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World Series 2001
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10/13/2001 08:20 PM ET
Bobby V breaks down La Russa's moves
Part of the Diamondbacks' hope for advancement rests on Byung-Hyun Kim, writes Valentine.
The Braves clinched the first series yesterday and, not surprisingly, they will move on. I say that only because they were in a very different situation than the Braves are used to in that the team was very unstable. They have Julio Franco at first, a guy who was playing in Mexico, and Marcus Giles at second, a young guy doing the best he can, and Rey Sanchez at short. With those changes and John Smoltz in the pen, they have been developing their personality as a team right up until the playoffs. At one time a month ago, they were a team that could have gone either way. They had to decide if the team isn't good enough or if it was plenty good, and I think they decided they are plenty good -- good enough to go to the World Series and maybe win.

The real key among the new guys is Franco. His intensity, desire and knowledge are infectious. He has an inner confidence that is contagious. He's been a .300 hitter all his life. While he was in the American League for my teams in Texas, most teams considered him the guy who can hit the ball the hardest most often, and he is continuing to hit to those abilities.

Congratulations to the Braves. It even seems as if their fans are excited for the first time in a long time, which seems like a good thing for baseball.

A footnote on the Astros: They are absolutely the best team in the last few years that hasn't advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, the ills of the pitching staff hit them at exactly the wrong time. Houston is a very, very talented team. Yet the importance of healthy starting pitching could never have been emphasized more and the need for a good bullpen could never have been emphasized more in this series.

As for the other series, I believe the best playoff game in 2001 was played in St. Louis Friday night. The only thing missing was the enthusiasm of the home fans. Darryl Kile's curveball seemed to be the equalizer for the first six innings of the game. The hot-hitting Diamondbacks were stymied until the fabulous Luis Gonzalez hit a 400-foot homer on a good pitch. It was probably just thrown a few inches from where Kile wanted to locate the pitch. I really enjoyed the comeback that Arizona staged, and the change in the batting order is always a fun thing to see from my perspective. Bob Brenly's change seemed to be the winning potion.

Much has been made about Mike Timlin not coming in to pitch to Damian Miller in the seventh inning. Watching the telecast, the fact the move was not made was talked about often. The reason the move was not made was talked about little.

I understand the situation with which La Russa was faced. David Dellucci and Erubiel Durazo were looming large on the bench for the Diamondbacks. Between them they have 10 pinch-hit home runs this year. If in fact Timlin, a righty, comes in to pitch, I'm sure one of the left-handers would have pinch-hit with a man on first.

So you have a guy with power as a regular at the plate as opposed to a guy with a lot of power as a pinch-hitter. La Russa knew that if Timlin comes in and doesn't get the left-hander out, he'd be faced with runners on first and second, first and third or worse. Then he would be faced with the next left-handed pinch-hitter and would have to bring in Steve Kline in the seventh inning to face that lefty and stay in the game through Luis Gonzalez.

I feel that when the original runner was not advanced, staying with the left-hander was the logical thing to do. But the logic at the time didn't pay off and the results were less than those desired by Tony La Russa.

What made the situation more interesting was St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan running to the mound when Miller was at the plate to talk to Mike Matthews. That conversation might have occurred at that time because Matthews may have been told he only had one hitter. I'm not sure. If that was the case, the second-guessing was more than justified only because in a big game, you want players to be prepared to do what's expected of them. It's very difficult to change your mental approach on the fly in a big game.

My hat is off to Brenly and Craig Counsell. Some might think, going a little further into that entire scenario, that Jay Bell's right-handed bat was part of the reasoning for not having the right-hander and left-hander following Matthews. If Jay Bell's bat was a contributing factor, wasn't it interesting that Jay wasn't used against Matthews to pinch-hit for Counsell? The idea there being that if Timlin comes to pitch to Miller and Brenly pinch-hits with a lefty and then Kline comes in to face the lefty, what La Russa didn't want was Bell pinch-hitting for the lefty against Kline. But he was running from a ghost cause Bell never appeared.

Also, part of the Diamondbacks' hope for advancement rests on Byung-Hyun Kim. It was particularly interesting to see the confidence Brenly showed in him and the fact he didn't panic and run to the phone when Kim seemed to have lost his composure and control. I think that display of confidence could pay large dividends as the Diamondbacks try to advance.

Kim is the guy he's going to go with. This is his first time up in the playoffs and you have to give him that stage. I thought that was good managing.

New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine has been keeping a close eye on each National League Division Series. He analyzes the Cardinal-Diamondbacks series for MLB.com, and offers some insight on the series between the Braves and the Astros, which was completed on Friday. His column will appear regularly throughout the playoffs. In lieu of payment for Valentine's work, MLB.com will be making a donation to the World Trade Center relief fund of Valentine's choice.