Counting his South Korea professional seasons, this is Year Nine for Darin Ruf in a major league capacity, a career that started in Philadelphia in 2012 and detoured in the KBO from 2017-19.
He’s seen some of everything in more than 300 big-league games and more than 400 with the Samsung Lions.
Those games have never come in the postseason, though, October baseball proving elusive.
“It’d be awesome,” Ruf said over Zoom recently. “When you play for so long and you’re a part of a lot of different — I mean obviously the Phillies and then going overseas, I never made the playoffs over there, either — so, it’s just exciting baseball.”
The Giants (26-27) enter Tuesday’s action a half-game back of the Phillies and a game back of the Reds in the wild-card hunt, tied with the Brewers and both on the outside looking in. They have seven left at home, three against the Rockies before four with the Padres, that will decide whether they can take advantage of a postseason system that has expanded to 16 MLB teams.
Everything about this season is different, but especially different for a slugger who faced funky KBO pitching the last three seasons then returned stateside in part so his wife could give birth in the US. Ruf signed with the Giants on a minor league pact then swung his way onto the roster at spring trainings 1.0 and 2.0. Upon making the cut, he envisioned a platoon, which came in left field rather than first base, although recent injuries have turned him into an everyday player.
What would have been harder to envision is that he would be joining a club in a playoff hunt. The Giants haven’t made the postseason since 2016 and, you might have heard, are amid a rebuild.
“You look at our roster and you see the talent that’s on every single roster — it’s just a matter of guys meshing well together and believing in what management and what the manager is trying to do on the team, and I think we’ve done a really good job of that,” said Ruf, who was signed to mash lefties but has hit righties well, too. “That’s why even though some teams might have a little bit more young talent or things like that, more All-Star-type names, we’ve played really well as a team and fought all nine innings and don’t give at-bats away — things you need to have a winning season.”
A winning season likely would see the Giants play into October, led by an offense that has scored the eighth most runs in baseball. Ruf has been a major find, his fifth homer coming Sunday and his slashline sitting at .284/.363/.543. Farhan Zaidi, who also briefly acquired him with the Dodgers, has always been intrigued by Ruf’s power and relative low strikeout totals (21 in 91 plate appearances this year), and his swing with Ruf this offseason made good contact.
Ruf has appreciated the help from within, yet another to call out the hitting triumvirate of Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind — “We look in a spot, and we’re extremely aggressive in that area.” — who have brought him advice and technology that was not on hand in South Korea.
He could have returned overseas during the break in the pandemic, and the Giants explored a loan that did not work out because of the transaction freeze. Ruf stayed and got to be around his wife and newborn, Olive, for months before returning to work, now with a possibility of happily delaying his reunion with his family if the Giants can extend their season a bit longer.
“I’m really happy with the way things turned out,” he said.