PITTSBURGH -- Love filled the Pittsburgh Pirates' clubhouse last night.
Barry Bonds said he really did not mean all those nasty things he said about Andy Van Slyke and loves him for driving in two runs and scoring two runs in the 5-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the first game of the National League Championship Series at Three Rivers Stadium.
Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland said he loved pitcher Doug Drabek's daring on the bases, even if it led to a potentially damaging hamstring injury.
Bobby Bonilla said he loved looking across the field and seeing the opponent as skittish as the Pirates were in last year's playoff loss to Cincinnati.
"I prefer to look at this as that we have quite a climb ahead of us," Bonilla said. "We know what that feeling [with the Braves] is like. There's no need to look in there and recapture that feeling."
The love-fest started with Drabek. He shut out the nervous Braves on three hits for six innings but had to leave the game because of a possible strained left hamstring on an RBI double. Drabek injured the leg trying for what would have been a triple in the sixth inning.
Leyland described the injury as "between a cramp and a pull" and said the Pirates are uncertain as to whether Drabek can start in the fifth game, if it is played. Leyland did not criticize Drabek for trying to stretch a double into a triple and injured the leg in the process.
"To me, that's one of the reasons Doug Drabek was the starting pitcher," Leyland said. "I wished he would have stayed at second, but that's why I love him so much. He only knows one way to play: busting his fanny. That's what he was doing."
Drabek exposed an Atlanta weakness. The Braves are not the same team offensively without outfielder-leadoff hitter Otis Nixon, suspended in mid-September for violation of commissioner Fay Vincent's aftercare drug-rehabilitation program.
When Nixon started against Pittsburgh this season, the Braves were 7-3 with 5.5 runs per game. Nixon was 11-for-35 with 10 runs scored.
Without Nixon, the major-league leader in stolen bases at the time of his suspension, the Braves had no offensive catalyst. Lonnie Smith, a .244 hitter against righthanders, batted leadoff and did not get the ball out of the infield in four at-bats. The Braves had a runner in scoring position only once against Drabek.
"I take the same game plan out with me," Drabek said. "With Nixon not there, they lose that leadoff man who definitely has some great speed. He really killed us this year. He put a lot of pressure on the defense."
Van Slyke lifted the pressure from the Pirates with a first-inning home run against Tom Glavine. Van Slyke, taking advantage of Glavine's game-long control problems, added a run-scoring double in the third. He scored in the inning on Bonilla's single.
This did not seem to be the proper stage for Van Slyke. He hit only .197 against lefthanders this season. Something happens when Van Slyke sees Glavine. Van Slyke is 13-for-34 lifetime against Glavine.
"There are certain righthanders I don't hit, and there are a lot of lefthanders I don't hit," Van Slyke said. "It just happens that Tom Glavine, at this point in my career, I can hit a little better than most lefthanders. So I'm glad he's not on Los Angeles or some other club not in the playoffs."
This was a quick response to Bonds' words. Before this game, Bonds called Van Slyke the Pirates' "Great White Hope" and said he received favorite-son treatment when given a three-year, $12.6 million contract this spring. Bonds said the Pirates' failure to offer Bonilla, a potential free agent, anything more than Van Slyke is an error in judgment.
The tune changed. Bonds said anyone who took that as a slap at Van Slyke was wrong. Bonds professed undying affection for the centerfielder.
"To me, Andy Van Slyke is the best centerfielder in the game," Bonds said. "I have all the respect in the world for Andy. What we have out there, I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. Everything that the man does makes you love him, not one night.
"Me and Andy have no problems. You ain't going to get me and Andy into no problems."
Van Slyke laughed at Bonds' words and said "I've heard that a million times from him." It is a sign of the Pirates' makeup that a potentially explosive moment was turned into comic relief.
"This club hasn't self-destructed," Leyland said. "It's not going to start now."