WHEN GABE KAPLER snapped his Achilles tendon rounding second in Toronto last week, he had surprisingly little pain but faces surgery and a 12- to 18-month rehab. After the game the Red Sox outfielder, 30, was stoic, saying, "This is a bump in the road." One bump among many: Last fall Kapler left the world champion Sox for Japan's Yomiuri Giants and a chance to be a starter. But he struggled with Japanese pitching, hitting nearly 120 points below his .271 lifetime average. "The pitchers work slower, and they have hitches in their deliveries," he says. "Here there's more of a rhythm." Kapler also missed the camaraderie of the clubhouse, which in Japan, he says, is "just a locker room." Then Sox catcher Jason Varitek called and played Toby Keith's Beer for My Horses on his answering machine. "It's a song that we sang a lot on the plane during the 2004 season," says Kapler, who told The Boston Globe, "It literally had me in tears." The Giants released him in July, and he returned to the U.S. with his wife, Lisa, and their two sons. Later that month the Sox re-signed him; in 36 games for Boston he hit .247. Now he faces the prospect of not returning until 2007. "I see it," says Kapler, "as another challenge in the puzzle." --Matthew Waxman
KYODO NEWS (KAPLER)
In Japan, Kapler's good days were few.
J.P. MOCZULSKI/REUTERS (KAPLER PLAYING)
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