CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds' wire-to-wire run has stretched through the National League Championship Series.
With a gripping 2-1 victory Friday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Reds ended a captivating series in six games. Next in the October hunt of a team that hasn't spent a day out of first place this season is a World Series match with the Oakland Athletics.
"I told Marge [Schott, the Reds owner] that I didn't come here to manage, I came to win," manager Lou Piniella said. "At least I repaid my debt in some way. I'm very proud of this team."
The pennant-clinching victory came in typical Reds fashion. That is, through the contributions of many.
It was Luis Quinones, a seldom-used but valuable pinch-hitter, who singled in Ron Oester with the game-winning run in the seventh inning.
It was Randy Myers, series co-MVP with Rob Dibble, who preserved the one-run lead for Norm Charlton, sending 56,079 fans at a chilly Riverfront Stadium into a delirious celebration befitting the end of a 14-year absence from the World Series.
Myers struck out Don Slaught for final out, but it was right-fielder Glenn Braggs' leaping, over-the-wall catch on Carmelo Martinez's drive for the second out in the ninth that truly saved the victory. Braggs, who didn't join the Reds until June 9 and didn't enter the game until the eighth inning, kept drifting and drifting back, then leaped and made the most nonchalant-looking dramatic catch of his career. When Braggs' glove snapped back on top of the wall, it preserved a combined one-hitter by three Reds pitchers and sent Barry Bonds the tying run back to first base.
"I had a pretty good idea the whole way that I could make the play," Braggs said. "It turned out to be a tougher play than I thought."
Said Pirates manager Jim Leyland: "When he hit it, I thought it was a home run. And from the replay, it appears it would have been."
With the final out, Reds players streaked toward Braggs, who met them in short right-center field. Schott, her St. Bernard Schottzie nearby, stood near first base as her players ran by to their dugout. Many embraced her, starting pitcher Danny Jackson (six innings, one hit) wrapping her up for several seconds. Cincinnati native Barry Larkin delayed his exit and chose to circle the infield and pump his fists to the happy crowd.
"The MVP? What about it?" Dibble said. "I could share it with 24 other guys on this team."
Quinones was the last batter faced by losing pitcher Zane Smith, who was the center of a pre-game controversy created by Leyland's decision to start Ted Power. Smith had been announced the previous day as the starting pitcher, even though Leyland had decided at that time to go with Power.
Smith got his turn in the bottom of the third and wiggled his way out of trouble until Oester, Billy Hatcher and Quinones singled in the seventh.
Power surrendered a first-inning run that has to qualify as one of the most-tainted earned runs allowable. It started when Larkin hit a high bouncer up the middle. Pirates shortstop Jay Bell easily reached it, but double-clutched before making the throw, which the speedy Larkin beat. The play was ruled a hit.
Larkin then stole second and continued on to third when Slaught's throw sailed into center field. After a walk to Paul O'Neill, Eric Davis smashed an apparent double-play ground ball to Bell, but second baseman Jose Lind couldn't get the relay out of his glove. The play went as a fielder's choice, and Larkin scored.
"We got what we wanted out of our pitching," Leyland said. "We just didn't get the hits when we needed to."
Jackson blew through the first 13 Pirates he faced, striking out three and not allowing a ball out of the infield. The closest thing to a hit was Andy Van Slyke's grounder into the hole that second baseman Mariano Duncan dived for and threw out Van Slyke by a step to end the top of the fourth.
Bonds drew a one-out walk in the fifth, as Jackson missed with a 3-1 fastball. Jackson's no-hitter and shutout evaporated with the next at-bat, as Martinez lined an opposite-field drive over an outstretched O'Neill and off the right-field wall for a run-scoring double.
But it was the times each team didn't score that characterized the middle innings. The Reds left the bases loaded in both the third and sixth innings; the Pirates left runners on first and third in the seventh.
Jackson walked Bobby Bonilla and Bonds to start the seventh, but Charlton preserved a tie at one by getting Martinez to pop up a sacrifice bunt, and flyouts by Slaught and Lind.
"We'll savor this," Piniella said. "We deserve time to savor this. We were in first place since Day 1.
"That's not an easy thing for a young ballclub to do. They played hard for me all year. Every time we had to win a big game -- and we had to win many we did."