Even after leading the Giants to 107 wins in the regular season, Gabe Kapler still faced a long list of questions before the National League Division Series.
Across the field stands Dave Roberts, who led the Los Angeles Dodgers to their first World Series title last year since 1988, has managed them in three World Series total and came into the NLDS with a 38-27 postseason record. Before this season, Kapler didn't have any playoff experience under his belt as a manager, and his first taste of the postseason isn't exactly a cake walk against the 106-win Dodgers.
However, Kapler couldn't have managed better in the Giants' 1-0 Game 3 win over the Dodgers. His trust in his third baseman, who he has known long before managing him, is a big reason why.
Offensively, Evan Longoria's solo shot off Dodgers ace and future Hall of Fame flamethrower Max Scherzer was all the difference. Prior to his deep blast, Longoria was ice cold at the plate. He was hitless in the NLDS and 1-for-35 dating back to the regular season. But Kapler knows what a game-changer Longoria can still be at 36 years old, just like he was when the two first shared a dugout when Longoria was only 23.
"Obviously that was the biggest one of the night and happy for him, as a friend," Kapler said after the win. "Also know that he puts a lot of weight on his own shoulders trying to come up big for his teammates.
"So, happy that he was able to do that and obviously that swing led to a big win for us."
Kapler spent his final two seasons as a player with the Tampa Bay Rays, which just so happened to be Longoria's second and third years in the big leagues. As Kapler's career was winding down as a part-time player, Longoria was a star in his early 20s, going to the All-Star Game and winning a Gold Glove in both his seasons with Kapler as his teammate in Tampa Bay.
The Giants manager also has seen the slump that Longoria had been in and Kapler could have easily sat his former teammate. Kapler already started five left-handed batters in his lineup against the right-handed Scherzer, and starting Alex Dickerson -- who hit 12 homers off right-handers in the regular season -- would have made it six. Kapler stuck with his third baseman and it of course worked out, but not before Longoria struck out in his first at-bat and fell behind 0-2 in his second at-bat. He then crushed a Scherzer fastball 110 mph through the
Candlestick Dodger Stadium wind, serving as the difference and pushing the Giants one win away from finally sending the Dodgers home for good.
Longoria admitted after the win that his slump was something he was well aware of. Both he and Kapler also mentioned the 14-year vet had been putting good swings together and dealing with some tough luck down the stretch.
"Eventually a caliber of player like Longo is going to run into a good pitch to hit and put a really good swing on it," Kapler said.
He did so too in his next at-bat, hitting a laser of a lineout to center field with a 108.1 mph exit velocity. Just as Gavin Lux found out on the last out of the game, though, even a ball hit as hard as Longoria's homer could have been victim to the wind.
"A couple times I felt like I was going to get blown over by the wind, a lot of dust in the eyes," Longoria said. "It was definitely a little bit more difficult environment to hit in and play in tonight. But, yeah, I was thinking, if that ball didn't go out tonight, I was ... I might have just cashed it in."
Moments before Longoria hit a loud but deafening long ball, one of his children could be heard yelling, "Let's go, daddy!" from the stands. Sometimes, fathers just know. His dad strength came at the perfect time for the Giants, giving them their biggest victory of the year and validation to his former teammate turned current manager.
"One of my friends got a video of it too," Longoria said. "I don't have many videos of my kids from the stands on a camera phone, but for some reason, somebody got one this time ... so it's a pretty special moment."