Top of the sixth inning, home opener, Philadelphia. Nick Pivetta had just allowed a single to Derek Dietrich, then gave up a 338-foot fly ball on a 2-2 count to Starlin Castro, which was caught by Odubel Herrera.
Suddenly, as I watched players surround Pivetta and a red-clad figure emerge from the dugout, the boos rained down onto the Citizens Bank Park field. I smirked. I shook my head.
And that is when I realized, no matter what, I will be a staunch defender and fan of Gabe Kapler.
Yes, that’s me, the guy who might annoy the hell out of you. I’m the guy you might mock, call “nerd,” and claim I live in a basement and work on math problems all day. Maybe you think I’m just tethered to a computer all day (the truth is I am, but that’s because I’m a self-employed full-time writer), and maybe you think I’m a soft millennial (the truth is I’m actually the definition of a soft millennial, and that’s because I’m soft and also born in 1984). Whatever the case, I give myself up to the Church of Kapler. Come at me with your barbs. Come at me with your scorn. Come with torches and bats – I don’t care. I am standing strong for Kapler.
Gabe Kapler has made one mistake this season, and that’s not ensure that Hoby Milner knew he was supposed to be warming up in the bullpen. That was a real boner.
Otherwise he has come into every game with a plan backed by information. He has stuck to his plans. Some have worked, some haven’t worked, but that’s how the world works. Look close enough at any manager in history and you’ll see decisions that have and haven’t worked, but the difference here is that Kapler is up front about having a plan and sticking to it.
Now, you might say I’m a hypocrite because I was upset that Aaron Nola was pulled early from his opening day start. Yes, I admit to that. But honestly I selfishly want Nola to have all the good numbers. I want him to complete every game and be the best pitcher ever, because I believe he can be that guy. I love watching Aaron Nola. He’s my softest spot.
But Kapler actually made the right decision. It was Nola’s first game after a spring training where starters were still working up to full strength. He had a 5-0 lead against a bad Braves team, and there was no reason to think that offense would explode as soon as Nola was removed. Plus, yes, Nola is less effective the third time around and, yes, Freddie Freeman has a good history (even if it’s small) against him. The signs pointed to a lefty, and Milner nearly succeeded, but here’s the thing – and this may be crazy: Freddie Freeman is incredible at hitting.
So forget that. I also wasn’t excited at the prospect of relative walk-on Drew Hutchison pitching in a tie game in the sixth inning Wednesday. But here I’ll simply believe that Kapler knew what he was doing there. Because I’m letting go. I’m giving this team to Gabe Kapler. I will follow him into the dark.
Because at the end I believe there will be light.
I shouldn’t fight this. When I play video games I’m pulling starters after giving up long fly balls. I keep spreadsheets to track player performance in Out of the Park Baseball, which is a simulation game where my power is reduced to putting the right guys in the right situations. I’ve always been a lover of analytics because, long term, it proves rights and wrongs. And while a decision Kapler makes may fail in execution in the short term, the long term ramifications can be very different. The Phillies are looking far beyond one pitching change in one April game. Yes, I want to win every game, but I won’t be deterred if execution fails, because long term, I think the Phillies will have the advantage.
So that’s it. From hereon, I’m a staunch Gabe Kapler follower. I believe in the pitching changes and matchup considerations. I believe in the defensive substitutions and shifts. I believe in the outfield swap and the ever-changing lineup configurations.
I believe in Gabe Kapler. I know there aren’t many with me, but that’s fine.