With the Phillies celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 1993 National League championship team this weekend, it gave champions from another team the chance to reunite – Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and pitcher Curt Schilling.
Schilling, the 1993 Phillies’ ace and MVP of the NLCS win over the Atlanta Braves that sent the team to the World Series, was a teammate of Kapler’s in 2004, helping lead the Boston Red Sox to a World Series that ended an 86-year drought.
In October, Schilling, in an interview on 97.5 the Fanatic, expressed interest in being the Phillies pitching coach right after Kapler was hired.
Asked after a pregame tribute to the ’93 team before Sunday’s 4-3 win over the visiting Milwaukee Brewers whether he would have wanted the job if offered, Schilling said, “Absolutely, this is one of the few jobs in the big leagues I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Absolutely.”
Schilling made it clear that he is not looking to take the job now, but that he sees himself as a pitching coach some day.
“I want to get back into coaching,” he said.
One way he stays in the game is staying in contact with Kapler. In 2004, Kapler hit .272 in 290 at-bats for the Red Sox.
“He was a great teammate, a phenomenal teammate, the consummate teammate,” Schilling said of Kapler. “A workaholic.”
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) June 10, 2018
Schilling says the two have texted each other frequently this season.
“I have been texting him all year, back and forth, been in his ear a little bit and trying to find from my side what it is like and what he is going through,” Schilling said.
Kapler was second-guessed in his first game as manager when he pulled Aaron Nola with a 5-0 lead, a runner on second and one out in the sixth inning after the righthander had thrown just 68 pitches in an eventual 8-5 loss to the Braves.
“I was laughing because I am a pitcher and I was offended when he went out there and took his pitcher out after five or six innings,” said Schilling, a noted workhorse who had 83 career complete games. “But he is never going to make the same mistake twice, and I think that is a huge thing. He is accountable.”
Schilling says he visited with Kapler on Saturday for a while, catching up on their personal lives and, of course, talking baseball. One reason Schilling enjoys talking baseball with him is that both have an affinity for analytics.
“I was sabermetrically oriented in ’95, ’96,” Schilling said. “Swing counts, batting average meant nothing to me. It was all about on-base percentage and swing percentage.”
Schilling says the key for Kapler and any new manager is finding a balance in making decisions based on analytics.
“He is on the analytical side of everything, and I think he will find a middle ground at some point, where every decision won’t be based on exactly what the numbers tell you that you should do in a situation, because there is a gut feel to it, and I think it takes time,” Schilling said.
That said, Schilling gives the Phillies manager high grades in his debut season.
“He is doing good,” Schilling said. “He is an incredibly good guy and he won’t make the same mistake twice.”
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) June 10, 2018
Kapler says Schilling’s views on pitching are invaluable.
“I think I learn a lot and always learned a lot from Schill on how to prepare as a pitcher and how to practice as a pitcher,” Kapler said after Sunday’s win. “He talks a lot about how valuable bullpen sessions are and he thinks that is the most important 30 minutes of a pitcher’s week, including the start. He is, like, ‘That is where all the magic happen.’”
After talking with Schilling, Kapler decided to add to Sunday’s pregame routine.
“Today based on some of his feedback, I went down to the bullpen and stood in against both [Nick] Pivetta and [Vince] Velasquez,” Kapler said. “My goodness, these bullpens were really incredible, the stuff is tremendous.”
Kapler said that Schilling even watched some of the bullpen session. Besides being friends, the two keep the dialogue going for one simple reason: “He likes to talk baseball and I like to talk baseball,” Kapler said.
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Schilling, who was 16-7 with a 4.02 ERA in 1993, said he enjoyed this weekend reconnecting with his teammates.
His best line came when describing that Phillies team, which had been labeled misfits. He said the ’93 NLCS matchup was “America’s team, which was the Braves, vs. America’s most wanted, which was us.”
Schilling is known as one of the great postseason pitchers, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts. In addition to his time with the Phillies, he won a World Series in 2001 with Arizona and two with Boston in 2004 and 2007. He thrived on the postseason pressure.
“I loved the thought that the postseason is about being perfect and there are a lot of guys where that mindset is destructive,” he said. “They can’t operate. I loved it. I loved the thought, that almost like being a hockey goalie, everything is riding on me doing my job today, and I like that.”