PHOENIX -- A year ago, about 2 a.m. in a bar at the Regency Hotel in New York City, Jerry Colangelo hired Bob Brenly as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Yankees had just beaten the Mets in the World Series. As the two men walked back to their hotels together, Brenly thanked the Diamondbacks owner.
"His parting words were, 'I really appreciate it, and you won't be sorry,"' Colangelo remembered.
Twelve months later, the Yankees are in town to face Brenly's Diamondbacks in the World Series.
Brenly is the first rookie manager since Jim Frey of Kansas City in 1980 to direct his team to the series. No first-year manager has won a World Series since Ralph Houk of the Yankees in 1961.
"I have not really allowed myself much of an opportunity to think about what's happened in the last 12 months," Brenly said Friday after his team's final workout prior to Saturday's series opener. "I prefer not to think about it yet. I just want to keep doing what we've been doing all year, grinding and going out there and playing the game hard."
The first three years of the Diamondbacks' existence, Brenly was the television analyst for the team. He also did work for the Fox network on national telecasts, and had been there for the Yankees' triumphs in four of the last five World Series.
When the Diamondbacks faded to third last year after winning the NL West in 1999, Colangelo fired Buck Showalter and replaced him with Brenly.
"Brenly represented what the change needed to be, an attitude change in our locker room," Colangelo said. "We needed to loosen up a little bit."
Brenly deflects any credit for Arizona's successful season.
"The yacht was sitting at the dock," he said earlier this week. "I just happened to take the wheel."
But his players believe differently.
In his first spring training meeting, Brenly told them his only rules were to be on time and play hard.
"I think he took the perfect approach by just saying play hard as you can and just get it done," Curt Schilling said. "That has a lot of meaning to veteran players."
Brenly didn't think this team needed any baby-sitting.
"My philosophy was 'Keep the guys relaxed and let them go out there and do what they're capable of doing,"' Brenly said. "Try not to be too heavy-handed. I've said many, many times that anything you do in life, you're better off if you're relaxed and confident."
Brenly played for Roger Craig in San Francisco, and he admired the Giants manager's willingness to play hunches rather than go by the book. When Brenly moved on to Chicago to broadcast for the Cubs, he watched manager Don Zimmer, a notorious risk-taker now in the Yankees' dugout.
Brenly brought that gambling mentality to the Diamondbacks. He's pinch-hit for good hitters, made liberal use of the hit-and-run, and pulled off a suicide squeeze or two. He event went for a suicide squeeze in the ninth inning of the deciding fifth game of the division series against St. Louis. The play didn't work, but the Diamondbacks won anyway.
Other than Luis Gonzalez in the No. 3 spot and usually Tony Womack as the leadoff man, the batting order has been anybody's guess at gametime.
"He's pinch-hit for me a few times this year, and it's the first time I've ever been pinch-hit for," Mark Grace said.
Grace remembered the first time Brenly told him that Greg Colbrunn would bat for him.
"He says, 'Gracie I'm sorry, I hate to do this, but I'm going to use Colby here,"' Grace recalled. "I said, 'Don't ever apologize to me for that. If you believe that Greg Colbrunn is going to help us win the game, then you've got to do it. You don't owe me an apology. You're the manager and I'm the player."'
Center fielder Steve Finley understandably was disappointed when Brenly told him he wouldn't start in Game 5 of the National League championship series in Atlanta. Finley had been Arizona's best hitter in the postseason, and he had good numbers against Braves starter Tom Glavine.
But Brenly had a hunch to go with Danny Bautista, who singled in the first run in the Diamondbacks' 3-2 series-clinching victory. Finley never complained, at least publicly.
"We all check our egos at the door," Finley said. "Our bottom lines is winning, winning, winning. Whoever's out there on the field we feel has a great chance to help us win the ball game that day."
The Diamondbacks were relaxed and joking as they met the media horde Friday. That's exactly what Brenly wanted to see.
"We've got a teamful of guys who have been looking forward to the next week their whole lives," he said. "I want them to go out there and enjoy this win, lose or draw. This is what they played their whole careers for and I want them to milk it for everything it's worth."
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