... but they also have enough lip to keep Pirates primed


CINCINNATI -- Only a few days ago in one of his stream-of-consciousness sessions with the media, Cincinnati's Rob Dibble said one of the reasons he decried the use of the term "Nasty Boys" for him and fellow hard-throwing relievers Randy Myers and Norm Charlton was, "The problem with labels is that they end up on locker-room walls. You don't want to give the other team an edge."

Well, practice what you preach, Rob. And that goes for you, too, Jose Rijo. The Reds' pitchers have given the Pirates enough material to wallpaper the clubhouse, which has given the National League Championship Series a new dimension as it heads into tonight's Game 6 (8:27, Ch. 11) with Cincinnati holding a 3-2 lead.

Earlier in the playoffs, both clubs did nothing but compliment each other, but after the Reds grabbed a 3-1 lead, Rijo started telling people how eager he was to face the Athletics and wondering how he would fare against former teammates Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Talking boldly about the World Series when the playoffs are ongoing is not good form.

Several of Rijo's teammates tried to tell him that, but he ignored their warning.

"Some of my teammates, they say I'm crazy," Rijo said. "They tell me I don't want to wake the Pirates up with what I say, that they still have to go out and get them out and swing the bats. But that's the way I feel. I think this series is over. We're playing so well right now. Our defense is unbelievable. I can't help but feel we can't be beat. It's pretty much over."

With Rijo's remarks ringing in their ears, the Pirates staved off elimination Wednesday night by winning 3-2 due in part to a strong effort by Doug Drabek. After the game, Dibble shouted across the clubhouse, "Doug Drabek, nothing but breaking balls, what a sissy."

Another verbal gauntlet. Just what the Pirates like to hear. Drabek merely rolled his eyes when told of Dibble's characterization of him. It was Rijo's chatter that sparked their attention of the Pirates.

"It adds a little fuel to the fire," centerfielder Andy Van Slyke said. "Everybody knew the Reds had a big advantage when they were up 3-1. My son is 6 years old, and he's smart enough to know that. He's also smart enough to know you don't brag about it."

"They can party and rah-rah all they want," Pirates leftfielder Barry Bonds said. "They're a little cocky and arrogant right now, saying it was all over. So, take your shoe out of your mouth, and we'll see you [tonight]."

The Game 6 matchup pits lefthanders Zane Smith of the Pirates and Danny Jackson of the Reds. "In a strange way, I like our position," Pirates catcher Mike LaValliere said. "The pressure isn't really on them now, but if we win [tonight], it'll all be in their lap."

As if needing to win tonight to keep Rijo's view from materializing wasn't enough incentive for the Pirates, they have the added motivation of wanting another shot at the righthander.

"If there's a Game 7, Rijo would pitch, right?" Van Slyke asked, fully aware the answer was yes, against Bob Walk, most likely.

"Right now, we've got to worry about beating Jackson," Wally Backman said. "But if we get by him and get to Rijo in Game 7, z zTC think what he said could motivate some of our hitters against him. And I've always liked the idea of facing a pitcher a third time in a seven-game series. You've learned how he's been getting you out, and good hitters make adjustments."

Rijo started the first game last Friday, a 4-3 Pittsburgh victory, but was not involved in the decision. Tuesday night, he was the winning pitcher in the Reds' 5-3 triumph that gave them the 3-1 edge and loosened his tongue.

"I have to go out and make the pitches no matter what I say," said Rijo, who then referred to the Dwight Evans-Dennis Eckersley situation in the AL playoffs. "Evans said he couldn't wait to face him again after Eckersley struck him out and pumped his fist. He said Eckersley woke him up. So they faced each other again, and Eckersley struck out Evans again. It doesn't make any difference what you say. You've still got to go out there and do it on the field."

"That might be Rijo's position, that the series is over, but it's certainly not ours," Reds manager Lou Piniella said. "We're confident, but we know we still have to win one more game."

If they don't, the Reds just may blame it on Rijo.

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