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Kapler keeps pushing right buttons with red-hot Giants

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A few hours before Tuesday's game, Giants manager Gabe Kapler was asked about three young hitting coaches who have helped turn a long dormant lineup into one of the most dangerous in the National League. 

Kapler praised Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind, but quickly turned his attention back to his players. They deserve most of the credit, Kapler said.

There has been tremendous buy-in from a group of veterans dealing with a completely new system, and Kapler is right that players should be highlighted for a run like this, as they have been. But when a team loses, and loses ugly as the Giants did for a stretch there in mid-August, the blame often falls on the manager's shoulders.

When he's a second-year manager who is replacing a Hall-of-Famer and makes some questionable decisions with pulling starters and deploying relievers, the fan base will try to run him out of town. 

Kapler weathered that storm, staying positive even during the lowest lows. He has adjusted, not just with his trust level in the starting staff but with his hierarchy in the bullpen. With the staff more settled, the Giants have been able to rely nightly on a group of hitters that has been doing damage the entire way. 

Those resilient bats once again came from behind Tuesday, with the Giants beating the Seattle Mariners 6-5 in a game they trailed by four runs early. It was the seventh win in nine games and got the Giants a game above .500 and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Colorado Rockies for the final playoff spot. 

 

After this one, the 11th come-from-behind win of the year for his players, Kapler admitted that he is able to enjoy this run. Well, to an extent. 

"Personally, I'm certainly enjoying it," Kapler said. "I feel happy for our players when they perform well. I really like to try to put them in the best possible positions to succeed, and at the same time I tend to stay even. It's not necessarily about positivity or anything like that. It's much more about, I understand that there are going to be ups, I understand that there are going to be downs.

"Just like our hitters, that are going to be focused on the process, not on the result and on the outcome, in order for me to be a good leader I have to do the same. So I try to keep that in mind all the time."

The next low could be a day away, but right now Kapler is pushing all the right buttons, and nothing showed that off like the work of his left fielders on Tuesday night. 

A day after slamming a ball off his knee and getting an X-ray, Alex Dickerson was in the starting lineup and hit a solo homer in the third inning. In the seventh, with a lefty on the mound, Darin Ruf pinch-hit for Dickerson and hit a go-ahead blast to left. 

"Part of the reason [Ruf] is able to capitalize on that opportunity tonight is he puts in the work and he's never caught off guard," Kapler said. "He's the first guy with a helmet on and a bat in his hand, ready for that moment. It was really probably most gratifying to see that pay off for him."

It would have been enough to get those two homers out of that exchange, but Kapler wasn't done with the two-spot in the order. Ruf took his big swing and circled the bases in 22 seconds, and that was it. Kapler replaced him with Luis Basabe, a prospect called up a few hours before the game. Three batters into his first inning in the outfield, Basabe chased down a two-out liner to the gap that Dickerson said neither previous left fielder would have caught. 

"It's a lot of fun, mainly because you know most of the time it's not going to work out that way," Kapler said of the series of correct moves. "You're going to get a home run from the left side and then Ruf is going to pinch-hit and get a big home run, it just doesn't happen that frequently, so when it does work out in your favor, you remember how often it goes the other way and you really do appreciate it."

 

Ruf's homer fully got Logan Webb off the hook for a rough night. Webb gave up five runs but managed to get through five innings after an ugly start, turning it over to the high-leverage arms in the bullpen. He said Kapler approached him with the Giants trailing 4-1 and told him that he was going to go five innings, maybe even six, and keep the Giants in the game long enough that they would win. 

Managers have that conversation dozens of times a year, but it seems Kapler is hitting on a pretty high percentage lately.

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Dickerson said he had a similar talk with Kapler at his low point, when his average was sitting around .200. He wondered if anyone was noticing the hard outs he was hitting into, and that's when Kapler walked up to him before batting practice one day and told him that he was having good at-bats and would stay in the No. 2 spot. Results would come. 

"He's been amazing at it this year and picking the right times," Dickerson said. "Right there with Webby was just one example. He did it with me when I was kind of at my lowest point. He picks the right time when you need to hear it the most and I think guys really respond to it."