The drowsy, partied-out Pirates gathered in the fog-bound Pittsburgh airport this morning then waited -- one hour, then two, then three -- before their plane could hop over to Cincinnati.

What else is new? The Pirates can't do anything the easy way. Their slogan, courtesy of Willie Stargell, is "Whatever it takes."

Usually, that means interminable extra-inning games, exasperating rain delays, makeshift Itching from a fine but frequently worked staff. And, in the end, 41 come-from-behind wins, 25 victories in their last at-bat, and a total of 98 triumphs.

This Buc team won more games than any Pittsburgh squad since 1909. And it may be the best since Honus Wagner's heydey -- better even than the 1971 World Champions of Roberto Clemente.

That doesn't mean the Pirates don't feel like going stir crazy along the way.

During their fog-in today, veteran catcher Manny Sanguillen -- dressed formally (for a Pirate) in gold-and-black cowboy hat with feathers, jeans and sneakers-- ensconced himself behind a vacant United Airlines counter.

Consulting a Braniff flight schedule and randomly punching an unplugged ticket computer, he studiously directed inquiring travelers to who knows where.

Since the airport was closed, with nobody going anywhere for hours, no harm could be done. Nonetheless, what the black-shirt Pirates do best, you see, is keep their sanity while driving others up the wall.

That makes them a perfect contrast to the stiff-upper-lip Cincinnati reds with their road dress codes, club rules and defiantly old-fashioned uniforms.

To make the contrast complete, the Reds will start Mr. Straight Arrow, Tom Seaver, in Tuesday's 8:30 p.m. first game of the National League playoff (WRC-TV-4).

The Pirates hadn't the slightest idea who they would start -- or hadn't in their early hangover hours.

"Don't ask, don't ask. Let's enjoy this a few hours first," said Manager Chuck Tanner. "We'll find somebody."

Late today he chose left-hander John Candeleria (14-9), who has not started a game since Aug. 16 because of a rib injury.

While this Pirate team compares favorably with any in this city's past, Cincinnati simply hopes the Reds remain a pale facsimile of the mighty clubs that thumped the Bucs in '70 (3-0), '72 (3-2), and '75 (3-0).

With Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Sparky Anderson gone, with Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench diminished by age, with Ken Griffey injured, these Reds ought to be a watered down drink, indeed.

But, they aren't. Considering the Buc's exhaustion, plus the fact that a rested Seaver could pitch both a first and fifth game, this playoff is nearly dead even. But that's always the way Pittsburgh and Cincinnati seem.

During this decade, the Bucs and Reds have been the NL's two dominant teams, finishing fewer games out of first place during the '70s than any other teams. Both had the same insignia -- a pair of crossed bats. When the Big Red Machine and The Lumber Company met, Cincinnati won because the Pirates were poor on fundamentals, fielded erratically and couldn't stop a Red base thief.

The only thing that remains the same about these clubs is the magnificent riverside ballparks they play in -- two glittering spaceships beside the waters, called Three Rivers and Riverfront.

Now, the Pirates and Reds are traditional, well-rounded clubs -- teams that have some of everything, yet, perhaps, lack one superb disguised ones.

George Foster and Dave Concepcion are not secrets. Yet they may not have acquired the sobriquets they merit: best hitter in baseball, and one of the best shortstops in history, respectively.

In the last four years, the workaholic Foster has, in his colorless way, driven in a run every four at-bats. "How can you call me colorless," Foster would say. "I use a black bat." Unfortunately for the banquet circuit, that is Foster's comedy showstopper. This body builder is as humorless as a pushup.

"There's Foster and then there's everybody else," said Houston reliever Joe Sambito. "With men on base, he's unreal. It's most automatic. You start hoping he only hits a single."

"In the clutch, no one in this league is close to him," said batting champion Keith Hernandez. "We're all in awe."

Perhaps the most underrated player in baseball, though that is changing, is Concepcion, the bonafide No. 3 hitter of the Reds.

"Concepcion is the best shortstop I have ever seen," said former Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese. "He's not properly appreciated."

Over the last seven seasons, Concepcion also has been a realistic .280 hitter with gradually increasing power. Pick the five best all-around shortstops in history, and Concepcion one day may be considered one of them.

Once, it was the Reds who felt like an old-fashioned family, their stars close-knit and disciplined, while the Pirates seemed like talented juvenile wastrels.

Now, the Reds are far from family. Joe Morgan wants out, via free agency. Stern Manager John McNamara, a strong handler of pitchers, and perhaps a better tactician than Anderson, is no director of a Love Boat cruise. Where the Reds were once charismatic, they are now a blend of businesslike veterans and dutiful youngsters.

It is the Pirates who have the extra dimension, the electricity and crackle. They are the family now, a thoroughly modern one which, while permissive, still has an underlining sense of order and common purpose.

Unless Tom Seaver has other ideas and singlehandedly overpowers the Pirates' strained pitching, that new family should replace the old.