Folks, there’s no other way to put it. Gabe Kapler’s first day as a manager was a disaster.
After ace pitcher Aaron Nola was lifted with one out in the 6th inning of a game in which he had given up three hits and had staked the team to a 5-0 lead, the Phillies completely fell apart and fell to the Braves in Atlanta on Opening Day, 8-5.
Hector Neris surrended a three-run walk-off homer to Nick Markakis, but so much happened before that swing to set up this train wreck of an opener.
Kapler pulled Nola after his ace had thrown just 68 pitches and with the dangerous left-handed swinger Freddy Freeman at the plate in the 6th. But the move backfired when lefty Hoby Milner served up a two-run homer to Freeman to make the score 5-2.
The decision to remove Nola was especially interesting given that Kapler let him hit with runners on 1st and 3rd and two out in the top of the inning. Nola went down on strikes and, after staying in the game for just two more hitters, was charged with one run on three hits with three strikeouts and one walk in his first-ever Opening Day start.
Nola was Greg Maddux-esque, with a curveball that he threw for strikes on the corners and a fastball that he painted with outstanding location. His command was impeccable, but Kapler felt 68 pitches was enough in his first outing of the season, and asked his bullpen to record the last 11 outs of the ballgame.
It didn’t work out.
Milner, Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos and Neris allowed seven runs on six hits and three walks in 2 1⁄3 innings. Neris, who entered the 9th with the score tied, gave up a swinging bunt single to Arodys Vizcaino, who was then sacrificed to second. Neris got Ozzie Albies to fly out for the second out, then intentionally walked Freddie Freeman before allowing Markakis’ bomb to right, sending the Tomahawk-chopping crowd into a frenzy.
Before being taken out in the 8th inning for a defensive replacement, Rhys Hoskins had a terrific first game. He led off the scoring off Julio Teheran in the top of the first with an RBI double that scored Carlos Santana and added another double later in the game. In the 6th, Cesar Hernandez hammered a solo home run, the second straight year he’s gone yard on Opening Day.
The Phillies then worked the plate with two outs in the inning, getting a HBP, three straight walks (one of them with the bases loaded by Maikel Franco in an outstanding at-bat) and a two-run single for catcher Andrew Knapp to stake Nola to a 5-0 lead. At that point in the game, the Phillies had a 95.3% chance of winning, according to Fangraphs.
Oh, that pesky 4.7%.
Luis Garcia finished the 6th and pitched into the 7th, and was releived by Adam Morgan, who finished a scoreless 7th before allowing an Ozzie Albies solo homer in the 8th to make it 5-3. The performance of Milner and Garcia, the team’s left-handed relievers, was worrisome, but perhaps the biggest mistake Kapler made was when Edubray Ramos entered the game with one out in the 8th and the tying run at the plate.
The Phillies invested heavily in Pat Neshek this off-season, so it was a surprise when the enigmatic Ramos emerged from the bullpen. Ramos proceeded to allow the Braves to score on a wild pitch/throwing error by Knapp and an RBI single to Preston Tucker to tie the game at 5-5 in the 8th.
It was an inauspicious debut for Kapler, who promised to do things differently in 2018. Well, it was different.
For Game No. 1, none of it worked.