It’s foolish to call the sixth game of a manager’s career a “must-win,” but that’s what it felt like Thursday for Gabe Kapler. He was ripped and ridiculed for his decisions during the Phillies’ 1-4 season-opening road trip and when the club came home to Citizens Bank Park on Thursday … well, it wasn’t exactly Welcome Wagon.
Kapler was booed during introductions and again – quite lustily — when he made a key pitching change with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a runner on base and his team up by three runs on the Miami Marlins. Out went Nick Pivetta and in came Adam Morgan to face slugger Justin Bour. The lefty-on-lefty matchup paid dividends as Morgan struck out Bour on three pitches. It was the pivotal moment in Kapler’s must-win, 5-0 victory over the Marlins and it didn’t go unnoticed in the dugout (see first take). As Morgan’s third-strike breaking ball branded catcher Jorge Alfaro’s mitt, bench coach Rob Thomson patted the beleaguered manager on the back.
“It’s about support,” said Thomson, in his first season with the Phillies after working under Joe Torre and Joe Girardi with the New York Yankees.
“We’re all a team here and we all have his back. I’ve been booed before. It’s part of the gig. I was happy for him, for Morgan and the team.”
Kapler did not seem stung by the boos.
“I’m glad to wear them if every day the fans are cheering for our players,” he said. “I’ll take that, 100 percent.”
There were a few things for the sellout crowd to cheer about as the Phils won their first home opener since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. Pivetta pitched 5 2/3 innings of four-hit, walk-free ball. He featured a power slider and struck out nine. Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris teamed on 3 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. The Phils stole four bases, Odubel Herrera had a big hit and Maikel Franco had a big day with three hits – half of the team’s total. Franco had a two-run single and a two-run homer (see story).
The Marlins were a compliant opponent. Their pitchers issued nine walks and the Phils turned three of them into runs.
Pivetta had no qualms with Kapler’s decision to remove him at 97 pitches.
“It’s the right call,” he said. “Adam is a tremendous guy to come out of the bullpen, he’s a lefty and Bour’s a good hitter.”
The crowd cheered Pivetta as he walked off the mound. Moments later, it booed Kapler as he handed Morgan the ball and returned to the dugout. It will take a few more victories to win over the Philadelphia fans.
Kapler is up for the challenge.
“I’m going to work my ass off for these fans,” he said. “I’m going to give them everything I have. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do: Work my tail off. Hopefully over the course of time, they will learn to trust that I am in this with them. Hopefully over the course of time, they will learn to trust that my process is strong.”