CINCINNATI, OCT. 7 -- An entire weekend of idleness can do curious things to a baseball playoff series.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates, the unusual two-day break gave third baseman Jeff King time to heal and outfielder R.J. Reynolds the opportunity to get hurt. It gave ace Doug Drabek a chance to lobby -- unsuccessfully so far -- for a second start within a four-game span, and it gave Barry Bonds a forum to continue attacking the postseason schedule-makers.
The Pirates' opponents in the National League Championship Series, the Cincinnati Reds, were equally restless -- mostly as a result of Manager Lou Piniella's incessant lineup tinkering.
Eric Davis was moved from left field to center field and back again. Paul O'Neill, Glenn Braggs, Billy Hatcher, Hal Morris and forgotten man Todd Benzinger were alternated between playing and sitting every few hours in a maddening set of reshufflings that yielded clubhouse complaints by the time the third edition of Piniella's lineup card began circulating.
And reliever Ron Dibble, Cincinnati's playoff star to date, used the occasion of his dominance in the first two games of the NLCS to catch up on his Reds bashing.
"I think maybe we had a little too much free time on our hands," Piniella said today before the Reds left for Pittsburgh and Monday afternoon's Game 3 against the Pirates and their late-season salvation, Zane Smith. The best-of-seven series is deadlocked at one victory apiece, with the next three games to be held at Three Rivers Stadium.
Pittsburgh seems to hold the advantage in this tightly contested matchup, but the Pirates' edge is a precarious one. They split the first two games in Cincinnati even with outfielders Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke hitting a combined five for 24, and they are returning home with Smith -- who was 6-2 with a 1.30 ERA after being acquired from the Montreal Expos in early August -- well rested and eagerly awaiting his first postseason appearance.
The Pirates will face Reds left-hander Danny Jackson, who was on the disabled list three times this season. They were 44-24 in games started by left-handers this year and 49-32 at home. Drabek, a 22-game winner who was a hard-luck loser after a five-hitter in Game 2, says he's itching to start Games 4 and 7 on a regimen of three days' rest, although Manager Jim Leyland has plans to go with Bob Walk in Game 4.
"Everyone tells me I should be feeling good about our position," Leyland said. "And I do. I feel good to be in a playoff series that is an absolute dead heat right now. . . . There is no way to say that anyone has an advantage at this point. The two days off benefitted both teams and hurt both teams about the same."
The Pirates' major plus is that King, who bruised his lower back as he was picked off second base in Friday's game, likely will be available to start Game 3. Leyland said King would have been doubtful for a Sunday contest had there been one, but upgraded his status to probable for Monday.
If King cannot play, Leyland said he'll duplicate Friday's maneuver of shifting Bonilla to third base -- where he committed 35 errors in 1989 before being transferred to the outfield last spring -- and inserting Reynolds in right field.
Reynolds is expected to be available despite having his car rear-ended Saturday en route to the Pirates' workout. "I was a little banged up, with a headache and a sore shoulder, but it's nothing serious," he said.
Leyland would prefer to use Reynolds as a pinch hitter, for he fears the Reds bullpen that has taken center stage in this series. Norm Charlton -- who became a starter at midseason but was returned to a relief role for the playoffs -- lost Game 1 when Davis misplayed Van Slyke's seventh-inning fly ball, but Dibble and Randy Myers combined for three innings of scoreless work in Game 2 to protect Tom Browning's victory.
Piniella pledges more of the same, saying the two game-free days will allow him to get a maximum workload from the "Nasty Boys."
"If we get a lead, they'll see Charlton, Dibble and Myers," Piniella said. "They've been our ace in the hole all year. That's why I've told the starting pitchers not to shortchange themselves: 'Give everything you've got for six or seven innings; get us into that territory with a lead and the other guys will slam the door.' "
Dibble was particularly impressive in the first two games, striking out five of the eight batters he faced with a succession of fastballs clocked as fast as 99 mph. Said one Pirates player: "The guy is outrageous. We feel like we can hit Myers. Dibble? You're taking your life into your hands up there."
The exploits have led Dibble to continue his tirades against the Reds. He has complained about his setup role and his $200,000-a-year salary. He has shunned his "Nasty Boys" membership and demanded to be traded.
He had other Cincinnati relievers wear No. 43 on the back of their caps for Tim Layana, who was left off the playoff roster.
Piniella is more concerned about whom he will send to the plate to face Smith. At one point, he planned to move Davis back to center field for the first time since Aug. 23 and have O'Neill and Braggs flank him.
But he altered the alignment to have Hatcher replace O'Neill and inserted Benzinger -- who was six for 18 this year against Smith but made just two starts after Sept. 5 (once at first base). Piniella's other first baseman, left-handed Hal Morris, hit .224 off left-handers this season.
Piniella said he's "reserving the right to make last-minute decisions" about his lineup. The Reds have only five runs and 10 hits in the two games, the Pirates five and 13.
Pittsburgh seems more settled, although Bonds -- who lost O'Neill's decisive Game 2 double in the sun -- continues to rail against "the concessions to television that have us playing two straight 3 o'clock games" in the series. But the Pirates appear confident that they'll jump-start their offense against Jackson.
Said Bonilla: "It's only a matter of time before we get things cranked up."