PITTSBURGH -- When the Pittsburgh Pirates were in trouble this season, they usually found the antidote in Doug Drabek.
He was unbeaten in six decisions after consecutive Pirates losses, stopping losing streaks of six, five, four (twice) and three in the second half of the season.
He was 12-3 with a 2.88 ERA after any defeat.
And the right-hander did it again last night in the National League Championship Series, leading the Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds that staved off elimination in five games.
Drabek did not allow a runner past first base after the first innin until the Reds scored their second run in the eighth, retiring 13 men in a row and 15 of 16.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's "Slumber Company" woke up jus enough to send the series back to Cincinnati for Game 6 tomorrow night.
The Reds made it uncomfortable when a single by Marian Duncan, a fielder's choice, a wild pitch and Barry Larkin's second double chopped the gap in the eighth.
Drabek was beginning to labor after singling in the seventh. " could tell I lost a little bit on the basepaths," he said.
But Drabek escaped by getting Herm Winningham on a inning-ending pop-up, then left in the ninth in favor of Bob Patterson after yielding singles to Paul O'Neill and Eric Davis and sacrifice to Hal Morris that put runners at second and third with one out.
Patterson intentionally walked Chris Sabo to fill the bases, the threw a double-play pitch to Jeff Reed to earn the save.
Reds manager Lou Piniella would not second-guess himself fo having Reed in that spot after inserting the catcher and a pitcher in the bottom of the eighth.
"Reed hit left-handed pitching better all year," said Piniella. "I fel very comfortable with him up there. It just didn't work out this time."
The Reds had won nine of their previous 12 games in Pittsburgh and they jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first on Larkin's double, Drabek's error on a pickoff attempt and Winningham's sacrifice fly.
But the Pirates responded with a two-run bottom half, with Andy Van Slyke's triple leading the rally.
"There was a lot of talk in the clubhouse about how we've won three in a row 16 times this year," said Van Slyke. "And Drabek's numbers after a loss were great. We felt this was the time to make it 17 straight."
"Everybody was acting pretty much like they had all year," sai Drabek. "We wanted to go in not all tensed up. We knew what we had to do. Why put a lot of pressure on yourselves and go out there all tight?"
The Pirates didn't knock down the walls, getting five singles i addition to Van Slyke's triple that took a high bounce and caromed off O'Neill's glove.
But they capitalized enough on their opportunities against To Browning, scoring a big run in the fourth on Don Slaught's sacrifice fly after Barry Bonds and R.J. Reynolds executed a run-and-hit play, Reynolds singling to send Bonds to third.
Then, Drabek protected that lead into the eighth, when h weakened.
Manager Jim Leyland considered removing his 22-game winne at that point, but his heart overruled his head.
"If I had Dennis Eckersley, I would probably have taken him out," said Leyland. "I had Cy Young. In my heart, there was no way I could take out the best pitcher in the National League this season."
At the same time, Leyland ruled out the notion that Drabek ma pitch in relief in Game 7, if it is necessary. "I doubt that very much," the manager said.
Drabek had two out with a runner at first in the eighth when h wild-pitched Luis Quinones to second, then yielded Larkin's second double to trim the gap to 3-2.
In the ninth, singles by O'Neill and Davis (off the third-base bag) put him in jeopardy before Morris sacrificed.
And, although Cincinnati's Jose Rijo was talking before the game about facing the Oakland Athletics' Jose Canseco in the World Series, the Reds may have a fight to finish off Pittsburgh. The Pirates are 5-3 at Riverfront Stadium.
"But we're in a little better shape than they are," said Piniella. "Our objective here was to win a few games, and we did that. We've got to win one. They've got to win two. I like the odds. They're in our favor."
But if the Pirates can jump to an early lead again and keep th Reds' Nasty Boys bullpen sitting, their chances improve tremendously.
At least their frame of mind wasn't bad.
"Losing three in a row has a way of putting water on anybody's fire," said Van Slyke. "Maybe this will rekindle it for us."