PITTSBURGH — During the Atlanta Braves' journey here Tuesday for the National League championship series, they looked out the window of their bus and saw a roadside work crew doing the tomahawk chop.
Helicopters circled them. Drivers stopped their cars on the interstate highway to applaud them.
They were serenaded by military bands. They were honored by streams of water shot over their airplane by fire hoses.
During the Pittsburgh Pirates' journey here . . . well, Andy Van Slyke went to the hardware store. He was buying some screws for a basketball backboard that he was going to install in the clubhouse, to replace the old backboard.
"A guy comes up to me and says, 'Good luck in the playoffs and man, what about those Steelers the other night?' " Van Slyke said. "It's like, except for the one day we clinched the division, our team has been nonexistent."
And the Braves?
"The Braves are everybody's darlings, everybody's sweethearts," Van Slyke said. "This winter a lot of people are going to be having elbow surgery because of that tomahawk thing. There are going to be a lot of ulnar nerve problems out there.
"I have more ticket requests for our games in Atlanta than here, and I don't even know anybody in Georgia."
It will truly be an attraction of opposites when the Braves play in Three Rivers Stadium tonight at 5:30 PDT, in the first of a seven-game series to decide the National League championship.
It is the American Dream against a modern-baseball nightmare. It is innocence against innocence lost.
The Braves, the worst team in baseball in 1990, won a season-best 55 games in the second half this summer to move from last to first place in the National League West. They won more games in one half then they won during all of 1988.
The Pirates, the best team in the NL East in 1990, simply did it again. With three more victories than last year and a clinching that came eight days earlier, they won despite a spring training player-manager fight and a season-long battle for attention.
Befitting their image, the Braves arrived for the workouts Tuesday with dazed smiles.
"If we don't worry about all the commotion, I'm sure we'll be all right," outfielder Ron Gant said.
The Pirates wore smirks and issued warnings.
Bobby Bonilla, the Pirates' right fielder and potential free agent, said there is a "99.9% chance" that he will not be with the team next year because the small-market team cannot afford him.
Barry Bonds, the Pirates' left fielder, said if Bonilla leaves, "Then I'm right behind him."
Van Slyke, the other Pirate outfielder, said his team's motivation is based on fear. They worry this will be their last chance to win before the team is torn apart.
"I sense guys wanting to get it done right now," Van Slyke said. "We want to seize the moment."
The Pirates, who became the league's first repeat division champions since 1978, also fear a repeat of last year's postseason failure. They lost the championship series in six games to the Cincinnati Reds while Bonds batted .167, Bonilla .190 and Van Slyke .208.
"This year, we have the talent and experience to move on. . . . If we don't, you'll have a club that will be emotionally wrecked," Van Slyke said.
The Braves know something about emotion. During a race that resembled an amusement park ride, they spent the last month screaming, laughing and finally crying when they clinched the championship over the Dodgers with one game remaining.
"I can't imagine any games being more pressure-packed than what we've been through," said Atlanta pitcher Tom Glavine, this year's probable Cy Young Award winner who will face last year's winner, Doug Drabek, in tonight's opener.
"Besides," Glavine said, "we weren't supposed to win during the season, and we aren't supposed to win this series, so what's the difference? We're used to this situation."
The Braves' late-season ride has been fueled by a middle order of Terry Pendleton, David Justice and Ron Gant. They have become an equal match to the Pirates' Van Slyke, Bonilla and Bonds.
Pendleton, the third baseman, won the league batting crown with a .319 average.
Justice, the right fielder, had 21 homers and 87 runs batted in, in 109 games. Gant, the center fielder, became the third player in history to have consecutive seasons of 30 homers and 30 stolen bases.
While each of the Pirates' three big hitters has at least 17 homers and 80 RBIs, there is one difference. They have each seen playoff pitches, while only Pendleton has playoff experience among the Braves' big three.
Because each club has three good left-handers and one right-hander, the starting pitching is even. Neither bullpen is great, but because Pirate Manager Jim Leyland uses everyone from Bill Landrum to Roger Mason as a closer, the Pirates are more versatile.
The key could come from the lesser-known players who, in a short series, often become stars. The Pirates have the edge there with standout shortstop Jay Bell, second baseman Jose Lind and the veteran catching platoon of Don Slaught and Mike LaValliere.
Of course, the Braves still have that magic. "You see the signs everywhere, you feel the vibes in the air. What is happening is very special," Brave second baseman Mark Lemke said.
Cautioned Bonilla: "The Braves are remarkable, I agree. But don't forget, what we did is pretty special too."