SAN FRANCISCO -- It has been about 22 months since Gabe Kapler sat down behind a table in the interview room at Oracle Park for the first time, knowing that he was about to take arrows for the better part of an hour.
Kapler was not a popular hire in November of 2019, and even as the Giants showed tremendous growth last season, change within the fan base came slowly. He has had to win over the group the same way the Giants have handled this season.
Day by day, week by week, month by month, win by win. With every stunning stretch, the best team in baseball validated Farhan Zaidi's decision to turn the franchise over to Kapler and his staff, and on Monday night, after the 94th in 144 games, Kapler walked back into that interview room.
His black shirt was soaked and there were ski goggles on his forehead. He smiled as he looked down at his phone, and then he reached over and took a swig out of a glass of scotch. Then, as he has done all year, Kapler deflected the credit.
"I'm really happy for our players," he said. "They've done such a nice job of sticking together and staying even. I think tonight is a good opportunity to celebrate and smile a little bit."
The 9-1 win over the San Diego Padres allowed those players to finally celebrate the clinching of a playoff spot, but this is about much more than the 26 men who take the field. This is also about Kapler and the largest coaching staff in baseball, one that includes mostly MLB first-timers, including the first female coach in the game's history.
The coaching staff deserved to celebrate this night as much as anyone, and Zaidi made sure they weren't left out of the conversation.
"It's a great payoff for them. Even last year, we came as close as you can to getting to the playoffs without getting there. It was really heartbreaking, so there's some validation for this group," Zaidi said. "I'm really happy for Gabe. He's obviously somebody who I've known for a long time. Nobody outworks him and it's a great moment for him and the entire staff. We have the best coaching staff in baseball and they're a huge part in the success of this team."
Zaidi wore a "Built for October" shirt, but the group he has put together turned out to be better prepared for the 162-game grind than perhaps any in franchise history. The Giants clinched in 144 games, tying a mark last set in 1912. This is the earliest by calendar date that they have clinched, and they became the first MLB team to punch a playoff ticket this season.
The players are in the spotlight every night -- including Monday, when they hit four homers off Yu Darvish -- but it is a deep and diverse staff that prepares them for those moments. There was a sense in the dugout during BP that the Giants had a perfect plan against Darvish, and they executed it as few have. That's been one of the stories of this season.
"We're very well prepared. We're very, very well prepared," catcher Curt Casali said. "Our coaching staff is unbelievable and I think that gets lost in the conversation, too. We just doused the entire staff in there. We let them have it. They honestly work harder than we do and it shows because we feel as prepared as anybody on the field."
The preparation leads to incredibly long hours, but for a few minutes at least, Kapler and his staff put their feet up. They let the champagne and beer soak through their shirts, but they didn't let too much of it go down. If they needed a reminder of how important every game from here on out will be, they needed only to look at the scoreboard.
The Los Angeles Dodgers won again, keeping pace in the race for the NL West title. They are 2 1/2 games out, but Kapler wasn't worried about any slippage. He has a focused staff and focused roster, and as he worked on his celebratory glass of scotch, he was already starting to get restless.
"I don't think tonight changes our personality at all. We've been pretty good about enjoying a victory and then turning a page and getting ready for tomorrow's game," he said. "That's not to say that this isn't a little bit different than any other win, but I will say that we've been very consistent at getting ready for the next step. I think that's where we'll be probably in an hour."