Ron Costello

Friday, May 18, 2018

Philly wouldn't be Philly if it didn't kick and scream when a "new" Phillies manager came in and made changes.

Winning, of course, can sweeten the most critical and obstinate of the Faithful and silence the birds that warble their dissatisfaction in deep-throated calls as infamous to Philadelphians as the coo of the hungry pigeon.

Technological change is everywhere, most notably in some Philadelphia schools where students no longer carry books, pencils, and paper, and do all of their lessons through an 8-inch iPad screen. Bringing new meaning to the lyrics of, "No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks."

Watching a Phillies game is also a lesson in change, surely more subtle than the schools, but just as profound for those of us who remember when; as uncomplicated as a sunny afternoon on the ballfield where 12 and 13 year-olds choose up sides without the consent or interference of adults. Try to find that on a playground today.

In this city, the change on the field happens to coincide with the change in the dugout, where a manager leads a team of "techies" that view a game much like some school children now view an assignment: through a computer screen.

Play close attention when a new hitter strolls to the plate and the Phillies' outfielders pull 3x5 cards from their rear pockets, study them, and adjust their positions: sometimes they move a few feet, sometimes a few yards; they'll move in or further out or shift to the right or left.

Who writes the cards? It's my guess the techies who calculate the analytics of each hitter.

Managers coming out to argue an umpire's call is now gone from the game. Instead, video crews trained to watch a close play make quick decisions as to whether or not the call should be challenged.

Mr. Kapler has been the focal point of the changes because he just doesn't allow them, he's part of them. He is them. It's why he was hired. The Pete Mackanin, Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel style of managing, like the books and paper in some of the schools, is long gone. At least for now in Philadelphia.

But there are things about Mr. Kapler I'm starting to like. I like the way he brought the relief pitcher Hector Neris (Naris) in to pitch the last out in the ninth to build his confidence. Mr. Neris blew two save opportunities, costing the team two games and a chance to move into first place over Atlanta. It was a smart and heartfelt move by the Phillies skipper.

I like the way he uses his bullpen — closer by committee. It's a fresh strategy and not the same old, same old. It seems to be working.

Another fresh strategy is moving players around to different positions; a shuffling of who's in the outfield today and where is Scott Kingery playing this game? As the season moves into the warmer months, he's sticking with his starters longer and isn't shy about yanking even the most experienced pitcher, like Jake Arrieta.

But you know what I like about Mr. Kapler the most? The strategy and technology are working and the team is winning. The Phillies are nine games over .500 and staying on Atlanta's backside like a fox terrier yapping at the wheels of a moving van. They are young and exciting and they've brought baseball back to Philadelphia.

It's electrifying and Mr. Kapler deserves a lot of the credit. So let's give it to him.

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