Programming note: Padres-Giants coverage starts tonight at 6:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO -– Giants hitting coach Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens walked up to Hunter Pence in the cage Friday night and asked him a question.
How important is the streak to you?
“Not important at all,” Pence replied. “Winning a World Series is important to me.”
So yes, Pence is taking his first day off in 2 ½ years wearing a Giants uniform Saturday afternoon, and no, manager Bruce Bochy didn’t have to lock him in a utility closet or handcuff him to the bat rack or even boost his scooter.
Pence didn’t drop so much as one F-bomb in protest.
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“The only thing that matters is going to the playoffs, and now our fate is sealed,” Pence said. “So the goal they wanted for me was to have a day to get fresh, and I trusted what they wanted.”
Pence had appeared in 381 consecutive games and started 331 in a row, both of which ranked as the longest active streaks in the major leagues. Still, he made it just 14.5 percent of the way to Cal Ripken’s virtually unbreakable run of 2,632 games.
“That’s a magnitude I can’t even comprehend,” Pence said. “That is a long time. But I enjoyed every bit of my 300-odd games. It was a lot of fun.”
There were times during Ripken’s streak that he was criticized for playing to the detriment of his team, and that his ego took precedent over wins and losses.
Pence wasn’t quick to agree with that notion. He just knows his own reasons for wanting to play every day, and they have nothing to do with personal records.
“How many people did (Ripken) inspire?” Pence said. “It’s difficult, I guess. It’s all opinion. For me, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to be out there every day, and I love being out there. Maybe too much.”
Not only had Pence started every game this season, he’d played all but 11 defensive innings in right field. Last year, he missed just 16 defensive innings. Add it up and he’d been out there 99.06 percent of the time.
His streak of 331 consecutive starts as a Giant was the longest in the club’s San Francisco era and the fifth longest in all-time franchise’s history. Whitey Lockman was the last Giant to put together a longer streak of consecutive starts (354) from 1951-53.
Pence’s streak of 381 consecutive games as a Giant ranked third in all-time franchise history, and was the longest since Hall of Famer Bill Terry appeared in a record 468 consecutive from 1930-33.
The consecutive games streak isn’t officially over yet. Pence said he would remain mentally alert, just in case he’s needed off the bench.
A break might be a good idea, though. Pence is having a much different September than last year, when he hit .293/.393/667 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs in 27 games. He’s at .172/.250/.241 in 23 games this month, but his struggles don’t appear to be fatigue-related. If anything, he’s swinging too hard.
“It reminds me of the feeling I had in April when I started slow,” Pence said. “At any moment, it can switch and turn around. I’ve felt good in my at-bats. There were three or four double-play balls I really hit hard, but right at the third baseman. I thought, 'Well, I’ve got to stop taking that swing,' and that’s how (a slump) starts. You’ve just got to find your way out. We’ll see.”
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Giants manager Bruce Bochy is giving Gary Brown his first major league start, and also putting Chris Dominguez back in left field as Bochy wants to gauge some of his right-handed hitting options for a playoff roster – especially in left field.
Bochy also is giving Buster Posey another day off to get rest and treatment on a tight lower back, and Pablo Sandoval also is out of the lineup.
“Hopefully the fans will understand,” Bochy said. “I know when I was a fan I wanted to see my favorite players. Most of (the regulars) will be out there tomorrow.”
Right-hander Chris Heston will get the start Sunday, but Bochy does plan to use Tim Lincecum in relief in one of these final two games.