CINCINNATI -- If Zane Smith thought the previous start was the biggest of his career, wait until he gets a taste of this one.
The Pittsburgh left-hander has to make like Doug Drabek tonigh and try to prevent the Cincinnati Reds from winning the National League championship.
And he will have to be much better than he was in Game 3.
"I feel kind of lucky I'm going to get a chance to start again," said Smith, who was blasted for homers by Billy Hatcher and Mariano Duncan and lost at Three Rivers Stadium, 6-3.
"I hope I can take advantage of it."
The series has shifted back to Riverfront Stadium after th Pirates stayed alive Wednesday night with a 3-2 victory behind Drabek and reliever Bob Patterson, who induced Reds catcher Jeff Reed to bounce into a double play with the bases loaded.
With the world champion Oakland Athletics awaiting the winner Cincinnati leads the best-of-seven series, 3-2.
Smith, who has spent most of his career with the lowly Atlant Braves, feared he would be too emotionally involved before the first start.
"But, surprisingly, I didn't get too carried away with all the adrenalin stuff," he said. "I think I'll go the same way this time."
The most important acquisition of general manager Larr Doughty, Smith was 6-2 with a 1.30 ERA for the Pirates through the stretch run to the NL East title.
Included was a one-hitter against the New York Mets, the team' most persistent challenger. Without Smith, the Pirates might not have won.
And, even after his poor first outing in the playoffs, manager Ji Leyland promised that "Zane Smith will pitch again" despite the presence of rookie Randy Tomlin and John Smiley on the playoff roster.
Smith was 2-2 with a 2.98 ERA against the Reds during the regular season, and both victories came after he was acquired from the Montreal Expos.
Nevertheless, of the 16 earned runs he has allowed in 81 inning with Pittsburgh, eight have been scored by Cincinnati.
"There won't be anything in this game that we haven't known already," he said. "When you pitch that much against one team, sometimes it's bad. But the last time I just made two big mistakes. Those two pitches weren't very good. Hopefully, I can erase those kind."
Smith probably will face another all-right-handed-hitting lineup which means the Reds' top two batters in the series, Paul O'Neill (.467) and Hal Morris (.417), will be on the bench.
But, if he is on his game, it won't matter. As a Pirate, he allowe opposing righties to hit .217.
"I just want to throw strikes and stay ahead of the hitters," he said. "The first one was real disappointing. I think people will probably remember that one. I'm happy to get a chance to redeem myself."
Reds manager Lou Piniella felt the whip of the armchai $l quarterbacks after Game 5 and finally lost his cool after a dozen or so explanations.
"What it boils down to is you [media] are going to second-guess any ------ thing I do, so it doesn't matter anyway," he said.
Questioners wondered why he had pinch hit for catcher Jo Oliver in the eighth, leaving him with Reed to bat in the ninth against a left-hander, and why he had sacrificed with Morris, putting Reed in the position of being the man to win the game.
"We're two runs down. If Oliver gets on in that at-bat, we'r going to have to pinch run for him anyway," he said, adding that he wouldn't bunt Morris if the team had been two runs down.
"You can score so many ways from third base," said Piniella. "You put pressure on the defense and pitcher. And the amazing aspect is, Reed has hit left-handers all year."
Reed batted .360 against lefties.
Leyland wasn't about to question Piniella's moves.
"Lou Piniella's been pretty awesome this series. Obviously, I had the left-hander and I was fortunate he had the chance to pitch to him," said Leyland. "Like I said, I've been outmanaged so far."
Reds pitcher Jose Rijo has created the biggest stir of the series with his declaration that it was over after the Reds took a 3-1 lead.
His teammates admonished him for his comments, and Piniella was forced to ask Rijo to tone it down . . . which he didn't.
"Some of my teammates, they say I'm crazy," said Rijo, who was already talking about facing his former Oakland teammates. "They tell me I don't want to wake the Pirates up with what I say. But that's just the way I feel. I can't help but feel we can't be beat."
The Pirates are playing it cool, at least publicly, in response, but -- Andy Van Slyke said, "It just adds a little fuel to the fire for me."
Rijo was the first to predict the NL West race was over as well That time he was right.