CINCINNATI -- Eric Davis has spent much of the last seven summers in the Riverfront Stadium outfield. He knows the walls and corners and warning track like a homeowner knows which doors creak.
So it was quite a surprise last night when, in the seventh inning of a tie game in the opener of the National League Championship Series, the Cincinnati Reds' leftfielder misplayed a drive by Pittsburgh's Andy Van Slyke, turning it into an RBI ground-rule double that gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a 4-3 victory over Cincinnati.
"I misjudged it," Davis said quietly afterward. "I was playing shallow and the ball was hit harder than I thought and I just misjudged it."
From the emptiness in Davis' voice and stare, he has not misjudged what this loss has done to the Reds. Even though they trail only one game to none in this best-of-seven series, their championship hopes could be in jeopardy.
Before 52,911 at Riverfront Stadium, they scored three runs in the first inning, then blew the lead with their best pitcher, Jose Rijo, on the mound. Then they lost the game because of a fielding mistake by their best defensive player, a three-time defending Gold Glove winner.
As if that wasn't enough, the game ended because the Reds could not score in the ninth inning even though their first two runners reached base.
With Todd Benzinger on second and Davis on first, Ron Oester botched a bunt to force Benzinger at third. Then pinch runner Billy Bates was thrown out on the back end of a double steal. Chris Sabo was struck out by Ted Power to end the game.
"When we were down 3-0, with Rijo pitching, I really thought we didn't have much of a chance," Van Slyke said. "I don't think anybody in the stadium thought we had much of a chance.
"But this is something we have been doing all year. Somewhere, somehow, we believe we can pull it out."
Even in unbelievable fashion, which is what happened after an RBI triple by Jose Lind in the third inning and Sid Bream's two-run homer in the fourth inning tied the score, 3-3.
With one out in the seventh, Gary Redus, batting for winning pitcher Bob Walk, hit a one-out single up the middle against reliever Norm Charlton.
With Jeff King batting, Redus stole second. After King flied out, Charlton pitched around Jay Bell, walking him to bring up Van Slyke, who was hitless in three at-bats with two strikeouts.
The Reds coaches instructed Davis to play Van Slyke shallow. So Davis moved in.
"I understood it, with a quick runner on second," Davis said. "It was a good move."
On the second pitch, Van Slyke hit a fly ball to left, and everyone assumed the inning was over.
"We all turned to grab our gloves and go back to the field," Barry Bonds said.
"Just a fly ball," Charlton said.
Everyone in the stadium apparently knew where it was. Except Davis.
"I rounded first and saw him backpedaling and I thought, 'Man, maybe he's in trouble,' " Van Slyke said. "As an outfielder, you are taught never to backpedal."
Said Davis: "After my third step, I knew I was in trouble."
He ran back, back . . . then realized that he could not get back far enough. All he could do was turn and watch the ball bounce on the warning track and over the fence, scoring Redus.
In an odd way, the Pirates' true hero may have been starter Bob Walk. By the time he had thrown his first 18 pitches, the Pirates trailed, 3-0.
L "I thought this thing was going to be a nightmare," he said.
Walk allowed just one hit and two baserunners over the next five innings to earn the win.