PITTSBURGH, OCT. 10 -- Rob Dibble is the fastest-throwing, fastest-talking member of the Cincinnati Reds' bullpen of "Nasty Boys." But Manager Lou Piniella wishes his 100 mph strikeout ace would stop talking and just keep throwing. Dibble put in for a raise the other day at what Piniella considered an inopportune time, in the midst of the National League playoffs.
"We'll take care of that later," Piniella said, looking annoyed. But he couldn't afford to be too annoyed, and secretly he'd have to admit Dibble's timing was as sharp as his fastball: Dibble saved Game 4 of the National League Championship Series after blanking Pittsburgh in appearances in the first three games.
A huge difference between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh is the Reds bullpen. This was evident once more Tuesday night when left-handed closer Randy Myers, who got saves in Games 2 and 3, had a shaky eighth inning. But Dibble, a right-hander, came on for an easy save in the ninth as the Reds held on, 5-3, to draw within one victory of the pennant.
Dibble is being paid $200,000 in his third year as a Reds setup man. He wants the more lucrative and glamorous role of closer, but this season he and left-hander Norm Charlton have been largely responsible for the bridgework between the Reds' starters and Myers -- who makes $875,000.
Dibble keeps repeating that he's an "entertainer" -- he certainly is entertaining with the media, and as the major leagues' fastest pitcher he's something to behold on the mound. Dibble wouldn't mind a trade that would make him a closer and bring him the fame and fortune of Dennis Eckersley. But he'd settle for long relief and Cincinnati -- and the money. "I love Cincinnati," he said between relief outings.
The Reds should want to keep all of the Nasty Boys -- although Dibble would like to get rid of the nickname. "I'm tired of my wife having to explain to people that I'm a nice guy," he said.
When Piniella goes to the pen, the results are almost the same. Dibble and Charlton have closed games, just like Myers. During the season, Dibble had 11 saves, Charlton 2, Myers 31. In the playoffs, Dibble has 10 strikeouts in five innings. He and Myers have a combined earned run average of 0.00 while holding the Pirates to a batting average of .074. Charlton has a 2.45 ERA, and took the Reds' loss in Game 1.
"Our closers are interchangeable," Piniella said, "and that is a tremendous advantage to a manager."
The Nasty Boys are all big boys -- over 6 feet, more than 200 pounds. Dibble, who is 6-4, 235, played hockey in his youth. He's from Bridgeport, Conn., and says, "Hockey was my number one sport."
He likes to say he could deal punishment as a high school defenseman. "All right, I was the goon. You're going to write it, I may as well say it. . . . But someday I would have run into people who could have beat me up. Baseball players last longer than hockey players."
He had a tryout offer recently from the Chicago Blackhawks, although he has no intention of taking up the game again. But he finds it nice to think about.
"That's my dream," he said, "to be like a Bo Jackson. But at 27, it's a little bit too old to start going back to childhood dreams."
Instead, he settled for buying a Mario Lemieux Penguins sweater the other day and hung it in his locker.
Charlton, 6-3, 205, looks more angelic than nasty with his curly, light blond hair. Born at Fort Polk, La., and now living in Katy, Tex., Charlton is a 1986 graduate of Rice with a triple major: political science, religion and physical education. He wears a Rice shirt under his Reds shirt.
A Nasty Boy for the first half of the season, Charlton was switched to starter because of injuries. He excelled, but is back in the bullpen for the postseason. He may be a starter next year.
Myers, 6-1, 210, from Vancouver, Wash., was obtained during the offseason from the New York Mets as the teams exchanged closers. Myers and John Franco then ran one-two all season in the battle for relief pitching honors in the National League.
"Myers is my closer, period," Piniella said.
"Pay me as a stopper," Dibble countered.
Dibble has to admit, though, he's been lucky. He could have had a much shorter hockey career. Then, he was drafted as an outfielder out of high school, and he might have ended up as an unsuccessful one had he not gone on to college -- one year at Florida Southern.
He rocketed up from the minors once he was converted into a reliever. Last season, he struck out 141 batters in 99 innings -- the best ratio in modern baseball history. He averaged 12-plus strikeouts per nine innings this season. One thing, you can't beat his work days -- they're measured not in hours but minutes.
"I'm hyperactive. I want to play every day or at least have the chance to pitch every day," he said, hanging out in front of the Reds dugout. "I'm a heavy thinker. As a starter, you may have four or five days to think and wait. As a reliever, I can change destiny the next day."
As talkative as he is, and preoccupied as he is with his career, Dibble claims a sense of knowing where he fits into the baseball cosmos, and its not quite at the center.
"God gave me a gift and it was speed," he said. "For what I do, I think I throw the hardest -- 95 to 100 every time. But there are guys who have the real gift -- they have the endurance in their arms as well as the speed. I'm talking about Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Dwight Gooden.
"You've got to know your limitations. If I go out there for a fourth inning, I'm going to get beat. Ryan, Clemens, Gooden -- they're the ones kids should admire."
But no one, he said, should think of him as really nasty. "It gets old," he said. But his own team keeps referring to the Nasty Boys and their accomplishments in all its published propaganda.
"It's a fad. It'll wear off," Dibble said. "I don't need the Nasty Boy stuff. I don't need hitters to have more incentive to hit against me."
But then, he himself can give a team incentive. Some speculation has it that Oakland's power hitters will catch up to his fastball. Dibble sticks out his chin, certain the A's will find him -- and it's all right with him to use this word in this case -- nasty.
"Like they say, Oakland's going to hit a 600-foot home run off me," he said. "I can't wait for that to happen."