PITTSBURGH -- Once the Pirates decided to move Bobby Bonilla from third base to rightfield, the Pittsburgh outfield became too crowded for Billy Hatcher. He asked to be traded.
Pirates manager Jim Leyland said it was the decent thing to do and urged the front office to comply. A deal with the Cincinnati Reds was struck six days before the season. Leyland shook Hatcher's hand and wished him luck.
"He's a good, hard player, the type you want on your club," Leyland said. "We just couldn't afford to have a $700,000 player sitting on the bench. I was glad he was going someplace where he'd get a chance to play. I didn't know we'd see him again in October."
Oh, Leyland saw him all right yesterday. Hatcher and Mariano Duncan helped produce a 6-3 victory that gave the Reds a 2-1 lead over the Pirates in the National League Championship Series.
Leyland saw Hatcher hit a two-run homer off Zane Smith with two out in the second inning. Then, after the Pirates drew even in the fourth, Leyland saw Hatcher begin the next inning by ripping a double.
"That was a big point of the game," Leyland said. "They quieted us down."
Any momentum the Pirates had by tying the score died when Hatcher got things started in the fifth. A three-run home run by Duncan gave Danny Jackson a nice cushion before Lou Piniella brought on the Nasty Boys.
Rob Dibble set down all five batters he faced -- three on strikeouts. Norm Charlton was touched for an unearned run in the eighth. Randy Myers closed it and earned his second save of the NLCS by striking out the side in the ninth.
While Jackson, bothered much of the year by shoulder trouble, pitched well and the Nastys played hard-metal tunes on Pirates' bats, it was the revved-up Reds offense that put them in control of the game and perhaps the series.
In the first two games, Cincinnati scored five runs -- one after the first inning. A Big Red Machine it was not. The Reds' most productive hitter was Paul O'Neill (.429, three RBI), a left-handed batter who did not start because a left-hander (Smith) was pitching, precisely the reason the right-handed Hatcher, a .307 hitter who platoons in centerfield with Herm Winningham, was in the lineup.
"He has been a key guy for us," Piniella said. "He has playoff experience, which is very helpful."
Hatcher's greatest personal moment as a pro came in a playoff game but was obscured by the event itself. It was Game 6 of the 1986 NLCS, a 16-inning marathon between the Mets and the Astros in Houston, the longest postseason game in major league history. Hatcher had a hand in prolonging it with a 14th-inning home run that struck the foul pole next to the upper deck.
"If nobody ever remembered that, it wouldn't bother me," Hatcher said. "A few years from now, I'll pull out the VCR and show my kids I really did get a big home run."
His home run yesterday wasn't shabby, either. Yet Hatcher's double that ignited the fifth may have had greater value.
"We tell our pitchers the inning after we score is the most important to keep the other team down," Piniella said. "For us to come back right away after the Pirates scored was a big lift."
Only two years ago, it appeared Duncan's big league career was over. The Dodgers traded for Alfredo Griffin, who took over as their regular shortstop, which had been Duncan's job. He spent all of 1988 at Triple-A Albuquerque and got a reprieve last year as a throw-in to the Kal Daniels-Tim Leary trade.
"Tony Perez worked very hard to make me a .300 hitter," said Duncan, who hit .306 during the regular season. "He's the best hitting coach in baseball."