The 1990 National League Championship Series was played between the Cincinnati Reds (91–71) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (95–67). It was the first playoff appearance for both teams since 1979 and the fifth NLCS meeting overall with Cincinnati winning the Pennant in 1970, 1972, and 1975 while Pittsburgh won in 1979.
The Reds won the series 4–2 and eventually went on to sweep the defending World Champion Oakland Athletics in the World Series. This was the only NLCS during the 1990s that did not feature the Atlanta Braves and was the first of four straight to feature either the Philadelphia Phillies or the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Between Game 2 (in Cincinnati) and Game 3 (in Pittsburgh), the teams took two days off instead of the usual one. That Sunday, October 7, the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to use Three Rivers Stadium for their scheduled game against the San Diego Chargers, so Game 3 (and by extension, the rest of the series) was pushed back a day.
Cincinnati won the series, 4–2.
Thursday, October 4, 1990 (8:30PM EDT) at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio
The Pirates took the first game of the LCS with a 4-3 victory. The game-winning run scored in the 7th when Andy Van Slyke hit a routine inning-ending flyout that was misjudged by Eric Davis in left-field, scoring Gary Redus.
Bob Walk was the starting pitcher for Pittsburgh and José Rijo was on the mound for the Reds. The Reds had two doubles in the bottom half of the first inning and scored three runs. These would prove to be the only runs they could bring across the plate for the entire game. For Pittsburgh, Sid Bream would hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning to tie the game. The key Pirate play to seal the game was throwing out pinch-runner Billy Bates, the trailing runner at the back end of a double steal in the ninth inning, to get the second out. Pittsburgh took the series lead, one game to none.
Friday, October 5, 1990 (3:15PM EDT) at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio
Doug Drabek, the National League Cy Young Award winner for 1990 took the mound against Tom Browning for a weekday afternoon Game 2. Cincinnati again scored in the first inning when Barry Larkin walked, stole second, went to third on a hard single by Herm Winningham and scored on a single by Paul O'Neill. The Pirates tied it in the fifth when José Lind, better known for his defense, hit a solo homer.
The Pirates appeared ready to take the lead in the sixth when Andy Van Slyke singled and went to second on a single by Bobby Bonilla. With two on and nobody out, Pirates slugger Barry Bonds came up with a chance for a big inning. Bonds popped out to deep right, and Van Slyke attempted to advance. But Paul O'Neill threw a perfect strike to Chris Sabo who tagged Van Slyke for a 9–5 double play.
The Reds regained the lead in the sixth when Winningham reached on a fielder's choice, stole second, and scored on O'Neill's drive to left center that hit the wall after barely avoiding Bonds' glove. Drabek went the distance but got the loss. Browning got the win and Randy Myers the save. Barry Larkin's stop and throw on a sharp grounder by Bonds up the middle squelched a potential rally with none out in the ninth.
Monday, October 8, 1990 (3:20PM EDT) at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
This was a weekday afternoon game, and for the first time in history, there were two scheduled off days between games. This set-up seemed to help Pittsburgh as it would allow them to have Drabek for game seven if necessary. Danny Jackson squared off against Zane Smith. But it was Mariano Duncan who stole the show.
In the second, Joe Oliver singled and Billy Hatcher homered to give the Reds a 2–0 lead. The Pirates tied it in the fourth when Jay Bell doubled, Andy Van Slyke singled to score Bell, and Van Slyke scored on Carmelo Martínez's double. In the fifth, Billy Hatcher doubled, Larkin singled, and Duncan hit a three-run homer to give the Reds a 5–2 lead. In the bottom of eighth, the Pirates got a run back when Barry Bonds singled, went to second on a walk, and scored on Mariano Duncan's throwing error to make it 5–3. In the ninth, the Reds got the run back when Oliver singled and Billy Bates ran for him. Bates eventually scored on a Duncan single (his fourth RBI of the game). The game ended with a Reds victory, 6–3, to take a two games to one lead in the NLCS.
Tuesday, October 9, 1990 (8:30PM EDT) at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Game 4 would be a rematch of Game 1 starters Jose Rijo and Bob Walk. The Pirates would grab the first lead of the game (for the only time in the series) in the opening frame when Wally Backman doubled to left and scored on a Van Slyke ground out. The Reds took the lead in the fourth when O'Neill belted a solo shot and Sabo followed up singles by Eric Davis and Hal Morris with a sac fly. Bream would hurt Rijo again (as he had in Game 1) in the bottom half of the inning when he drilled a double to left center that scored Van Slyke.
Chris Sabo untied the game in the seventh when he golfed a hanging curveball by Walk into the left field stands for a two-run homer. With no outs in the eighth, Jay Bell hit a solo home run that knocked Rijo out of the game and cut the lead to 4–3. Piniella called on Myers and two batters later Bonilla hammered another ball that hit high off the center-field fence and out of the reach of the leaping Billy Hatcher. As Bonilla rounded second and motored on to third, left fielder Eric Davis ran out toward center, fielded the carom and threw a one hop strike to Sabo at third; gunning down the aggressive Bobby Bonilla. The play seemed to deflate Pittsburgh.
The Nasty Boys continued their dominance through the last innings while the Reds offense tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth, making it 5–3. Dibble got the save and up until that point had pitched in all four games, tossed five innings with no hits allowed and ten strikeouts.
Wednesday, October 10, 1990 (8:25PM EDT) at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Game 5 saw the Pirates bring back their ace Doug Drabek to keep the season alive. Barry Larkin got the Reds started in the first when he doubled down the left-field line and scored on Winningham's sac fly to right. In the bottom of the first, Reds starter Tom Browning hit Jay Bell and then surrendered a gapper to right-center by Van Slyke that hopped over Paul O'Neill's glove for an RBI triple. Bonilla walked and Bonds hit into a 3–6 force play scoring Van Slyke to make it 2–1 Bucs. In the fourth, Pittsburgh added another run when Bonds walked, went to third on an R. J. Reynolds hit, and scored on a sac fly by Don Slaught. Drabek's gutsy outing continued into the eighth until Duncan singled and Larkin smashed a double that one-hopped the left field fence. Up 3–2 going to the ninth, the Pirates were desperately clinging to the slim lead and the season. O'Neill opened the frame with a single to center. Eric Davis then hit a ground ball to deep third that ricocheted off the third base bag for a hit. Morris bunted the runners over to second and third which made Leyland decide on intentionally walking Sabo to load the bases. Bob Patterson relieved Drabek and got Jeff Reed to hit into a 5–4–3 double play started by Bobby Bonilla to end the game.
Friday, October 12, 1990 (8:20PM EDT) at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio
This game was famous for Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland starting a set-up man, Ted Power, in order to keep the Reds from employing their successful platoon. Power pitched 2 1⁄3 innings prior to giving way to lefty Zane Smith in the third inning. The strategy worked in that it held the Reds to only two runs. The game-winning RBI was hit by Luis Quinones of the Reds in the seventh. The close, defensive game ended with a 2–1 score, accentuated by an over-the-fence catch by right fielder Glenn Braggs, robbing Carmelo Martínez of a two-run homer, to preserve the win in the ninth. Reds win series, 4–2.
1990 NLCS (4–2): Cincinnati Reds over Pittsburgh Pirates