He went through a season's worth of erasers working on the last lineup card alone. He used up more lifelines and was second-guessed more times in the past week than a month's worth of contestants on ''Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?''
But in the end, Bob Brenly was the one thing he believed he'd be all along.
The Arizona Diamondbacks rookie manager didn't put down his pencil right away, he didn't stop trying to cover every contingency until he saw Luis Gonzalez's soft liner sail beyond the reach of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and drop into left field seconds before the winning run raced home.
And then, perhaps for the first time in this long, wacky season, Brenly finally stopped thinking two moves ahead. With the Diamondbacks unlikely 3-2 winners in Game 7, all that remained was the short walk from the dugout to the stage set up behind second base to celebrate.
But for a few moments, it didn't seem as if he was going to get there. Picking his way through the celebrating mob his team had become, Brenly was bear-hugged by his ace, Curt Schilling, and the two men wouldn't let each other go.
It figured. Brenly stuck his managerial neck out after his team took a two-games-to-none lead. He decided he was going to let Schilling start three of the seven games in the Series.
And when New York's Alfonso Soriano golfed the right-hander's 95th pitch of the night into the stands leading off the eighth for a 2-1 Yankee lead, the strategy seemed stubbornly wrong.
As stubbornly wrong, anyway, as Brenly's insistence on bringing shaky closer Byung-Hyun Kim back against the Yankees in Game 5, just one night after he'd surrendered one of the most devastating home runs of this postseason -- or any other. But it didn't look that way to Brenly, or the guys sitting alongside him.
''They refused to quit. They were either too dumb or too determined,'' he said. ''Down, with Mariano Rivera on the mound, it would be easy to say, 'Well we gave it a shot.' But you could just sense it in the dugout that something good was going to happen.''
Rivera hadn't blown a save in his last 23 postseason opportunities, but Brenly kept running through different scenarios.
When Mark Grace singled to start the ninth, he put younger, faster David Dellucci in to run. It became an important switch when the next batter, Damian Miller, tapped a slow roller back to Rivera, forcing a quick throw wide that eluded Jeter and dribbled into center field. Then Brenly sent speedy Midre Cummings in to run for Miller, another move that paid off when Cummings scored the tying run.
And he defied convention one more time, sending Jay Bell, the Diamondbacks' first free-agent signing four seasons ago, in to bat for Randy Johnson, the Game 6 starter he brought back with no rest to pitch the ninth against the Yankees.
Bell's bunt wound up forcing Dellucci at third on a fielder's choice, but he was the same guy who made it home when Gonzalez's blooper fell beyond the infield untouched.
Afterward, Brenly was asked whether the win provided any vindication.
''I don't need no vindication,'' he shot back. ''I've got this.''
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a point of wading through the celebration to shake Brenly's hand. But it was only his second favorite postgame moment. No. 1 came when his son, Michael, began emptying a champagne bottle over his head.
''You're going to school tomorrow,'' Brenly said, laughing as the last drops ran down his uniform.
Michael smiled, but you know he won't take the instructions without some reservations.
And really, why should he? Just about everybody else has been second-guessing his father all season long.
Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com.
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