CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds manager, an accomplished hitter in his day, worked with him in the days leading to the National League Championship Series.
The Pittsburgh Pirates were leading off with two right-handers and Lou Piniella wanted Cincinnati right fielder Paul O'Neill fine-tuned at the plate when the showdown started at Riverfront Stadium.
The sessions paid off yesterday when O'Neill drove in both Reds runs against 22-game winner Doug Drabek and helped even the series at one victory apiece in a 2-1 game played in ideal weather before 54,456 fans.
But Piniella was more thrilled by O'Neill's defense, which sabotaged a budding Pirates rally in the sixth inning and transferred the game from starter Tom Browning to the Cincinnati bullpen, an unhittable force yesterday.
"O'Neill made an outstanding major-league play," said Piniella. "Plays like that are why we led the National League in defense."
Andy Van Slyke was on second and Bobby Bonilla on first wit none out when Bobby Bonds flied to medium-deep right.
Emulating teammate Gary Redus, who reached third on a almost identical fly ball in the first, Van Slyke took off.
But O'Neill made a perfect one-hop throw to Chris Sabo to complete a double play, and the Pirates never threatened again.
"I'm still taking off," said Van Slyke. "I make it 99 times out of 100. I got dirty, and I was out. I don't know. Maybe the double he had the previous inning gave him some more adrenalin."
O'Neill said: "Those things [throwing out Van Slyke] don't happen very often. You can save runs in the outfield just like you can drive them in.
"I wasn't surprised he was going. Redus had run on a ball t right-center earlier, and I didn't make a good throw. I knew Bonilla was on first, and I threw the ball high enough so we'd at least have a first-and-third situation.
"These plays happen so quickly, you don't even know what's happening."
That climaxed a brilliant day for one of the more unsung of th Reds, a Columbus, Ohio, native who was platooned with Glenn Braggs the last few weeks of the season and may not start Monday against left-hander Zane Smith.
O'Neill singled home the first Cincinnati run in the first inning when five Reds reached base against Drabek.
"I was overthrowing. I got out of my rhythm, and I was fortunate to get out of that with one run," said Drabek, the almost-certain Cy Young Award winner. "I sat down and took a deep breath after that, and things got better."
Then, after the Pirates tied it at 1 on a rare Jose Lind home run, O'Neill gave Browning the necessary cushion.
With Herm Winningham at second, O'Neill hit a fly to deep lef that sailed over Barry Bonds' head for a double, dooming Drabek to his first Riverfront loss.
Bonds never really tracked the ball in the twilight sun that carrie shadows across the infield. He put his glasses down, tried to judge the vicinity of the ball and lost.
"It's ridiculous to play at this hour," he said. "The ball never came out of the sun. It was picture perfect. It stayed right there."
O'Neill said: "I thought the ball might go off the wall. It was toug out in left field. Eric [Davis] came in at the beginning of the game and said to run out hard anything hit to left because of the tough sun."
The hit was the third of the series for O'Neill, who is batting .42 with three RBI and already has two outfield assists, one short of the NLCS record.
"I was just fortunate to get up there with guys on base," sai O'Neill, who has between 73 and 78 RBI each of the past three seasons.
The Pirates had some opportunities, but Browning pitched out o a two-on, none-out jam in the first, picked Jeff King off second in the second and received big lifts from O'Neill's play and Joe Oliver's throw-out of Redus on a steal attempt.
Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland said he had no problem with Van Slyke's decision to try for third base with one out but said the pickoff at second "hurt us.
"But Browning was tough. We had him on the ropes in the first and didn't capitalize. Then he settled down, just like [Bob] Walk did last [Thursday] night. It can be a long day when that happens."
So, they will head for Pittsburgh, where the Reds won four of six this year, with nothing really settled. The quirky 1990 schedule (because of previous CBS-TV commitments) dictates two days off.
That seems to favor Cincinnati, which can come back with its deep bullpen well-rested.
"You want to pitch as much as possible, keep your edge," said Rob Dibble. "Two days off hurts a guy like me. I'll probably have to throw Sunday to get ready for the next game."
Van Slyke said: "I can't complain. When you've played this long, a couple days off does your body a lot of good."
* Reds first: Larkin walked. Larkin stole second. Winninghasingled to right, Larkin to third. O'Neill singled to right, Larkin scored, Winningham to third. O'Neill stole second. Davis struck out. Morris intentionally walked. Sabo grounded into fielder's choice to pitcher, Winningham forced at home, pitcher to catcher, O'Neill to third, Morris to second. Oliver struck out. Reds 1, Pirates 0.
* Pirates fifth: Lind homered to left. Drabek fouled out to catcherRedus flied out to center. Bell popped out to first. Pirates 1, Reds 1.
* Reds fifth: Browning grounded out to second. Larkin singled tcenter. Winningham grounded into fielder's choice to second, Larkin forced at second, second to shortstop. Winningham stole second. O'Neill doubled to left, Winningham scored. Davis flied out to center. Reds 2, Pirates 1.
* Caught stealing: Pirates-Redus; Reds-Winningham.
* Strikeouts: Pirates-Bonds, Drabek, Reynolds, Backman, BreamReds-Davis 2, Oliver, Browning, Winningham, Duncan, Dibble, O'Neill.