Diamondbacks' gem of year, Brenly says, cut solely by players

Reaching World Series in first season, manager shrugs off contribution

October 23, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Give Bob Brenly a roster filled with unselfish veterans. Give him two of baseball's most dominant starting pitchers. Give him a bench he can use in a pinch, trusting whichever player he calls upon at a moment's notice.

Just don't attempt to give him too much credit for leading the Arizona Diamondbacks into the World Series. He'll politely refuse it.

"I'm very fortunate to inherit this ballclub," said Brenly, who replaced the fired Buck Showalter as manager this year and directed Arizona to the Series in its fourth year of existence. No other expansion team has gotten there so quickly.

"It's easy for things to turn out well when, no matter who you send out there, he does something good to help you win a game. It certainly doesn't make me a genius or anything like that. It makes my players very good."

Brenly will find out soon whether they're good enough to bring the city of Phoenix its first major professional championship. The World Series starts Saturday on the Diamondbacks' home field, another best-of-seven challenge for a team that lost only once to the Atlanta Braves while advancing to the final round.

"They've done it all themselves," Brenly said. "They put their egos on the back burner and decided that, as a unit, we were going to try to go out and do something special this year. I kind of just sat back and watched them."

Brenly did more than that, especially Sunday in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. One victory away from eliminating the Braves, he was bold enough to start Danny Bautista in center field rather than Steve Finley, who owned better career numbers against left-hander Tom Glavine and had gotten hot in the postseason. Bautista drove in Arizona's first run and made a diving catch in center field to thwart a rally.

Again exhibiting a golden touch, Brenly sent up Erubiel Durazo in the fifth inning as a pinch hitter for Mark Grace, who made what he later called "the toughest decision of my career" by removing himself because of a sore right hamstring. Durazo, who had been watching the game on a clubhouse television while riding a stationary bike to stay loose, drilled a two-run homer to give Arizona a 3-1 lead.

Durazo had five pinch-hit homers during the regular season, but didn't bat in the NLCS until replacing Grace. He also wasn't the most logical choice, a left-handed hitter going against Glavine. Brenly went against the percentages, choosing Durazo for his defense over Greg Colbrunn.

"Durazo is a natural first baseman," Brenly said. "With Greg's knee surgery this summer, his mobility was limited down there. And Durazo, he hits righties, he hits lefties, he hits everybody. It really wasn't much of a decision."

Grace limped on the field after the game but couldn't feel the aching sensation in his leg. Like many other Diamondbacks, he waited so long to reach the World Series that the euphoria racing through him deadened any pain.

He's among nine Arizona players with at least 10 years of major-league experience heading to their first World Series. "It's sweet," said Grace, who signed with the Diamondbacks over the winter after spending 13 seasons with the Chicago Cubs. "I know I'm going to remember this day for the rest of my life."

Matt Williams, Steve Finley and Craig Counsell, named NLCS Most Valuable Player, are the only Diamondbacks to have appeared in the World Series. "So many guys in there have played 10, 12 years, accomplished so much in their career, and not had a chance to do this," Counsell said. "For them to have a chance, that makes you feel so, so good."

"We heard a lot that we were a veteran team that was very old," said Randy Johnson, who joins Curt Schilling in a rotation where strikeouts and 98 mph fastballs are plentiful. "I think the one reason why we're here and the one reason why nothing ever really fell apart was because of the veterans. They didn't allow that."

Reliever Greg Swindell, a rookie with the Cleveland Indians in 1986, is playing for his sixth team. He looks like a kid compared to Mike Morgan, a rookie in 1978 who has been in 12 organizations.

"Now that I'm finally going to be in a World Series, my career is complete," Swindell said.

"I was so excited I think I pulled two [hamstrings] running out there for the celebration," said Morgan, a former Oriole. "I probably did a 4.1 down the line. I think I beat everyone out there. When you've waited as long as I have, age isn't a factor."

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