PITTSBURGH, OCT. 9 -- Cincinnati took a commanding three-games-to-one lead tonight in the National League Championship Series, beating Pittsburgh, 5-3, on a two-run, seventh-inning home run by Chris Sabo, a Pirates' base-running mistake and a save from one of the "Nasty Boys."
Bobby Bonilla, one of the Pirates' "Killer B's," got himself thrown out at third base trying to stretch a double into a triple in the eighth inning with the Reds leading by just 4-3. A perfect throw from left fielder Eric Davis, retrieving Bonilla's drive off the center field fence, proved to be a morale and rally killer for the Pirates.
"We're certainly in the position we want to be," Reds Manager Lou Piniella said.
Right-hander Rob Dibble set down the Pirates in order in the ninth for the save, and Pittsburgh fans filed out of Three Rivers Stadium knowing their team's chances looked bleak in the best-of-seven series.
Jose Rijo, Cincinnati's most dominant pitcher in the NL West stretch run, went seven innings and one batter in the eighth to pick up the victory that moved the Reds within a victory of the pennant.
"He pitched very well," Piniella said. "I told him before the eighth, 'Just get me one batter.' We were going to Randy Myers no matter what he did with the first batter." What Rijo did was give up a home run to Jay Bell.
On came Nasty Boy Myers, who'd gained saves in Games 2 and 3. But he labored tonight, needing 25 pitches to escape the inning. But as Piniella is fond of saying, "We have interchangeable closers." So he called on Dibble for the ninth.
"Pittsburgh has too good a team for us to think we can waltz right in," said Sabo, who got a third RBI on a sacrifice fly, although the Reds sounded plenty confident even before they took the field. Dibble spoke about "when" -- not "if" -- the Reds were going to win this series and "when" they were going to win the World Series, or, as Piniella would call it, the "Fall Classic."
The Pirates got their starter, Bob Walk, the Game 1 winner, a run in the first inning when Wally Backman opened with a double and came around on two infield outs. For three innings, Walk looked as if he might be pitching back to the form of his last game of the regular season, when he shut out St. Louis.
But Cincinnati cuffed him around in the fourth. With one out and none on, Paul O'Neill, who drove in both runs in the Reds' 2-1 Game 2 victory, hit a 3-1 pitch into the right field seats. Davis and Hal Morris followed with singles, and a fly ball by Sabo scored Davis.
"So far in this series, it's been different players in every game," said O'Neill, who was just being modest since he was such a factor in Game 2. He also was overlooking a very big difference in the series -- the Cincinnati bullpen.
Pittsburgh tied the game in the bottom of the fourth when Sid Bream bounced an opposite field double over the left-center fence, scoring Andy Van Slyke, who had singled and stolen second. A few minutes later, center fielder Billy Hatcher, the former Pirate, charged a line single by Jose Lind and cut down Bream with a strong throw that catcher Jeff Reed held as he applied the tag.
"There were two outs and you've got to score Sid on that play," Pirates Manager Jim Leyland said. "You've got the pitcher coming up next."
"Our outfield plays so well defensively," said Piniella, and there was no doubting him tonight with such strong throws by Hatcher and Davis.
Walk looked as if he had enough left in the fifth and six innings. But in the seventh, he yielded a leadoff single to Morris and Sabo's home run, which came on a 1-0 pitch and landed in the left field seats about 10 feet inside the foul pole.
Walk was left with an unspectacular night's work -- four runs and seven hits over seven innings. But the Pirates weren't quite finished.
Bell's home run leading off the bottom of the eighth brought the crowd of 50,461 to life. Rijo, who struck out seven over seven-plus innings, gave way as planned -- but the left-handed Myers didn't turn out quite as "nasty" as Piniella had hoped.
Van Slyke missed a home run by a few feet, pulling the ball just foul into the Pirates bullpen before flying out. Then Bonilla doubled off the center field fence -- his first extra-base hit of the series -- but got thrown out diving into third. A disbelieving crowd sent up a groan.
Hatcher crashed into the fence trying for the catch, but Davis hustled over from left, quickly retrieved the ball and threw a strike to Sabo, who tagged the sliding Bonilla. Sabo called the throw "unbelievable."
The base-running fiasco looked all the worse when Barry Bonds followed with a single. The inning ended when Myers struck out Bream.
The Reds added insurance against Ted Power in the ninth. With the bases loaded, Morris, who had doubled, scored on a sacrifice fly by Luis Quinones, who was batting for Myers.
Pittsburgh's biggest hitters continued to struggle: Van Slyke, Bonilla and Bonds -- the Pirates' third, fourth and fifth hitters -- have only two extra-base hits among them in the series.
"I'm getting tired of hearing about the three, four and five guys," Bonilla had said before the game. He added that all the Pirates needed was to "relax."
But he didn't sound too relaxed, edgy if anything: "We've just got a lot of guys without playoff experience. This is Barry's first time, my first time. It was a grind to get here and now we're supposed to be having the time of our lives. It's just a matter of relaxing. That's what I've been preaching."
Bream also cited the Pirates' youthfulness, talking about their fitful run to the East title. "We didn't have the experience," Bream said. "We'd get ahead and then relax a little bit and let the other teams catch up." Even before the game, the Pirates sounded doubtful, while the Reds took a brimming confidence onto the field tonight.
"I think Bobby was just trying to be real aggressive," Leyland said, confirming that Bonilla was running on his own trying to get to third. "The ball was thrown on the money and he was out. That's baseball."
"We've got to sweep," Leyland said, "go out there and jump on somebody to get some hits. We've had our chances but we haven't been able to get any hits."
They've been stung and maybe "killed," as it were, by their own "B's."