Kapler faces thorny decisions in Game 2

October 10th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- Before Game 2 of the National League Division Series unraveled -- before the Dodgers dazzled with their gloves and broke the game open with their bats Saturday night -- Giants manager Gabe Kapler had a few decisions to make.

Did those decisions directly affect the outcome -- a 9-2 Dodgers victory at Oracle Park that evened the NLDS at a game apiece? Hard to say. But as with all quality October theater, there were some crucial managerial decisions to break down.

Here are three:

1. Pitching to Pollock?
With two outs in the top of the second inning, Kapler was quickly forced to make his first major call. Dodgers left fielder AJ Pollock came to the plate with a man on second. An empty first base beckoned.

Would Kapler permit his starting pitcher, , to pitch to Pollock? Or would he walk Pollock and face Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías -- a solid-hitting pitcher, who had recorded nine RBIs during the regular season?

Ultimately, Kapler split the difference. Gausman threw two pitches out of the zone to Pollock, who didn’t chase, before Kapler signaled for the free pass.

“There's a pretty big difference between an eight-hole hitter -- who is a very good hitter -- and a pitcher, no matter how good they are at the plate,” Kapler said. “They're still not as good as an All-Star-caliber player like AJ Pollock.

“Beyond that, once you get into a [2-0] count, dangerous hitters become even more dangerous. They become elite. So pick your poison there. We prefer to face Julio Urías.”

Forget the outcome; it's a tricky decision. Pollock undoubtedly has a better chance to drive in Chris Taylor from second base. But by walking Pollock, the Giants’ best-case scenario was to see the Dodgers lineup turned over for the third inning. Worst case? The Giants would be left exposed to a big inning.

The worst case ensued. Urías sprayed a single to right, plating the game's first run -- the first run San Francisco had allowed all series. It brought Mookie Betts to the plate with two men aboard, and Betts delivered an RBI single, as well. Just like that, the Dodgers led 2-0.

“Obviously, we're trying to face the pitcher, and we're not thinking he's going to get a hit right there,” Gausman said. “But I left a split up in the zone, and he's a really good hitter for a pitcher. I just made a mistake. … I look back, that's probably one of the difference-makers in the game.”

2. Gausman hits for himself
After his second-inning hiccup, Gausman settled in nicely. He retired 10 straight Dodgers, capping the fifth inning by getting a pair of weak ground balls. Gausman had thrown 73 pitches and was due to bat second.

“Probably the biggest decision point in the game, from my perspective,” Kapler would say.

grabbed a bat and entered the on-deck circle. But when Donovan Solano flied out to right field to open the bottom of the fifth inning, Kapler called Yastrzemski back. Gausman batted for himself.

“There's a couple of things at play there,” Kapler said. “No. 1, [Gausman] was starting to find his rhythm and his groove. We were seeing that with our eyes. He was reporting that. [Catcher] Buster [Posey] was confirming it. The swings were confirming it. Still, at that point, you may choose to use a pinch-hitter and see if you can get a baserunner on for the top of the lineup.”

The Giants trailed by a run and needed offense. Kapler gambled that he could find offense later in the game. He wanted another inning (or two) out of Gausman. Besides, the lefty Yastrzemski wasn’t the best matchup against the lefty Urías, anyway. Having stacked the lineup with righty hitters to face Urías, the Giants were left without any reliable righty bats on their bench.

Gausman struck out. followed with a popup. The Dodgers led 2-1 after five.

3. Gausman gets the hook
To start the sixth inning, Gausman would be facing the heart of the Dodgers’ order -- Trea Turner, Justin Turner and Will Smith -- for a third time. Gausman had held the three right-handed hitters hitless in six at-bats, and Kapler liked the matchups.

“We felt really good about Gausman getting the next three hitters out,” Kapler said. “Obviously, sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn't. Tonight, it didn't.”

Trea Turner opened the frame with a double into the left-field corner. Gausman struck out Justin Turner, but he walked Smith, prompting Kapler to emerge from the dugout.

His options? Kapler could’ve asked Gausman for another hitter, then perhaps turned to lefty vs. Cody Bellinger. But has been excellent all season, and especially lately. He posted a 1.08 ERA after August. Kapler called for Leone to face Taylor.

“He's been so good for us all season long,” Kapler said. “We felt really good about bringing him into that game. … He's as good a weapon as we have in those types of situations.”

Taylor walked. Then the dam burst. Bellinger and Pollock followed with two-run doubles. The Dodgers had a five-run lead in an instant.

“Taylor put a good at-bat against me, and Bellinger hit the first pitch off the wall,” Leone said. “It’s a big momentum swing. Kevin battled all night and got a lot of momentum back in our dugout.

“They’re a tough team. They’re never going to go away, just like we’re not going to go away. Unfortunately, things swung their way tonight.”