NEW YORK -- For a while Wednesday night, the only question was whether Bob Brenly was a genius or a visionary.
The manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks had opened himself to criticism that he was using Curt Schilling too much, too soon. But then, after that issue was settled in favor of Brenly and Schilling, it turned out that Brenly didn't use Schilling enough.
Schilling made his manager look very good, very intelligent, very much the intuitive master of his circumstances. Pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career, Schilling pitched seven superb innings, giving up one run on three hits, walking only one, striking out nine.
When the D-Backs scored twice in the top of the eighth, Arizona was six outs away from a 3-1 World Series lead. All credit to both of them then, the manager for his bold decision, the pitcher for his ability and his strength, not to mention his astounding postseason run.
But then Brenly lifted Schilling and brought in his closer, Byung-Hyun Kim, who struck out the side in the eighth. Brenly was still golden at this point, still soaring somewhere beyond the reach of mortal second-guessers. And then Kim gave up a tying two-run home run to Tino Martinez. And in the 10th Kim gave up the winning home run to Derek Jeter.
|Schilling fanned nine and allowed three hits in seven innings.
That is when the rest of us, who were fully prepared to rain all over Brenly's parade if the Schilling thing hadn't worked out, now turned toward the opposite direction: The manager had obviously not used Schilling enough. Schilling had thrown just 88 pitches in his seven innings. He could've stayed in the game.
Schilling himself later said that he told Brenly he could pitch one more inning, but said Brenly told him that seven was enough.
"It was an easy decision to take him out considering he was starting on three days' rest," Brenly said. "We had a lead and we insisted all along that we would go to B.K. (Kim) for two innings if necessary and try to close the game out. It just didn't work out that way. That was a tremendous outing by Curt Schilling tonight."
Yes, and maybe it should've lasted an inning more. It was fascinating that Game 4 should revolve so clearly around the issue of how much Schilling pitched and when. Much of the tactical story line for the 2001 World Series has been generated by one question: Would the manager of the Diamondbacks succumb to temptation and pitch Schilling, and maybe even Randy Johnson, on short rest?
The percentages didn't suggest that this was a wise move. The recent postseason records of starters going on short rest indicated that all that was ahead for the D-Backs was heartache and a universe of second-guessing if they went this way.
And yet, you could see Brenly gradually leaning toward bringing Schilling, his Game 1 starter, back early. He was talking about how Schilling was physically in the best shape of his career. He was talking about how Schilling's mental approach, his competitive nature, made him a perfect candidate for pitching on three days' rest. (For these same reasons, Brenly said, he wouldn't bring Johnson back on short rest, because Johnson expended too much energy in his starts.)
Some of us had doubts and repeatedly expressed them. If I can sum up the intellectual approach of those of us in the don't-change-a-thing camp, it was largely "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." You know, with Schilling and Johnson each pitching on four days' rest, you still got four starts out of this duo and the way they have been pitching, one, two, three, four, D-Backs win the World Series.
As it turned out, pitching Schilling on three days' rest wasn't only an acceptable move. It was an exceptionally astute move. But it didn't produce a happy Game 4 ending for the D-Backs because, Schilling's mound successor, Kim, couldn't hold the two-run lead.
For those of us charging Brenly with taking one chance too many with Schilling, the manager eventually took one chance too few. Give Schilling, with a low pitch count, one more inning. Give the Yankees one less inning to get a look at Kim's unorthodox delivery. Why take the large chance of giving Schilling this start, and then, after you are proved correct, fail to take the small chance on one more inning?
Before the game, it was suggested to Brenly that he would be second-guessed on the issue of starting Schilling no matter what decision he made. In these circumstances, was he prepared to take he consequences if it didn't work out?
"Does it matter?" the manager said. "If I say I'm not ready, will you (reporters) back off?"
A large and well-deserved laugh followed these questions from the manager. He went on to say that he was fortunate to be in a position to be making these decisions.
"There's 28 other managers that would love to be making that decision at this time of year," Brenly said.
The truth is, Brenly has practically had the Midas touch during this postseason. His moves, conventional or not, have almost all worked.
Here, it was strange. He made the decision to let Schilling be the workhorse. And then he sent him out to pasture too early. Maybe he was thinking of Game 7 while the D-Backs were still trying to win Game 4.
At the end of the festivities, Brenly was 1-1 on Schilling decisions. And his basic premise -- bringing Schilling back on three days' rest -- was right on the mark. But for the D-Backs to have won this game and kept the edge in the Series, well, the manager needed to be 2-0. We salute Bob Brenly for his bold and intuitively correct sense of what Schilling was, up until the eighth inning. At that point, we note that the manager was imperfect, which was, of course, not good enough.
Brenly could still be laughing last, because he now has Schilling available for a possible Game 7. There is some feeling that if Schilling pitches like this again, he might get to go beyond the seventh in that one.
Mike Bauman is a columnist for MLB.com.