PITTSBURGH -- After Bobby Bonilla took what he called "a real long walk" back to the Pittsburgh dugout from third base in the eighth inning, he sat down next to Carmelo Martinez.
"Do you know who threw the ball?" Martinez asked Bonilla.
"Larkin, I guess," Bonilla replied, meaning Barry Larkin, the Cincinnati Reds' shortstop.
"No," Martinez replied, "it was Eric Davis."
That was the first that Bonilla knew what an incredible play had resulted from his fly ball against the centerfield wall in the eighth inning of the fourth game of the National League Championship Series last night.
"He's got a helluva arm," Bonilla said of Davis, "but I can't even think of Eric Davis throwing me out."
In throwing Bonilla out at third base in this 5-3 Cincinnati victory, Davis might have tossed the Pirates out of a chance to play in the World Series. Yet his play was typical of what the Reds have done to the Pirates in this series.
In the second game, rightfielder Paul O'Neill helped preserve a 2-1 victory by throwing out Andy Van Slyke at third, creating a rally-shattering double play.
In this game, Billy Hatcher, the centerfielder, threw out Sid Bream at the plate in the fourth inning, maintaining a 2-2 tie, and Davis somehow nailed Bonilla at third in the eighth, erasing a runner who might have tied the game, 4-4.
Other members of the Reds' defense also have contributed critical throws. In that second game, pitcher Tom Browning picked Jeff King off second base and catcher Joe Oliver threw out Gary Redus when he tried to steal second. Last night Jeff Reed caught Bonilla when he tried to steal second.
But the play of the series was the Davis throw. Only it wasn't just a throw. One out after Jay Bell's home run sliced the Reds' lead to 4-3, Bonilla rocketed a Randy Myers pitch to dead center.
"I thought I had a chance to catch it," said Hatcher, who raced back to the wall and leaped against it as high as he could, "but it was just out of my reach."
When he descended from his leap, Hatcher had no chance to retrieve the ball in time to keep Bonilla from reaching third. Davis, however, sped over from leftfield and gobbled up the ball after it caromed off the wall.
"I didn't really know where Bonilla was," Davis said. "I just knew I had to come up with the ball and get it into third as fast as I could."
In one motion, Davis picked up the ball, spun around and threw.
"I practice that play every day," he explained. "I practice turning my back to the infield, wheeling and throwing."
Davis was the best advertisement for the adage that practice makes perfect. Yet it wasn't just the turn that had to be perfect.
"He had to make a perfect throw and he did," said Reds manager Lou Piniella.
Bonilla was going for third all the way. "I'm a very aggressive player," he said.
After he neared second, Bonilla said, "all I saw was Hatcher on his tushy. When I turned second, the ball was on the ground. I never saw Davis. You know it's going to take two perfect throws to get you. It turned out to be one."
Davis caught sight of Bonilla after he released the ball. "I knew it was on line," he said, "and as long as it was on line, I knew I had a chance to get him. I knew after it bounced ahead of him I had him."
Third baseman Chris Sabo wasn't so certain.
"On Paul's play the other night," he said, "I thought we had a chance of getting Van Slyke. This one I didn't think we had a chance of getting Bonilla. Eric was far away and he had a bad angle. When he threw it, I thought it was going to hit Bonilla or be awful close to hitting him. I angled myself to catch it and the ball just appeared. I just can't believe it didn't bounce away."
"That throw was awesome," Hatcher said.
Barry Bonds followed with a single to right, prompting Pirates' enthusiasts to groan at the thought that had Bonilla stayed at second, he would have scored.
Bonilla didn't agree with that thinking, saying: "If I'm on second, they play differently."
Whatever, the win, and the 3-1 advantage, has Cincinnati talking World Series.
"It's pretty much over, unless they make a great comeback," said last night's Reds starter Jose Rijo, who gave up six hits and three runs in seven-plus innings. "It's obvious we play harder when we need to win."
The one thing the Pirates have going for them is tonight's starter, Doug Drabek (22-6), who is 12-3 following a loss. They're also 5-3 in Cincinnati, should the series return there Friday night.
"We're capable of a three-game winning streak," said Pirates starter Bob Walk, who gave up four runs in seven innings.
But the Reds are outhitting them, outpitching them, outdefensing them and just plain getting them out. And now the Reds are 27 outs away from the World Series.
"I feel we're going to run a quality pitcher out there every day, so if we can make the plays behind him and put some runs on the board with our bullpen, we're in good shape," Piniella said.