CINCINNATI -- After a decade of disappointment for two cities nestled on the green banks of the Ohio River, a long wait has ended.
The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates -- teams that dominated the National League in the 1970s and disappeared in the '80s -- will open the 1990 playoffs tonight (8, Ch. 11) at Riverfront Stadium.
Each team won six division titles and two World Series championships in the '70s, then suffered a decade-long drought. They were the only National League teams without a division title during the '80s.
The Reds will open the best-of-seven series behind one of the hottest starting pitchers in the league, caffeine-craving Jose Rijo (14-8, 2.70). In his last nine starts, the 25-year-old righthander is 6-2 with a 1.24 earned run average and 62 strikeouts in 80 innings.
"I'm going to go have some lasagna, two Cokes, two cappuccinos and come to the park ready to rock 'n' roll," Rijo said.
The Pirates, who used probable Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek (22-6) on Sunday, will counter in the opener with Bob Walk (7-5, 3.75). The veteran righthander won the opening game of the 1980 World Series for Philadelphia against Kansas City.
"It's his day to pitch," Pirates manager Jim Leyland said. "He's a pretty good pitcher, too. He may be hyper, but he's not going to be scared."
Pitching will be the key, according to Reds manager Lou Piniella.
"I feel we have to get good starting pitching to beat this club," Piniella said. "We need to hold it close, get a couple of runs and get into our bullpen, which is the strength of our ballclub."
With that in mind, Piniella has reunited the "Nasty Boys," moving lefthander Norm Charlton (12-9, 2.74) back into the bullpen. Piniella hopes the move can make for six-inning games for his starters before bridging to hard-throwing relievers Rob Dibble (11 saves) and Randy Myers (31 saves).
"That's the main reason," Piniella said. "Plus, we can use Charlton every day."
Said Dibble, "If we can get a lead into the sixth or seventh inning, we're very confident."
With good reason. In games the Reds led after six innings, they were 74-6.
The series is being billed as a matchup of the Reds' overpowering bullpen against the Pirates' hard-hitting "Killer Bs," outfielders Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.
"The key for us," Reds outfielder Glenn Braggs said, "is to keep their big guys from hurting us."
To do that, Reds second baseman Mariano Duncan said, Cincinnati pitchers must not lose sight of the rest of the Pirates.
"I don't think those are the only two guys on the team," Duncan said. "They have to have somebody on base or they can't hit three-run homers."
The Reds also have injuries to contend with. Lefthanders Tom Browning (15-9) and Danny Jackson (6-6), who will start tomorrow and Monday, respectively, finally are pitching better after being hurt. Browning was hampered by a sprained right ankle and Jackson has had three stays on the disabled list because of arm trouble.
Second baseman Bill Doran had back surgery yesterday and is out until next spring, ending an effective platoon with Duncan. Cleanup hitter and leftfielder Eric Davis played yesterday for the first time since injuring his left shoulder and hip crashing into a wall last Thursday, but is not 100 percent.
"I haven't been 100 percent all year but we still won the most games in the West Division," said Davis, bothered by knee problems much of the year. "You can't rely on one guy to do the job."
Davis leads the Reds with 86 RBIs and is second with 24 homers, one behind third baseman Chris Sabo. "Our offense falls into place when Eric swings the bat well," Piniella said.