Darin Ruf rewards Gabe Kapler, Giants with clutch pinch-hit homer vs. D-backs

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Kapler's faith in Ruf pays off with pinch-hit homer vs. D-backs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

PHOENIX -- Last Friday night, 20 minutes after a tough loss that would end up being just the midpoint in the worst week of the season, Gabe Kapler sat in a comfortable chair in his office at Oracle Park and shut down any talk of panicking.

"I think it's going to turn," he insisted.

Kapler had no way of knowing what would come over the next four games, but he knew his roster, and he knew it was better than what was being shown. In particular, he knew Darin Ruf was better than what the Giants were seeing.

Kapler has brought Ruf up over and over again the last couple of months. He mentioned him earlier in the day last Friday, saying, "Darin Ruf, he's going to be fine." As he sat in his office later, Kapler interjected Ruf's name into a conversation about how much patience the staff would have in down times. He smiled and admitted that he knew he kept bringing Ruf up in conversation.

"He's a good hitter," he said. "And he has been for a very long time."

Ruf in many ways symbolizes what the Giants are trying to build here. He was a good prospect who never fully clicked in the big leagues, but after going overseas he returned to the Giants to put up two of the sneakiest offensive seasons in baseball the last two years. By OPS+, Ruf was 42 points above league average in 2020-21. He was elite, and the Giants gave him a two-year deal as a show of faith.

Ruf couldn't reward them right away, coming into Wednesday's game with a line that put him seven points below league average as a hitter. But in the eighth inning, he finally broke through, smoking a loud two-run shot to left that tied the game and completed the comeback. The Giants would go on to win 7-5, snapping a six-game losing streak.

The first win since last Tuesday came with plenty of standouts, and also plenty of the usual torture in the bottom of the ninth. But it was Ruf's blast that was the biggest hit of the night, and also the first pinch-hit homer of the season for a team that set an MLB record with 18 of them last year.

"This was kind of similar to how we saw things unfold last year with our pinch-hitting," Kapler said. "That's a testament to these guys staying with it and obviously believing in themselves. In this particular case I think Ruf went up to the plate with the type of confidence that boosts good performance. We believe in all of our guys. We win as a team and I feel like everybody was prepared for the moment tonight."

The victory came on a night that started with four innings that fit right in with the last two weeks, but the Giants got two runs back in the middle of the game and Ruf was part of a line change in the eighth, the type that worked so often last year but had been missing this season.

Austin Slater put a bunt single down ahead of Ruf to get the rally going against tough lefty Joe Mantiply. Ruf had faced him earlier in the series and knew what to expect.

"He got me with a curve," Ruf said. "I figured he would try to attack me with the same approach and luckily he missed out over the plate with the curveball. I recognized it well and put a good swing on it."

Slater had a starring role an inning later, too, lining a two-run double that gave the Giants the lead. But with a stretch of baseball this bad, it has been easy at times to expect the worst, and they were tested again in the bottom of the ninth.

A night after giving up a three-run bomb, Camilo Doval gave a third of the lead back and then loaded the bases. That's when Kapler turned to Sam Long, a surprise choice but the right choice. As Kapler handed Long the ball, he encouraged him to enjoy the opportunity.

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"This is a really cool moment," he told the young lefty.

Long grabbed it by the horns. This was by no means a perfect night for the Giants, or even a particularly clean one. But all that mattered was they got a victory, the type that was so common last season. They came through with big pinch-hits late and then held on to guarantee a happy flight to San Diego.

"Everyone was pumped. Everyone was pumped," Long said. "That was a big win. It was a really exciting game and you could feel that it was kind of a weight lifted off some of the guys' shoulders."

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