Gabe Kapler has not sounded like this all year.
He focuses on process over results. He and his staff cheer good at-bats rather than ones that end in bloop hits. “Must-win game” is not in his vocabulary. Victories are the results of focused processes that turn out well, not a mythical and mystical, we-want-it-more force of will.
That manager was replaced Saturday night with a man who looked just like Kapler and wore his uniform. After losing two straight in uniquely frustrating manners, he did not want to harp on quality swings or plate discipline.
“Tonight sucked,” Kapler said after a 6-2 loss to the Padres at Oracle Park that dropped the Giants into a tie for the wild card, no longer controlling their own destiny. “We’re prepared to come out and win tomorrow’s game.”
There was a definitive, result-based tenor that had not existed this season. He preaches never to be too up or down, and he practices what he preaches, several players having called out his steadiness as a factor in turning around slumping years.
Losing with a depleted bullpen Friday night, when he stuck with an out-of-gas Sam Coonrod and watched the Padres hit a walk-off homer at the Giants’ own park, and losing with a lagging offense and some poor baserunning from Mauricio Dubon on Saturday provided a more fiery Kapler than has been seen over Zoom.
“There’s real frustration. There was frustration in the dugout, there’s going to be frustration in the clubhouse. There’ll be frustration in the coaches’ room and rightfully so,” Kapler said as the Giants failed to eliminate his former pupils in Philadelphia, who are a game back, and tied the Giants with the Brewers. “We know we had a chance to win today’s baseball game and we had a chance to win last night’s game, and we didn’t get it done. That’s super frustrating. We’re all incredibly hard on ourselves. We believe we’re better than that.
“And at the same time, we don’t have much time. We got to come back tomorrow, get prepared for tomorrow’s game, and win, and that’s the bottom line.”
If the Giants and Brewers win, those two plus the Cardinals would be tied at .500, but St. Louis would have played two fewer games. Thus, the Cardinals would face off with the Tigers on Monday to settle the last seeds. The Giants would need Detroit to win twice to sneak in.
If the Giants win and Brewers lose, they’re in. If the Giants lose, they’re out. Philadelphia will be rooting for a win and the Giants and Brewers to lose.
Drew Smyly will start for the Giants, who will face a San Diego bullpen game — though that isn’t the most comfortable situation, as the Giants have realized with the Padres’ relievers. After Smyly, there will be options aplenty, Kapler calling it “all hands on deck.”
“These guys will sacrifice. We also have some guys who have now gotten a little bit of rest — not a lot of rest — but a little bit of rest,” Kapler said, having thrown Wandy Peralta, Tony Watson and Shaun Anderson on Saturday. “[Tyler] Rogers will be up and strong. Obviously Drew Smyly can go as long as he needs to go. We may decide to use Kevin Gausman in the pen tomorrow. Logan Webb will be in the pen for us tomorrow. We’ve got Jarlin Garcia, we’ve got good options to try to win tomorrow’s baseball game.”
He didn’t know if he would address the club as a whole, which has not been his style in a season played during a pandemic that makes big meetings more difficult. He wanted to cool down before deciding the words and methods he would turn to Sunday morning.
“We’re ready to go,” Dubon said, “… Tomorrow it’s all or nothing, so that’s how we’re looking at it.”