By many accounts, Gabe Kapler’s Phillies players enjoyed playing for him. They defended their manager against a public outcry after he made a couple mistakes early, including trying to bring in a reliever who was not warmed up. Reportedly, the Philly front office wanted to keep him after his two seasons, but managing partner John Middleton opted for the change, influenced by the public.
Which all serves as a backdrop to Thursday night, when Kapler tried to make a pitching change in a game that was probably already over anyway. Pitching coach Andrew Bailey had just visited Tyler Rogers on the mound before his at-bat against Austin Hedges, meaning Rogers would have to finish the at-bat.
Instead, Kapler walked to the mound and tried to pull him. Rogers walked to the dugout, and Rico Garcia trotted in from the bullpen. Both had to reverse, and Kapler had to open his media session with a statement before he was asked a question.
“That was just a mental screwup on my part,” said Kapler after a 12-7, 10-inning loss at Oracle Park to the Padres. “I’ve been around the game for a long time, and I just had a lapse in memory. We were talking about a lot of different things [in the dugout], hopped out there, went and got him, and obviously that was just a mental screwup on my part.
“Just wanted to own that — 100 percent my responsibility.”
Lost in Giants history will be the setting of the “screwup”: The Giants already were down, 10-6, feeling the sting of the new extra-inning rule for the first time. Rogers, who entered the season as perhaps their most trusted reliever, had faced five batters and not recorded an out. There was a walk, a hit by pitch and three singles that blew open a game the Giants had rallied back into after being down 6-1 in the bottom of the seventh.
The Giants, as gutsy as they were playing, were almost certainly going to lose the game whether Rogers or Garcia faced Hedges. But for a manager with a past of in-game mistakes early in his tenure, who is leading a youthful staff, making a mental error is the type of thing that can follow you like a shadow.
Rogers called it “no big deal” and said Kapler is a stand-up guy. He even tried consoling his manager: “I told him it’s OK — if I would’ve just pitched a little better, he wouldn’t have to do that.”
But Kapler did that. Hedges tried a sacrifice bunt with Greg Garcia on third and managed to roll one out toward first. Tyler Heineman pounced on it and doubled-back toward home, but his ball-first dive was a split-second late.
The same could have happened with Rico Garcia on the mound, but it did not.
Kapler, asked if he was at all concerned about his reputation after his end in Philadelphia, offered: “I think the most important thing is to own it, take responsibility for it and don’t make the same mistake twice.”
There is a very likely chance more noise emanates from the public than the clubhouse about the incident. Brandon Belt said Kapler didn’t address it with the team — they were all exhausted after the four-plus hour game — and he shrugged it off.
“My feeling was stuff happens,” Belt said over Zoom. “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really know what was happening.”
There will be second-guessing with nearly every decision; Kapler defended not pulling Rogers earlier, saying he was comfortable with the pitch count and wanted ostensible closer Trevor Gott for a strikeout situation, while they trust Rogers to induce ground outs.
“Mental screwups” happen. Kapler hopes they will be forgiven better in San Francisco than Philadelphia.