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The Cincinnati Reds may not be able to fulfill Barry Bonds's wish to "beat the pants off of Oakland" in the World Series. They can, however, fulfill the prophecy of the Pittsburgh Pirate leftfielder, who also said last week, "The A's are going to lose."
How? Let us "retrospect back," to borrow the words of Reds leftfielder Eric Davis. Back to the National League Championship Series, in which neither the Reds nor the Pirates stole your heart but both stole pieces of your stomach lining. Back to a series so dominated by the Reds' defense that Pirate centerfielder Andy Van Slyke called the Cincinnati outfield "almost superhuman or robotic." Back to a series so bullied by the Reds bullpen, particularly reliever Rob Dibble, that the Nastiest Boy could say afterward of Oakland's Bash Brothers, "I'm not worried about [facing them]. Let them worry about it."
It would be unfair to expect the Reds to play this week in as otherworldly a way as they did in dispatching the Pirates four games to two for the pennant, but it would be equally unfair not to expect it. "We had a good defense all year," noted Cincinnati third baseman Chris Sabo. "I don't know where we finished in the league, but...."
"You finished first," a reporter informed him.
But of course. The Reds outfield alone had 47 assists this season, the best in the National League. Again in the playoffs the oft-changing threesome threw out more players than the bouncers at the Waterfront, every team's favorite Queen City watering hole. In cutting down four base runners in the series, the Reds' outfield emphatically stated it will not play Wile E. Coyote to Rickey Henderson's Road Runner. "We know Rickey from our Yankee days," said Reds pitching coach Stan Williams, referring to himself and manager Lou Piniella, both of whom, like Henderson, were previously indentured to George Steinbrenner. "We know he can run. But we also know a little that we're not talking about."
One of the things the Reds aren't talking about is the fact that they have a higher power on their side. Any doubters need only review the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 4—unless this sort of thing, like a poltergeist, doesn't appear on videotape. With one out and the Pirates trailing 4-3, Bucs cleanup hitter Bobby Bonilla sent a laser beam to centerfield. Billy Hatcher leapt but couldn't get a glove on the ball, which caromed off a plank near the top of the padded wall directly into the hands of Davis, who had materialized in right center. Davis wheeled and dealed: The lazy peg-physics be damned—accelerated en route to third, bounced just behind the sliding Bonilla, then elegantly arched over him and into Sabo's glove.
In a series that resembled the Tony Awards, this narrowly won Best Play. "The ball appeared to me out of [Bonilla's] body," Sabo said later. "It was almost like—like a miracle throw. I still can't believe it had enough zip on it."
Which led the Reds to the ninth inning and to Dibble, who preserved the 5-3 win that gave Cincinnati a 3-1 lead in games. Dibble, whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, is a pain in the posterior that has been felt for three years by National League hitters and society at large. The co-MVP of the series—along with fellow Reds reliever Randy Myers—Dibble struck out 10 of the 16 batters he faced in the four games he worked, and didn't give up a hit.
With traditional closer Myers and middleman Norm Charlton, the Reds bullpen is the best and most feared in the National League. "There were some on the [Pirates] who didn't want any part of them," Williams notes conservatively. "I think it takes a little wind out of the other guys just to see them get up."