Now-former Yomiuri Giants outfielder Gabe Kapler has cleared waivers after being released by the Tokyo team, and he is headed back from where he came — Boston — and a shot at a second consecutive World Series championship ring.
Gabe had been expected to play the entire year as the Giants center fielder and contribute to a strong batting attack that would help the Kyojin to Central League pennant contention, but something went haywire.
But, by Golden Week, he found himself neither starting nor winning in Japan.
He was riding the pine — er, plastic — in the Giants dugout, with his team in last place.
He lost his job to Takayuki Shimizu after hitting just two homers and compiling a .155 batting average during the first month of play.
Next came removal from the active roster to the disabled list because of lower back pain, the waivers and release, and now he’s apparently on the way back to Beantown.
The Giants made no misjudge of character in choosing Kapler to be one of their foreign players.
He also had the potential to be productive offensively and defensively; one who could have hit 25-30 homers with a decent average; maybe not .355, but a lot closer to that than .155.
So, what went wrong?
I think Kap was sucked in by one of the oldest tricks in the book of Japanese pitchers’ tactics.
He enjoyed a pretty good exhibition season, batting .325 with three homers and nine RBIs, and thought that performance would carry into the regular schedule. He may have figured, even subconsciously, Japanese baseball is easy, then was shocked when the bell rang for Opening Day, and he found something was strikingly different.
During the practice games in February and March, Kapler, as do all the hitters, faced a lot of young, inexperienced, second-line pitchers.
On occasion when the Giants were up against the better hurlers on opposing Central League clubs, the pitchers were not throwing their best stuff, but rather experimenting and “feeling out” new batters — especially foreigners.
The pitchers were trying to find, not the weaknesses of the new guys as you might expect, but their strong points, so as to avoid them once the games start to count.
One of the highlights of his “open” game performance was a long home run hit against the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sapporo Dome in March.
He tomahawked a fastball that appeared to be up around his eyes, and opposing pitchers realized they had better spare the high, hard one.
Beginning with Hiroshima Carp ace Hiroki Kuroda on opening night, opposing hurlers fed Kapler a steady diet of out-and-away mostly breaking balls, and the rest is history.