CINCINNATI -- The thinking was that once a game became a battle of the bullpens, the Cincinnati Reds would rule the National League Championship Series.
But it turned out just the opposite last night when three relievers shut down the Reds for the final three innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates nicked Norm Charlton for a seventh-inning run to capture the series opener, 4-3, at Riverfront Stadium.
Charlton had been starting since mid-July, but he returned to the Cincinnati relief corps for the playoffs, joining forces with "Nasty Boys" Rob Dibble and Randy Myers.
With the score at 3-3, pinch hitter Gary Redus singled to right with one out, then stole second against Charlton, getting a jump that would have made Bob Beamon proud.
Jay Bell walked with two out before Andy Van Slyke hit a fly ball to deep left that Eric Davis misplayed. The ball sailed over Davis' head and bounced off the turf and over the fence for a ground-rule double to score Redus with the game-winner.
"A double is a double is a double," said Van Slyke, the overshadowed member of Pittsburgh's outstanding outfield. "I don't care how you get them."
Reds manager Lou Piniella said, "Eric's going to make that play 99 times out of 100."
Stan Belinda, second among the Pirates in saves with a modest eight, retired all six batters he faced with 24 pitches, striking out three.
But Bob Patterson encountered trouble in the ninth when pinch hitter Todd Benzinger singled and Davis walked. Ron Oester batted for Paul O'Neill and attempted to sacrifice, but Patterson got the force out at third base on a close play.
Former Red Ted Power then entered the game to face Chris Sabo. The Reds tried to pull a double steal with Sabo at the plate, but Mike LaValliere threw out pinch runner Billy Bates at second base as Davis went to third.
Power then struck out Sabo, as the Pirates won for the fifth time in seven games at Riverfront Stadium this season.
"I was happy with the way we played, but we missed a couple of executions," said Piniella. "We don't get the runners over on a bunt, then get thrown out on the back end of a steal and we're out of an inning.
"The back runner [Bates] was instructed not to go if he didn't have a good jump, but he thought he had one. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't."
The Reds were 39-13 this season when they scored in the first inning. And they jumped on Bob Walk for all their runs in the first.
But Walk didn't crumble, allowing only two baserunners through the next five innings as the Pirates retaliated against Jose Rijo to tieat 3.
"It's kind of weird the way these things happen. It was kind of a throwback to 10 years ago," said Walk, referring to his victory over the Kansas City Royals in the opening game of the 1980 World Series.
"In that game, I got hammered early, then we came back and took the lead. I was a surprise starter and Cy Young [Steve Carlton] was pitching Game 2. This was a lot like that game. But I'll take it. I think this will be a big lift for our ballclub."
The belief was that the Pirates couldn't afford to get behind quickly with the Reds boasting the league's most dominating bullpen, but Rijo weakened, giving up a run-scoring triple to Jose Lind in the third inning and a two-run homer to Sid Bream in the fourth.
The Pirates are 15-0 in games in which Bream has homered this season.
"I told some reporters at the end of the season if I had known it was going to happen like that, I would have hit 40 or 50 of them," Bream said jokingly. "It's a coincidence. I just hope it continues through this series."
Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland said he told Walk to "think good things" after his shaky start. "I didn't want him to worry too much, because you never know what to expect. He had a tough first inning, then settled down and pitched well."
Leyland said he started Walk simply because it was his turn to pitch and because "I can remember him taking the ball a few years back when a lot of pitchers we had wouldn't take it."
The Reds got run-scoring hits from Hal Morris, Davis and O'Neill in the first inning and had Walk nearly knocked out.
"I was more concerned about splitting here and how we played," said Van Slyke. "I think the way we won this one is going to be a big factor for our confidence."
* Pittsburgh has become a haven for ex-Reds from the Pete Rose regime.
Seven were on the regular-season roster and three are playing in the postseason, Redus, Bill Landrum and Power. One who is missing is Doug Bair, the losing pitcher for the Reds in Game 2 of the 1979 NL playoffs against Pittsburgh.
"It adds a little extra importance to the series," said Power. "Why not?"
* Pirates pitching coach Ray Miller thinks having one premier closer can sometimes be a negative.
"Having one guy down there can work against a team," he said. "All of a sudden after John Franco has blown a couple or three saves for the Mets, a little panic sets in."
The Pirates had 43 saves, with Landrum tops with 13.