April 5 was a bright, sunny day at Citizens Bank Park. It was so nice that Gabe Kapler, making his home managerial debut, brought his aviator sunglasses with him to the park. An oversized American flag was stretched across the outfield as public address announcer Dan Baker introduced what, on paper, was the most talented Opening Day roster that the club has produced in over half a decade.
It should have been a perfect day at the park.
In some ways, it was. Nick Pivetta turned in a dominant start in what turned out to be a 5-0 win. Maikel Franco, who had three hits, drove in four of the Phillies five runs. But the lasting memory of the game for most will be Kapler being booed in pregame introductions by the home crowd.
General manager Matt Klentak said Thursday that while he wasn't shocked to see Kapler get booed in his first game managing at Citizens Bank Park, he was disappointed for the man that he tabbed to be the club's 54th manager.
"I guess given the way the first few days played out, I wasn't surprised that that was the reaction," Klentak told the collective media, which included MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. "You know, I was disappointed for him - and I knew Gabe probably wouldn't show any emotion - but I was disappointed. It's his first chance to come in and manage a game in the home stadium and he waited a long time for that opportunity, but the way he handled it, the way our players handled it, the way the whole organization handled it, was really healthy. I'm really proud of the way Kap and our staff and our players have pulled together coming out of that first tough road trip, put it behind them, doubled down on the preparation and the effort and the games themselves, and now it's the end of April and we're moving on."
With a new manager, a full season of some of organization's long-time top prospects and major offseason signings of Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta, excitement surrounding the Phillies was palpable when the team exited Clearwater for Spring Training. It only took five games for the honeymoon to end.
The Phillies went 1-4 in their first five games, which they played against the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. Kapler made a series of questionable decisions in the team's season-opening loss to the Braves, including pulling Aaron Nola from the game after just 68 pitches. The Phillies ultimately blew a 5-0 lead. Two nights later, Kapler turned to utility-man Pedro Florimon to pitch in the top of the ninth inning, down 15-2 and having used his bullpen excessively in the first series.
Things didn't get much better in New York, after the first game of the series was snowed out. Kapler left Ben Lively in to face the Mets lineup for a third time in the first game of the series - something he had seemed hesitant to do in the first series - and the Mets ultimately scored the only two runs of the game in the sixth inning. The next day, with fans already upset that the game was only available to watch on Facebook, the Phillies lost 4-2.
So Kapler's squad returned to Philadelphia already three games under .500, in a season where there was hope that the team could break a streak of six consecutive non-winning seasons. Many of the fans in attendance at the home opener, upset with that, booed Kapler not only when he was introduced prior to the game, but every mound change that he made as well.
Since starting 1-4, the Phillies have won 14 of 18 games. As SportsRadio 94 WIP's Joe Giglio noted, Kapler went from being Vegas' early favorite for first manager to be fired to off the list entirely in just over half a month. Klentak noted in Zolecki's piece that he believes Kapler has made adjustments since the first trip to Atlanta. Though he still goes to the bullpen more than non-analytically inclined managers do, he's slowed down his bullpen usage. The team's starting pitching, which has been dominant at times throughout the first month of the season, has helped in that. The bullpen also hasn't blown another 5-0 lead.
Kapler hasn't had another chance to wear his aviator sunglasses since being booed on Opening Day, but he's drifted into the background a bit. The Phillies players, as it should be, are at the forefront because they have ended up putting together a very impressive first month of the season. There seems to be less of a feeling of uneasiness with Kapler, and more of a feeling of impending dread from Phillies fans, who no doubt will be reminded that some fans booed Kapler in his first home game if they ever make the playoffs under his tutelage.