PITTSBURGH, OCT. 8 -- The Cincinnati Reds took a two-games-to-one lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates today in the up-for-grabs National League Championship Series on the strength of home runs from unexpected power sources, Mariano Duncan and Billy Hatcher.

The difference in the Reds' 6-3 victory was a three-run shot by Duncan in a fifth inning that Hatcher ignited with a double. Earlier, Hatcher put the Reds ahead with a two-run homer. He also had a single and double during a gray afternoon that haunted Pirates fans -- Hatcher was a Pirate until April when the club granted his wish and traded him.

"I didn't know we were going to see him again in October," said Pirates Manager Jim Leyland.

Pittsburgh starter Zane Smith was the victim of both home runs. A left-handed sinkerballer, he needs to get ahead of batters to be successful, but this afternoon fell behind by 2-0 in the count when he gave up both home runs.

Smith, who went five innings and took the loss, served up the fattest of fastballs, the one to Duncan a little inside, the one to Hatcher directly over the plate. Duncan, who had 10 home runs this season, and Hatcher, who had five, gave good imitations of the Big Red Machine.

The result meant that the Pirates will have to win the NLCS in Cincinnati if they are to win it. Meanwhile, a second straight victory in the best-of-seven series put Reds Manager Lou Piniella in a confident mood. "I hope it won't go back to Cincinnati," he said.

Left-hander Danny Jackson was the beneficiary for Cincinnati, picking up the victory with an unspectacular performance. He allowed Pittsburgh to tie the game at 2 in the fourth inning, and wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth before giving way to a bullpen that looks superior to that of the Pirates.

Jackson was followed by Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers, who got the save by striking out the side in the ninth. "Myers, Dibble and Charlton can all close ballgames for me," Piniella said. "That's a tremendous advantage for me. I went into the bullpen in the sixth inning today and brought out Dibble."

The Three Rivers Stadium crowd of 45,611 -- about 13,000 shy of capacity -- cheered on their Bucs, and a high-volume video board provided a hockey-game atmosphere. Talk about noise. But Hatcher was most responsible for lowering the decibel level.

Leading off the Reds' fifth, just after the Pirates had tied it, Hatcher doubled. "Any time a team scores against you, you want to come right back," he said. "Lou told me, 'Just get a good pitch to drive.' "

Jackson sacrificed him to third. Barry Larkin singled to third with Hatcher holding. Then Duncan delivered -- and for good measure added a single in the seventh and an RBI single in the ninth. Before his home run, Duncan was zero for eight in the series.

Outwardly at least, Leyland took the Pirates' setback calmly, and he was particularly gracious about Hatcher, who barely made it to the Reds in time to open the season. He was traded on April 3 after long discussions with Leyland and the Pirates' front office.

"We traded him for a combination of reasons," Leyland said. "Number one, Billy Hatcher deserves to play, and I didn't have much playing time for Billy Hatcher. You also don't want to have a guy on the bench making $700,000.

"He talked to me about it in spring training. We'd talked over the winter. 'Do something with me,' he said. We did."

Bobby Bonilla delivered a single to drive in the Pirates' first run, but otherwise the Reds continued to check the heart of Pittsburgh's batting order. Bonilla, Barry Bonds and Andy Van Slyke have totaled only one extra-base hit and two RBI in the series.

"I think we're just really concentrating on those two guys plus Van Slyke," said Jose Rijo, who will start Game 4 Tuesday night. "We're trying not to let any of those three beat us."

Carmelo Martinez drove in the Pirates' second run, but he also popped to short with the bases loaded to end the fifth inning. After two shaky innings from Jackson, Piniella wasted no time in using his "advantage" -- his bullpen. "We had a shot at Jackson," Leyland said. "We just didn't get enough."

Piniella attributed Duncan's power and .306 season batting average to an offseason weight program and instruction from Tony Perez. Duncan agreed. "Every success I have had is because of him," Duncan said. "It's been my dream to hit .300 in the majors and he's helped me realize that."

Second baseman Duncan, who came over from the Dodgers last season, was a big factor in the Reds' fast start this season. He hit .408 in April with four home runs and 14 RBI, and was still hitting .382 on May 14 when a strained abdominal muscle put him on the disabled list.

Hatcher also played a significant role as the Reds broke on top of the National League West early. He hit .333 in April and .313 in May, and took over in center field when Eric Davis went on the disabled list.

Hatcher also provides the Reds a steady influence -- he participated in the NLCS with Houston in 1986. "I'm not as nervous as I was then," he said. "I know what to expect. The first time through it, the media really got to me. I didn't know how to handle it. Now I can help a few of the guys on our team and just tell them you have to say no sometimes to get yourself prepared for the game."

He said he took no particular delight in inflicting punishment on his former Pittsburgh teamates; he had no control over where he was traded but "things worked out perfectly."

"When you look at Van Slyke, Bonds and Bonilla in the outfield, there aren't going to be too many at-bats left over for you," he said. "I just wanted a situation where I could go and play. Thankfully it was Cincinnati because Cincinnati had a good ballclub. They were looking for a left fielder at the time."

For the Pirates to come back in the series, they will have to pick up their hitting. Leyland predicted improved production from the middle of the lineup, but time could be running out. The Pirates have to start hitting Tuesday night.