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Like a soccer goalie defending a penalty kick, Bonds took a guess, turned to his left and ran toward the track. The ball landed behind him, on his right, for a double. Cincinnati took the 2-1 lead into the sixth, which Van Slyke led off with a single. He went to second on Bobby Bonilla's single. The next batter, Bonds, lofted a fly to right. "It could have ricocheted off the blimp for all I know," said O'Neill, who caught a ball he couldn't sec as Van Slyke tagged and headed for third.
Larkin decided not to cut off O'Neill's throw. "It was so strong and right on line," said Larkin later. Said Van Slyke, "I heard the ball whiz by my ear." In another nanosecond, he was punched out in the play of the series, which the Reds evened with their 2-1 win.
Ludicrously, there would be no game for another 72 hours—59 minutes of which would be consumed by the commute to Pittsburgh for Games 3, 4 and 5. "It's going to feel like a month," said Bonds, who planned to spend the wait watching TV, the medium that dictated this forced vacation. CBS didn't want the national pastime to interfere with its pro and college football telecasts on Saturday and Sunday afternoons; the network would not displace its own games, nor did it want to go head-to-head with those on other networks. And on Saturday and Sunday nights, CBS had the American League Championship Series to televise.
Game 3 would have another 3:20 start on Monday afternoon because CBS's wacky Monday night comedies are better ratings ammunition than baseball against ABC's Monday Night Football . The CBS logo is a black eye, but baseball was taking the beating. Or was it? Like Bowie Kuhn sunning himself in short sleeves in arctic Octobers past, commissioner Fay Vincent last week thanked CBS for "accommodating" baseball.
So, there was time to kill. Like most players on both teams, Cincinnati third baseman Chris Sabo spent the break relaxing and took in, as he put it, a Kentucky "greengrass" band on Friday night. Over the lost weekend, the press, too, needed something to do, and O'Neill, whose sister Molly is a food critic for The New York Times , became all the news fit to print during the hiatus. Yes, O'Neill rooted for the Reds while growing up in Columbus. ("In Ohio in the '70s, you had to," he said.) Yes, he would have been terribly disappointed had the Reds' season fizzled in September, a month in which he hit .195. ("I'd have let the team down.") Yes, of course—now bowing his head—real life had just whizzed by the ear of his boyhood fantasies.
"As you pick up a ball in Little League," said O'Neill reverently, "you think of guys who star in the playoffs and World Series. I would be Willie Mays one day and Roberto Clemente one day and Pete Rose one day. I couldn't be [Johnny] Bench because I'm lefthanded. My brother and I would play a whole lineup in the backyard—I'd have to be nine guys."
Now the 27-year-old O'Neill is entertaining new fantasies. "Anybody here can picture themselves striking out the last hitter or hitting the game-winning homer in Game 7," he said in the Cincy clubhouse last week. "Every guy in here wants to be Kirk Gibson."
These being the Reds and the Pirates, everybody on both teams felt blessed to be in a postseason series. "In the first game," said Larkin, "I asked Bobby Bonilla, at second base, 'Are you having fun?' He said, 'I'm having a tremendous time.' "
"A lot of people in the minors never got the chance I did," said Leyland, who managed 11 years in the minor leagues. "Guys who were just as good as me. I'm not apologizing for this, but I am very grateful." The man who wept in 1987 when his Pirates first exited last place was, quite understandably, getting worked up again.
Leyland would get weepier when the Pirates returned to Pittsburgh, where they were to share Three Rivers Stadium on Saturday with the Steelers. The last-place football team and the first-place baseball team both had workouts scheduled that day for their upcoming games, but the playing surface had already been converted for football. That tells you all you need to know about allegiances in Pittsburgh, a city that bought every seat to see the Steelers (whose offense hadn't scored a touchdown in its first four games) play the equally inept San Diego Chargers on Sunday but that has never—ever—sold out a Pirate playoff game.