San Francisco Giants rely on Hunter Pence for balance
By Mark ONeill
Hunter Pence is to the San Francisco Giants what ballast is to a ship. He keeps the club balanced with his dedication and leadership skills, while infusing a sense of buoyancy into the team that is powerful enough to keep it afloat, even when the water is gushing in from multiple gaping holes below the surface of the sea.
Pence had his work cut out for him last season, when Matt Cain, Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt all ended up on the shelf at the same time for a spell. After a blistering 43-21 start to the season, the Giants vessel hit an iceberg and the iceberg struck back, with the result that San Francisco plummeted from the best in Major League Baseball to tenth seed in the playoffs.
When the ship is listing and in danger of sinking, Pence is apt to don any one of a number of hats to keep the team focused, as he did in the 2012 playoffs when he transmogrified into Preacher Pence and the Traveling Medicine Show, and righted the vessel. His series of pep-rallies before each of the six elimination games played that postseason, was instrumental in propelling the Giants into the World Series, where they swept the stunned Detroit Tigers.
Hunter Pence. One Hunter Percent. Scooter-riding, goggle-eyed, fence-crashing, bench-clearing, good-natured right-fielder of the Giants. There is no other personality in Major League Baseball who comes close to exuding this Zorba-like effervescence in every part of his life. When fans all over the country started to poke fun at his iconic congeniality, by creating and carrying signs, Pence embraced it.
“Hunter Pence…played Marv from “Home Alone” …is a gatherer …struggles with long division …puts ketchup on his hot dog
Hunter Pence whispers, “I’m sorry,” every time he catches a fly ball.
…wears sandals with shorts …never mistakes you’re for your …eats suggested serving sizes …likes “Godfather-Part III” and
…thinks SF stands for center field” are just a few of the hundreds of signs that were seen from August through the end of the season.
If there is anything more energizing than seeing the tables turned in such a bedazzling manner, it would be witnessing Pence deriving such enjoyment out of the experience. From the moment the first sign appeared, until the Panda did his backwards flop on the third-base side of the foul line, sealing the third World Series Championship in five years for the Giants, Pence reveled in the spotlight.
Sep 25, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) runs to home plate on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Matt Duffy (50, not pictured) during the seventh inning of the game against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Somewhere in the early part of the season, when the cameraman zeroed in on a sign in the AT&T Park stands, Mike Krukow tagged “One Hunter Percent” as the season’s best nickname. Unwilling to graciously sit and take the occasional day off, Pence had his 331-consecutive-starts streak end on the second-to-the-last day of the season, as Bruce Bochy gave several of the regulars the day off. By pinch-hitting in the seventh inning, though, Pence kept his consecutive-appearances-streak alive at 382 games.
When his iconic scooter was stolen early in the season, the entire city of San Francisco went on a pilgrimage to uncover the whereabouts of Pence’s main means of transportation. Was nothing sacred?
From the June Swoon which stretched into August, to the ever-lengthening list of injuries, Pence did not allow his teammates to give up. Having Travis Ishikawa inserted into the lineup as left-fielder, a position he had only played seven times before in his MLB career, did not phase the Orange and Black one bit, and their confidence was rewarded when Ishi clinched the pennant with his monumental three-run blast.
Pence hit twenty home runs altogether last season, second to Buster Posey’s 22. If he had hit one more double, Pence would have had thirty doubles, twenty homers and ten triples, while knocking in 74 runs and scoring 106, second in the National League to Anthony Rendon’s 111. Of all his epic games last season, I culled ten out of the archives as reminders that he not only motivates those around him, he gets the job done himself. I listed them here from ten on down. Hunter Pence:
10) …went 4-for-5, with three extra-base-hits, two RBIs and three runs scored against the Brewers, in a 15-5 victory, August 31.
9) …went 3-for-4 with a walk and three RBI singles in a 3-1 win over Milwaukee (August 30th).
8) …as leadoff hitter had two singles and a double and scored all three times as the Giants defeated the Padres 5-3.
7) …went 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs in a 10-4 victory over the Braves, May 14.
6) …had three hits and scored four runs for the first time in his Giants career in an 11-10 win over the Pirates May 5th.
5) …went 2-for-5 with a homer in a win over the A’s July ninth, the only W in four tries against Oakland last season.
4) …went 0-3 until the ninth inning, when he drilled a bases-clearing double in the ninth to produce a win and a four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, July 23rd.
Jul 23, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) hits a three RBI double in the ninth inning of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Giants won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
3) …went 3-for-5 with a double, three RBIs and a run scored in Game Four of the World Series, a game the Giants won 11-4.
2) …made a leaping catch at the fence in the sixth inning to rob Jayson Werth of extra bases and hold onto a 2-1 lead, in a game the Giants would win 3-2, clinching the National League Division Series.
1) …launched a two-run home run and got on base four times in Game One of the 2014 World Series, as the Giants won, 7-1.
There were many choice moments from which to choose. I put the two-run home run from Game One of the World Series, as the top prize because he set the tone for a successful repeat of their 2010 and 2012 titles, under the most daunting of circumstances. Without Pagan and 2010 postseason hero Matt Cain, the task seemed undoable.
Though a Southerner (from Houston) as so many of the Giants are, Pence does not represent the stoic manner of Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, so much as the Jake Peavy (Alabama) school of animation and emotion.
Preacher Pence has demonstrated that energy admirably in the locker room, with expletive-laden speeches that showed that he has not lost his touch. In fact, he had the crowd at AT&T Park in the palm of his hand, orchestrating an impromptu rally with 41,000 of his closest homies. He restrained himself admirably during this rally and kept it family-oriented.
The Dude can rock a stadium, as well as our souls, and he’s ours for at least four more years. Four more years! It sounds more like a political slogan than a baseballism. How about, Hunter Pence for Mayor of AT&T Park? Works for me.
After all, how wrong can 41,000 fans be?
Hunter Pence hits his 18th home run of the season on 9/6/13. Photo by Denise Walos.