Gabe Kapler enjoyed being part of the magic surrounding Mark Buehrle’s recent perfect game, despite the fact it came at his team’s expense.
Gabe Kapler at bat [Tampa Bay Rays/Skip Milos photo]
The Tampa Bay Rays right-fielder appeared to have broken up the perfect game with a solid hit leading off the ninth inning. That’s when Chicago’s DeWayne Wise made a spectacular catch up against the left-field fence, having just entered the game as a defensive replacement.
“I believe it was meant to be for Wise and Buehrle to have those moments,” Kapler said. “I was kind of happy for those guys.”
Despite an up-and-down year at the plate, the 11-year veteran said his signing with the defending American League champions this past off-season has been a perfect fit. He is in a right-field platoon with Gabe Gross, playing on a winning team and for a great manager in Joe Maddon.
After spending the 2007 season in retirement as manager of Boston’s Class A Greenville (South Carolina) team, Kapler hit .301 with eight homers and 38 RBIs upon his return to active duty last year in Milwaukee.
“I learned a lot from my managerial experience. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said the member of Boston’s 2004 World Series championship team.
“I really wanted to come back and play. My body felt healthy and fresh again. I’m glad I did.
“At the end of ’06, I still had aspirations of playing, but I was a little bit burnt out and a little bit banged up for sure. It was certainly not a great year for me, coming back from the Achilles tendon injury. I was able to make it through the season, but I didn’t feel very good.”
Kapler suffered a torn muscle in his right shoulder last fall, keeping him out of the Brewers lineup during the stretch run.
Player agent Paul Cohen went to work after the World Series, securing his client a one-year deal with the Rays for $1,000,018 (US).
Rays general manager Andrew Friedman included “chai” as part of the club’s offer, putting a smile on the face of Kapler’s Los Angeles-based agent when the fax came through.
The 34-year-old said he was healthy going into spring training, but hit just .150 in 60 Grapefruit League at-bats. He continued to struggle through April and May, before finally breaking out in mid-June.
Kapler endured the most embarrassing moment of his career in the season’s second week when he struck out against Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, who had come on to pitch in a Rays 15-5 romp.
While his batting average dipped to a team-low .173 after a 3-31 slide entering a June series against Washington, his confidence never wavered.
Kapler hit .444 for the month, with four home runs coming in consecutive games in which he played, and 14 RBIs.
Through July 27, he had raised his average on the season to .244, with four homers and 23 knocked in. He was hitting .297 against southpaws but had just four hits in 36 at-bats against right-handed pitching.
Gabe Kapler in the field, at bat [Tampa Bay Rays/Skip Milos photos]