LOS ANGELES -- For more than half an hour Thursday afternoon, Gabe Kapler sat on the back bench of the visiting dugout at Dodger Stadium, discussing this series and some general thoughts on baseball strategy. At one point, during a lull in the questioning, Kapler steered the conversation to Darin Ruf.
It has been clear for two seasons that Ruf is held in the highest regard by his manager, but Kapler has at times wrestled with difficult decisions. Ruf is so good, so absolutely destructive against left-handed pitching, that the Giants have mostly held him back for those situations and made him half of a platoon with LaMonte Wade Jr.
But Kapler has been thinking a lot about Ruf's plate appearances against right-handers, about how the quality is there no matter how tough the matchup might be. He feels comfortable with Ruf facing anyone right now, and on Thursday night that led to one of the wildest sequences of the year.
Ruf was on the wrong side of one bad call and the right side of another in a span of a couple of minutes in the ninth inning, ultimately drawing a hard-fought walk against Kenley Jansen to tie the game. The Giants took the lead a pitch later and won 5-3, stunning Jansen for the second straight night, taking their final series at Dodger Stadium, and extending their lead in the NL West to three games.
Ruf smiled as he recounted the two-night sequence. He said he was lying in bed watching highlights after Wednesday's win and was surprised to see a note that the Giants had been 0-25 when trailing heading into the ninth until Wilmer Flores' blast. A night later, Ruf was in the middle of the action.
"To do what we did the last two nights against one of the game's best closers really speaks a lot to the toughness of this team," Ruf said. "The always-grinding attitude, and just as an offense we're really trying to have great at-bats all nine innings."
Ruf's was the most fascinating of a wild night. He entered the night with a 1.125 OPS against lefties and a .779 OPS against righties, but he had a single that chased Walker Buehler in the eighth and came up against Jansen with the bases loaded and the Giants trailing by one.
"At that point, I'm just trying to have a good at-bat," Ruf said. "The 2-0 pitch was probably outside, but those things happen throughout the course of an at-bat. You just have to move on. After I got to 2-2, I just really wanted to see a pitch in the middle. He has three pretty good pitches and luckily I laid off the 2-2. The 3-2 was kind of a high backup cutter and luckily that call went our way."
There were more than 47,000 fans at Dodger Stadium, and for a split-second, they all looked the way of first base ump Ed Hickox. Both dugouts did, too.
"I'm just thinking, 'Please say I didn't go,'" Ruf said, smiling. "I think at full speed it was really, really close. Luckily that call went our way tonight and then LaMonte came up huge."
As Dave Roberts lost it and got ejected for a second straight night, the boos rained down from all corners of Dodger Stadium. Jansen, visibly exhausted, threw his hands up in frustration. In the middle of it all, Wade Jr. calmly walked to the plate. On the first pitch from Jansen, he lined a single to right to give the Giants a two-run lead.
"I was just thinking about the at-bat," Wade said. "I wasn't thinking too much about what else was going on. I was just thinking about my at-bat and what I needed to do."
That was perhaps the biggest takeaway from four incredible games between rivals. The Dodgers had an emotional stretch, celebrating a walk-off in the second game and then watching their dominant closer melt down on back-to-back nights. Roberts watched the final out of the last two games from the clubhouse.
"There are a lot of people that are pissed off, and I'm leading the way," he said of the Dodgers.
On the other side, the Giants seemed not to care about the magnitude of those moments. Flores calmly jogged around the bases on Wednesday and a night later his teammates marched around them in the ninth. If there were wild emotional swings, they happened behind closed doors.
As Kapler again sat down with reporters to break it all down, he started off by complimenting Jason Vosler for an incredible secondary lead that allowed the Giants to keep fighting. Asked about taking three of four from the Dodgers with another series coming up next week, he pointed out that the Giants were getting ready for a weekend series with the Pirates.
But Kapler did acknowledge that the four games here were a boost. The Giants finished 6-4 in 10 games at Dodger Stadium this season.
"I think our guys are confident right now, I think we believe in each other as a group, I think we're going to get on the plane feeling like we played a good series," Kapler said. "I think that's important. We didn't start this road trip off well but we finished it strong. I think that's what guys are thinking about in the clubhouse."