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November 1, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Game Four

by Joe Sheehan

He deserved to lose.

I've spent most of the evening exchanging e-mails with my BP colleagues, e-mails with subject lines like "Silliness" and "Bob Brenly is an idiot."

Believe me, I didn't expect to be doing this: Brenly's decision to start Curt Schilling on short rest was, to me, a decision to win the World Series. Unfortunately, just about everything Brenly did after that seemed geared toward making Schilling work as long and as hard as possible.

I'll start with the lineup, specifically, the use of Tony Womack leadoff while burying Mark Grace in the #8 spot. Womack runs faster than Grace, which is a bit like being funnier than Chris Kattan. Womack makes outs a hell of a lot more often than Grace; batting him leadoff, while batting a guy with a .386 OBP in the eighth spot, is one of those maximum possible error things that you wouldn't imagine could happen at the highest level of a profession.

Then we have the idiotic, reflexive, counterproductive, self-immolative overuse of the sacrifice bunt. Brenly bunted the Diamondbacks out of three innings, each decision dumber than the last:

  • Womack, bless his slap-hitting heart, led off the game with a single up the middle. Brenly had Craig Counsell bunt him over, something Counsell did successfully on the first pitch.

    This is suboptimal, but par for the course this October. As many readers pointed out to me two weeks ago, the low scores in this postseason are a product of some great pitching, but also a product of managers mutilating their offenses by excessive misuse of one-run strategies.

    The D'backs got a hit batsman and a walk after the bunt, but didn't score.

  • In the third inning, Womack walked (!) on four pitches (!!!!) leading off. Once again, Brenly had Counsell lay down a first-pitch bunt.

    This is the bunt that launched a thousand e-mails. At that point, left-handed batters were 1-for-3 with two walks and an HBP. Hernandez had walked Tony Womack--TONY WOMACK!--on four pitches, had retired just two of six left-handed batters on his own, and had yet to throw a strike in the inning. You mean to tell me it's not worth taking a pitch or two to see if Hernandez will launch a rally all by himself? Alternatively, if speed means so damn much to you that you'll lead off a guy with an OBP of .307 rather than .386, shouldn't you try something to take advantage of it, like a straight steal? Maybe a hit-and-run?

    El Duque has struggled against left-handed batters from the moment he stepped in the league, and Brenly gave him the very important first out in two of the first three innings.

    Must...use...sacrifice...must...waste...outs...

    The D'backs got a walk from Luis Gonzalez, and Erubiel Durazo hit the ball well, but they didn't score.

    It got worse.

  • Top of the fifth, Womack again leads off, this time with a double.

    At this point, left-handed hitters are 4-for-7 with a HBP, three walks, a double, and a home run. That's .571/.727/1.143, if my math is right. Hernandez has retired three left-handed batters, and had two make intentional outs. The rest have all reached base.

    First pitch, Counsell lays down a sacrifice bunt. We didn't get any trick-or-treaters after that, which I'm sure had nothing to do with the screaming.

    The Diamondbacks didn't score in that inning, either, thanks to a nice recovery by Jorge Posada on an off-line throw by Shane Spencer that completed a 7-2 double play. (I do pick on Fox, but they did a great job getting an angle on this that showed Posada tagging Womack.)

I'm certain Bob Brenly feels he was doing the right thing, trying to play for one run while he had his ace on the mound, someone he trusted to protect any lead he could provide. The problem is he wasn't thinking it out, just reflexively bunting because...well, that's what you do with the #2 batter when the leadoff guy reaches. That's not strategy or tactics or managing, that's slavish devotion to a set of archaic guidelines, and it absolutely killed the Diamondbacks last night.

The really frustrating thing is that little ball isn't how the D'backs are getting their runs in this series. They've been scoring by having big innings--13 of their 17 runs have come in just four frames--and getting extra-base hits in those innings. It's when Brenly gets actively involved that the D'backs don't score.

Brenly stopped bunting after that, and he even made a good decision in the eighth inning, allowing Durazo to bat against Mike Stanton--rather than send up Greg Colbrunn to inevitably face Ramiro Mendoza--with a runner on first and one out. Durazo doubled to center field, breaking a 1-1 tie. Free Erubiel Durazo!

The light bulb was quickly extinguished, as Brenly then decided to undo the good he'd done by starting Schilling on short rest by taking him out of the game, with Schilling having thrown just 88 pitches. The seventh hadn't been his best inning, but if the game is important enough to start Schilling, it's probably important enough to let him pitch until a real problem develops, especially with the Yankees in a stretch of right-handed batters.

Rather than use Byung-Hyun Kim in eighth, Brenly could have used Schilling to pitch to Scott Brosius, Alfonso Soriano, and Derek Jeter. At that point, regardless of the situation, Greg Swindell would be brought in to face the left-handed/switch-hitting portion of the Yankee lineup. With the Yankee bench a complete disaster, there was very little chance that Swindell wouldn't have gotten to face Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez, and might well have seen David Justice, too. If the game got back to Brosius and Soriano, Kim would be available.

I know why Brenly did what he did: he didn't want to burn Schilling out in case of a Game Seven. But the entire idea behind starting him in Game Four was to avoid a Game Seven. To get to the point where you can all but cut off the Yankees' air, then step back from doing so, is a blunder of epic proportions.

Brenly elected to take out his best pitcher and use Kim as Joe Torre uses Mariano Rivera. What Brenly did, though, was the opposite of what Torre has done so well. Torre's use of Rivera reflects one idea: win the game you're playing. Nothing else matters. Brenly managed with an eye towards Game Seven. Now, he might not even get a Game Seven.

Kim went to a full count to all three hitters in the eighth, but retired the side in order. In the ninth, on his 30th pitch, Kim got a breaking ball out over the plate, and Tino Martinez tied the game. He allowed a walk and an infield single after that, but managed to get the game to the tenth.

After Rivera wiped out the D'backs in the top of the tenth, Brenly panicked again, leaving Kim in to pitch. It was probably for the same reasons that I would have left Schilling in for the eighth--the Yankees were in the right-handed part of their lineup--but Kim was out of his depth. He hadn't been used for longer than two innings since July 1, or for more than 39 pitches since June. He started the tenth at 45 pitches, and on pitch #61, Jeter hit the home run to right field that may well end up extending the Yankee dynasty.

One of the points I harp on is outcome-based evaluation of decisions, and I know a lot of this looks like second-guessing because the Diamondbacks lost. It's a fair criticism, but the truth is that each of these decisions--the lineup, the bunts, the pitching change, staying with Kim--can be evaluated based on the situation at the time of the decision. With the evidence we have, it's hard to defend any of it.

I just hope that the responsibility for this loss ends up being placed where it belongs. Byung-Hyun Kim screwed up, and deserves a share of the blame, but Bob Brenly lost this game. He screwed it up six ways from Sunday, and unlike the Cardinals in the Division Series, the Yankees made him pay for his mistakes.

  • Giving a baseball game away requires someone to take it. You have to give the Yankees a ton of credit for what they did, from El Duque's work with men on base to Shane Spencer's great night to the incredibly clutch home runs by Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter. Hits don't come any bigger than they had tonight, and when Brenly's performance is forgotten, the memories made by those guys will go on and on.

  • Schilling was fine on short rest. His line--seven innings, three hits, one run, one walk, nine strikeouts--fits right in with the rest of his work this postseason. The back-to-back baserunners leading off the Yankee seventh probably got him taken out of the game for no good reason. I'm sure Justice, who struck out to end the seventh, would agree.

  • Like I said, I do have my fun with Fox, but they had a real good night. The replays on the two plays at the plate were conclusive (had Posada held the ball on the eighth-inning play, there would have been some fight; Midre Cummings beat the tag). They got a great shot of Schilling searching for the bag in the bottom of the sixth, as well.

    I also enjoyed the Bob Brenly sound bite they shared. Talking to Damian Miller, Brenly suggested that if Miller is ever unsure of what pitch to call, he ask for something low, so as to avoid pop-ups around the plate. Funny stuff.

  • Somewhere, Steve Balboni is having a good chuckle.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Bob Brenly,  Erubiel Durazo

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