LOS ANGELES – It’s great to talk about contract extensions, free agency and all the other chunks of fuel that get shoveled into the hot stove. For certain, Hunter Pence’s future will be a topic of much discussion over the coming days and weeks.
But for right now, what could be rattling and piping and smoking and generating more warm toasties than what Pence is doing at the plate? What could be more worthy of a Giants fan’s attention?
What could be better than five home runs and 12 RBIs in four games against the hated Los Angeles Dodgers?
What could be better than breaking one of Willie McCovey’s records (by driving in 19 runs over six games), matching a feat that only Willie Mays has done (homering in each game of a four-game series against the Dodgers) and bending baseballs with a consistency not seen in black and orange since Barry Bonds?
Pence became the first Giant since Bonds in 2005 to homer in four consecutive games. He accomplished that with his solo shot in the second inning. Then he clubbed another, a two-run shot in the sixth. That gave him five home runs in the series – the most by an opponent in a series against the Dodgers since Mike Schmidt in 1979.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Pence powers Giants to another win in L.A.]
OK, so Schmidt wasn’t a Giants legend. Pretty safe to say he would’ve been, had he played for them.
And then you sit back and you realize that Pence is doing this for a team trying to scrape its way out of last place, and while starting for the 150th time in 150 games.
“I love this team. I love this game,” Pence said. “I love each moment because I’m grateful to be here.”
Yes, the Reverend still knows how to preach even when the congregation is off watching the 49ers. He held court for a long stretch after the Giants’ 4-3 victory Sunday at Dodger Stadium – their third win out of four in the series.
When he begins answering a question with, “There’s a quote that comes to mind …” you know it’s going to be good.
“Things turn out best for those who make the best of what is,” said Pence, borrowing from legendary basketball coach John Wooden. “For us, the only way to make the best of it is to charge in and play the best baseball we can. We owe that to each other, to the fans and the organization.”
It’s hard enough to quantify the results on the field. It’s even harder to quantify the stuff that matters in a clubhouse. But here’s an equation that tends to hold true: High expectations plus last place equals a fractured, feckless clubhouse.
Maybe Pence is the biggest reason the Giants haven’t devolved as a group.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “With what was expected of us and where we are, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys, to be part of a team where instead of pointing fingers and getting angry, we searched for solutions and stayed together.”
The solution right now, at least for the hitters, is pretty simple: Watch Pence, and be fed by it. He’s serving as everyone’s “dig me” session.
That includes Brett Pill, who came off the bench to hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning off lefty Paco Rodriguez, who was holding batters to a .158 average this season. Pill said he didn’t cue up video of his home runs and dig himself, as Pence inspired Brandon Belt to do.
“I’ve just been watching Pence and Belt,” Pill said. “It’s getting ridiculous. We know he can do it, but it’s been unbelievable and we’re kind of feeding off it. We’re all swinging aggressively with no fear, and hopefully we’ll continue that."
Pill is trying to use this time on the bench to soak up as much wisdom as possible. He often checks in with teammates after they get a hit, asking for their approach or what pitch they were expecting or any mechanical tweak that they employed.
“Buster (Posey) will usually give me something he tries to do,” Pill said. “Hunter just says, `I try to hit the ball hard.’ Which he pretty much does.”
Pence knows that isn’t the kind of insight that Pill wanted.
“Every time I get a hit, he comes up to me and asks me what I was thinking,” Pence said. “I just tell him I try to be ready early and hit it as hard as I can. If I get mechanical, I tend to get in my own way. He gets mad at me.”
So when Pill hit his tiebreaking shot …
“Oh, I couldn’t wait to ask him what he was thinking,” said Pence, smiling.
Sometimes, information is just too abstract or too tough or too big to process. Like linking yourself with Mays, McCovey and Bonds in the span of one radiant afternoon in the bleaching Southern California sunshine.
“Um, shocked,” said Pence, whose 25th homer also matched his own career high. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about, to be honest with you. But I think that every day you put on a big league uniform, what they did in the past is a part of what we’re doing today. That’s the way I look at it.”
The past is revered. The future holds so much intrigue. But for now, the present is enough.