PHOENIX -- There is no way that Curt Schilling should have pitched on Saturday.
|With the season on the line, Curt Schilling once again came through for the D-Backs.
Right is right. Wrong is wrong. And fortunately Arizona Diamondbacks Manager Bob Brenly knew the difference.
Because of his restraint, because of his ability to keep his finger off the panic button, the Diamondbacks slithered into the National League Championship Series for the first time ever on Sunday night.
Schilling, who is to this October what Barry Bonds was to September, delivered as promised. With his arm rested and his face tanned from the spotlight, the veteran muzzled the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 in a clincher that will be remember long after the curtain draws on 2001 season.
In the process, Schilling established himself as a legend of the fall. But even if he hadn't, there was no merit to casting Brenly as the biggest fall guy since Lee Majors.
Such talk buzzed through the press box at Bank One Ballpark before Schilling wandered out to the mound for his latest Monet. To summarize the argument, critics wondered if Brenly had cost the Diamondbacks the series by showing loyalty to much-maligned Albie Lopez.
In case you were out watching your favorite college football team lose, here's a summary of what happened on Saturday: Lopez took the pill and immediately turned a few shades of green. His chance at carpe diem turned into a mea culpa.
Lopez was clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. Spraining an ankle covering first a few batters into the game didn't help matters, but his transmission dropped long before that ... like the moment that Brenly filled out the lineup card.
Lopez admitted later that he "let the team down. That three innings of (four-run) work was "not what we needed."
But his attempt at accountability was quickly undermined with puzzling, if not flimsy, explanations later on. Like this gem: He actually believed he made a good pitch to Cardinals second baseman Fernando Vina on his crushing two-run home run (Memo to Albie: A cutter belt high to anyone qualifies as a mistake of New Coke proportions).
As bad as Lopez was -- and he definitely siphoned the air out of the D-Backs with his painful start -- it still didn't make sense to run out Schilling on three days rest.
Was Schilling vs. 21-year-old rookie Bud Smith a favorable matchup? Of course. Except for one minor glitch. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the 235-pound brute has never started a game on three days rest in his career.
Given Schilling's maniacal desire to win, he would have pitched in the Busch Stadium parking lot if Brenly had let him. And at the risk of diminishing my own case, the fact that he only threw 106 pitches in his Game 1 classic only bolstered the argument.
Still, Brenly swallowed hard and did not allow emotion to get in the way of reason. Lopez, in his estimation, had earned the start based on his late-season outings. He was, after all, the guy on the hill avoiding 20 losses -- Brian Kingman, you can go away now -- while posting one of the biggest wins of the season as the club claimed the National League West division in Milwaukee.
More than that, he was the hiccup capable of keeping Schilling and Johnson on their regular breathing patterns. Nobody expected Lopez to falter as badly as he did Saturday on a soggy St. Louis afternoon. And perhaps Brenly left him in too long, particularly in light of the bagels baked by versatile lefty Brian Anderson.
But his exercise in futility served its purpose. It allowed Brenly to enter Game 5 with no doubts. He had his ace on the hill and a future Hall of Famer in the bullpen (yes Johnson would have pitched the 10th inning had Tony Womack not slapped his game-winning hit off Steve Kline).
So Johnson didn't get in? So he threw about 40 meaningless warm-up pitches? So what? Pitchers, not unlike sprinters, are meticulous creatures of habit. Moving both supernovas up a day -- Schilling in Game 4 and Johnson in the decider -- would have diluted the product. Don't believe it? Over the last three years, hurlers working on three days rest in the playoffs have been atrocious, with ERAs sniffing 10.00.
Cards boss Tony La Russa, a slave to the numbers, knew this. He went as far as saying that it would be "criminal" to bring back Morris, a Tommy John surgery club member, and Woody Williams early.
On Sunday, Brenly, too, won by his gut and guile, recognizing what Schilling was and what he would do in a final game.
Saving him for biggest moment in the club history was absolutely the right thing to do.
Now about that squeeze bunt in the ninth....
Troy E. Renck is a columnist for MLB.com.