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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.