PITTSBURGH, OCT. 10 -- Doug Drabek, whose 22 victories led the National League, and Bob Patterson, who supplied crucial ninth-inning relief, sent the National League Championship Series series back to Cincinnati for Game 6 as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Reds tonight, 3-2, in a tense contest at Three Rivers Stadium.

Right-hander Drabek, 28, who took the loss in Game 2, came within two outs of his second complete game of the best-of-seven series, which the Reds still lead, three games to two. Patterson needed a double-play ball with the bases loaded before victory was assured to the relief of most of the crowd of 48,221.

The Reds mounted their last-inning threat on a single by Paul O'Neill and a single that hit third base by Eric Davis, the Reds' struggling slugger who'd struck out three times in the game. Hal Morris advanced the runners with a bunt. In a momentous decision, the Pirates went to their most ordinary bullpen.

Pittsburgh Manager Jim Leyland called on Patterson. Chris Sabo was given an intentional walk to fill the bases. Left-handed-hitting Jeff Reed hit a sharp ground ball to third, where Bobby Bonilla, filling in for injured Jeff King, started an around-the-horn double play to end the game.

"The key," said Leyland, "is to go out front so you don't get to their bullpen."

With the Pirates leading from the first inning on, the Reds' top finishers, Randy Myers and Rob Dibble, never got into the game.

"This is definitely the biggest game of my life," Drabek said. "I didn't want to drive myself crazy thinking about it. I went about my preparations as normally as I could and tried not to think about how we needed this game."

Drabek and Patterson pulled Pittsburgh through despite the continued frustration of its "Killer B's," power hitters Bonilla and Barry Bonds. Both went hitless, leaving Bonilla four of 18 with one run batted in. Bonds is now three of 17, although he managed his first RBI on an infield out and scored a run after walking.

"I think we'll play the same way in Cincinnati, but I hope with a little more offense," said Andy Van Slyke, who also has slumped but got his third RBI of the series with a triple, his second extra-base hit. "Our hitting is far short of what this club can do. I still want to see a nice outburst."

Left-hander Danny Jackson will attempt to deliver Cincinnati its first pennant since 1976 when the series returns to Riverfront Stadium Friday night. The winner of Game 3 will be opposed by Zane Smith, who gave up two home runs and lost Game 3 and has been earnestly hoping for another chance ever since.

The Pirates pray that somehow some baseball history -- ancient in one instance -- can repeat itself. Twice before in postseason play, they rallied to win after being behind 3-1 in games: in the 1979 World Series against Baltimore and the '25 Series against Washington.

"We have to have everybody chipping in, doing their part -- maybe doing little things, scratching for runs instead of waiting for big innings," said Drabek, whose record now is 13-3 following a Pirates defeat.

Left-hander Tom Browning, Cincinnati's winning pitcher in Game 2 and the team leader in victories this season with 15, went only five innings tonight, leaving with the Reds behind, 3-1. He seemed unsettled all night, struggling to gain his control.

Browning walked three and hit a batter -- Jay Bell in the first inning, when the Pirates took a 2-1 lead. Drabek, meanwhile, was in control after a shaky start, getting the Reds to beat his sliders and sinkers into the ground.

Drabek was responsible for the unearned run the Reds scored in the first. Barry Larkin doubled to open the game, moved to third when hit by a Drabek pickoff attempt and scored on a sacrifice fly by Herm Winningham -- the first of a string of 13 batters Drabek retired.

The Pirates rebounded when Bell was hit and Van Slyke tripled to right-center. It would have been a single on grass, but it took a carpet hop over right fielder O'Neill's head and off his glove. After Bonilla walked, Van Slyke scored when Bonds hit into a force.

Most of the Pirates believed it was crucial to get ahead of the Reds early. "The thing I was concentrating on was getting Doug an early lead any way possible," Van Slyke said. "When he gets a lead, he's a pretty amazing pitcher.

"We had to come up with two runs, and we did."

Browning seemed badly out of sync opening the fourth inning, and the Pirates took advantage to add a run. Rushing his pitches, Browning walked Bonds, who moved to third on a single by R.J. Reynolds and scored on a fly ball by Don Slaught.

The Pirates threatened against right-hander Rick Mahler in the seventh, but "Nasty Boy" Norm Charlton came on to hold the Pirates. With one out, Drabek beat out a hit to deep short. He then chugged to third on a single by Sid Bream, who took second on a late throw to third. After an infield out by Bell, left-hander Charlton was called in and struck out Van Slyke.

The extra energy Drabek used on the bases would weaken him. In the eighth, the Reds cut their deficit to 3-2. With one out, Mariano Duncan singled. Pinch hitter Luis Quinones hit into a force out. But Drabek wild-pitched Quinones to second. With a 3-2 count on Larkin and the crowd on its feet roaring for a strikeout, Larkin smashed a line-drive double off the left field fence for the run.

That left Pirates fans on the edges of their seats. But their worst scare was yet to come in the ninth. "Coming out for the ninth, even coming out for the eighth, after running in the seventh, I had lost a little," Drabek said. "I just didn't want to walk anybody. I wanted them to earn their way on."

Pirates partisans envisioned their season coming to an end when Davis's drive hit the bag at third. But Patterson, 31, turned out to be a talk of the town. With an 8-5 record, five saves and a 2.95 ERA, he had just finished his best major league season. A career 15-15 hurler, he had accumulated all of one-third of an inning of postseason play. He was the best Pittsburgh had to offer.

"If we had an Eckersley or a Cy Young, yes," Leyland said, he would have pulled Drabek sooner. "But it was his game. He is the best pitcher in the league this year and he deserved to stay in."