Hunter Pence had a memorable, physics-defying hit in last season's National League Championship Series.

Peculiar Pence is a potent part of S.F.'s success

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 4:00 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Hunter Pence still hears about that hit, when the ball came off his bat three times in a single swing.

Pence broke the bat making contact for a key double in a 9-0 victory against St. Louis in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series last October.

Not that anybody's too surprised when something like that happens to Pence.

The Giants right fielder is quirky, just plain odd if you were to poll some of his pals – such as second baseman Marco Scutaro.

"He loves me," Pence cracked Monday.

Pence rode a scooter sans helmet to the ballpark last season, a seven-block trip that will be shorter this year since he now lives closer. He plans to ride it again this season for the World Series champions.

Pence is never quite sure how to react when people stop him on the street to talk about his memorable hit.

"It's pretty unique," he said, chuckling. "It's tough to really answer, they're like, 'Oh, I love that triple hit.' Whatever you call it, people just look at me smiling. You don't really know what to say except, 'Thanks.' "

On the play, the ball broke Pence's bat, then hit the broken barrel two more times on the follow-through, sending a slicing liner toward shortstop that fooled Pete Kozma and went through for a double.

Two runs scored, and a third crossed the plate when center fielder Jon Jay made an error.

The rolling, slicing spin on the ball caused it to change directions – leaving Kozma little chance to field it. Kozma broke to his right, but the ball instead curved to left-center.

Pence, who agreed to a $13.8 million, one-year deal last month, sees no need to watch the replay multiple times. He knows it was no ordinary extra-base hit.

"It only takes one time. You see it one time and you're already confused," Pence said. "I don't remember how many times I've watched that. Every now and then if it's on I'll check it out. I'm pretty grateful that that happened."

Manager Bruce Bochy had never seen anything quite like that play. Those were the kinds of breaks – no pun intended – the Giants capitalized on throughout another special postseason run to capture the franchise's second championship in three years.

"He's going to work on it this spring and see if he'll be a little more consistent with it," Bochy joked.

"It's quite an art. It takes a lot of work. That's why we're here in spring training, to see if we can get that down. You take it. We played baseball, and that's sure a break for us. We took advantage of it."

Pence and Scutaro were midseason acquisitions who became key contributors during the title run.

The 29-year-old Pence, acquired at the trade deadline from the Phillies, batted .219 with seven home runs and 45 RBIs in 59 games for the Giants while making a smooth transition to the expansive right field at AT&T Park. He had 13 hits with four RBIs in the postseason, batting .286 (4 for 14) in a World Series sweep of Detroit.

Scutaro wants more of the same production out of Pence this year, however the hits may come.

"He's great, he's unbelievable, he's a gamer, good friend, funny guy, weird, everything," Scutaro said. "Everybody back home in Venezuela was asking me about him. 'How crazy is he?' 'Yeah, a little crazy, but it's good.' He's a great guy. He looks weird. Everything he does is weird – the way he throws, the way he hits, the way he looks, but I'd take that guy with me any day."

Pence still plans to get the souvenir bat for his collection. He believes it is still at the team's waterfront ballpark, but he will have to do some investigating once he gets back to the Bay Area.

He says maybe, if possible, he'll try to duplicate that one this season.

He's making no promises.

"A triple hit?" he asked. "Hopefully, just a lot of hits. I like those.

"Any way they come, there's always room for a miracle."

Notes – Bochy announced right-hander Matt Cain will be the starter for Opening Day April 1 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, as expected.

Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong will start this Saturday's exhibition opener against the Los Angeles Angels in Scottsdale. Tim Lincecum got the last four Opening Day starts.

• For the second consecutive spring training on the opening day of batting practice, Cain had a close-call comebacker. He was not using a protective screen.

This time it came off Pablo Sandoval's bat, a one-hopper the pitcher deflected just in time.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Janie McCauley



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