PITTSBURGH -- Carl Berger, president of the Pittsburgh Pirates, approached slumping leftfielder Barry Bonds before Game 5 of the National League playoffs and asked, "Are you packed, kid?"
Bonds smiled and replied instantly. "You bet I am," he said, "we're going back to Cincinnati."
The prophetic Bonds hit a run-scoring grounder and walked before scoring the eventual winning run to make sure his prediction came true.
With Bonds doing his part, right-hander Doug Drabek pitching masterfully and Bobby Bonilla playing brilliantly as an emergency third baseman, the Pirates stayed alive last night with a 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
As has been the custom in this well-played and tightly contested series, the outcome hinged on a great defensive play. That it would be Bonilla's play afield that most helped trim the Reds' series lead to 3-2 would have been hard to believe.
Bonilla was so bad at third base in 1989, making 37 errors, that he was switched to right field. But a back injury to Jeff King made Bonilla the starting third baseman for Game 5 after he had started only eight games at the position in 1990.
So, what happened? The game was on the line, and left-handed-hitting Jeff Reed faced left-hander Bob Patterson with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth. The Pirates were clinging to a 3-2 lead. A base hit and there would have been no trip to Cincinnati.
Reed, who was batting because manager Lou Piniella lifted catcher Joe Oliver for a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, grounded a 1-1 pitch to Bonilla's left.
A crowd of 48,221 gasped in anticipation as Bonilla did his impersonation of Brooks Robinson. He --ed to his left, gloved the ball and fired to second baseman Jose Lind for a force on the hard-sliding Chris Sabo.
That was half of it. Had Lind made a weak throw, the game would have been tied. But the slick-fielding second baseman avoided Sabo and fired to first baseman Sid Bream for the final out. The Pirates gained new life.
"It was nice to do it to them one time," a beaming Bonilla said, referring to game-saving defensive plays by Cincinnati outfielders earlier in the series. "Once I threw it, I focused on first base. I knew Chico [Lind] would make the pivot."
Lind wasn't so sure.
"It was a pretty tough play," Lind said. "I had to throw off balance. I thought Bobby would get it, because the ball wasn't hit that hard. Sabo slid hard. I didn't see the end of the play, but I heard everybody screaming."
Pirates manager Jim Leyland probably had his fingers crossed on the final play. He said he decided against using Rafael Belliard as a late-inning defensive replacement because Belliard is 5-6 and Bonilla is 6-3.
"With those high hops on artificial turf, I wanted a bigger guy in there," Leyland explained. "Bobby made a great play. He hasn't played third base too much this year. He made a great play to his left. He did his job."
There were two Pirates who definitely didn't mind seeing Bonilla start at third base over Jeff King, who was scratched with a sore back. Bonds and R.J. Reynolds liked the idea, for different reasons.
Whereas Bonds grumbled about King's absence, Reynolds was positive about the situation. He learned when he came to the park that he would start in right field, with Bonilla shifting to third. Reynolds had two singles, one figuring prominently in the winning rally.
The Pirates had a 2-1 lead off left-hander Tom Browning when Bonds led off the fourth with a walk. On a hit-and-run, Reynolds grounded the ball through the hole vacated by shortstop Barry Larkin en route to second.
Bonds scooted to third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Don Slaught for the Pirates' third run. That's all they needed to snap a five-game losing streak against the Reds at Three Rivers Stadium.
"It was a great feeling to be able to contribute," said Reynolds. "It seems that in this series all the games are so close and the team which gets the breaks wins. We got them tonight.
"This was a real nice win," he added. "Doug always gives us quality starts, and we wasted one in Cincinnati [Game 2]. I'm happy, too, because I got my first two postseason hits and first stolen base."
Drabek, who pitched a five-hitter and lost Game 2, fell behind quickly but recovered impressively. Larkin opened the game with a double, went to third on Drabek's errant pickoff throw and scored on Herm Winningham's fly.
That sacrifice started a string of 13 straight outs for the Pirates' ace. By the time it ended, Pittsburgh enjoyed a 3-1 lead. And the Pirates wasted no time taking control.
Jay Bell was hit by a pitch with one out in the first and scored on Andy Van Slyke's high-hop triple off rightfielder Paul O'Neill's glove. Bonilla walked, and Bonds' grounder made it 2-1.
"The guys have scored a lot of runs for me, and that's made it easier," said Drabek, who now is 13-3 following a Pirates' loss. "I just wanted to throw strikes and give our fielders a chance to make the plays."
Drabek cruised into the seventh but tired soon after singling in the bottom of the inning and racing to third on Bream's single. Mariano Duncan's one-out single, a grounder and Larkin's second double made it 3-2 in the eighth.