wanted me to," said Bonilla, who had 35 errors at third last year before moving to right.

"I'm just enjoying every day of this. After being on the outside for so long, it's good just to see how the other half lives."

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