. If this is an omen for the Giants’ 2015 season, it’s not a good one: talismanic right fielder Hunter Pence suffered a broken left forearm after being hit with a pitch in the sixth inning of Thursday’s exhibition against the Chicago Cubs.
It means Pence almost certainly will miss Opening Day and the first part of the regular season after playing in 162 games in each of the past two years. It means Pence’s streak of 383 consecutive games played – third longest in Giants history – ended when a Corey Black pitch sailed dangerously toward Pence before he raised his arm instinctively to protect himself. When Pence slumped to his knees in pain after being struck, a loud groan reverberated through the galleries of a sold-out crowd.
The end result – diagnosed as a non-displaced fracture in his left ulna – means a Giants outfield already in flux is now in a bit of disarray with the loss of its anchor – and with a new left fielder in Nori Aoki and Angel Pagan returning gingerly to center field from season-ending injury last year.
It means a Giants team already short on power after losing Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse is now even more heavily dependent on first baseman Brandon Belt and catcher Buster Posey for offensive might.
It means the temporary loss of the Giants’ spiritual leader, cheerleader, carnival barker and irrepressible spirit.
It means the Giants almost certainly will play with lesser talent at a key position because the 31-year-old Pence had become a master of multiple angles, contours, wind pockets and danger spots in the treacherous wind tunnel known as right field at AT&T Park.
It means the Giants are already – after only a few exhibition games – facing the razor’s edge of odd-year misfortune. In 2011, the Giants’ offense disappeared after winning the 2010 World Series. In 2013, players suffered numerous injuries and bad seasons en route to a losing campaign after winning the World Series in 2012.
Now the 2015 season begins this way after winning it all in 2014.
“You hate to see this,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Guys work so hard all winter and to have this happen in the second game is tough.”
Pence was standing in against Black in the sixth inning of an early spring game where the Cubs had jumped out to a big lead and rival managers were beginning to cycle players in and out of the action.
Only 23, Black pitched at Double-A Tennessee last season for the Cubs and is said to throw in the mid-90s. When his pitch hit Pence, it was immediately obvious that something serious had just happened.
Characteristically upbeat and stoic, Pence raised the anxiety level of Giants fans as he dropped to his knees in pain and stayed down for a time. He then got up and walked toward first base and the mood lightened until Pence made a sudden right turn after touching the bag and headed for the Giants’ dugout accompanied by trainer Dave Groeschner.
After the Giants defeated the Cubs 8-6, Bochy was visibly upset and feared the worst.
“It looks bad,” Bochy said to reporters in the Giants dugout. “Hunter was trying to move out of the way, but it caught him. The only silver lining to this is that it is still early in the spring.”
Bochy said he spoke to Pence before he went to a nearby hospital and related that the outfielder was upbeat as always. You couldn’t say the same for the rest of the Giants’ clubhouse.
Pence was an All-Star last season and scored a career-high 106 runs. A model of durability, Pence became the first Giant in nearly a quarter century to post 700 plate appearances. He was only one of four players in the majors to play in all 162 games last season.
Then in October, he hit .444 in the World Series with three doubles, a home run and five RBIs. In the divisional playoffs, Pence made a spectacular leaping catch in right field – robbing Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth of a big hit.
The play became known as “Pence at the Fence” and will go down in Giants lore as one of the great moments of three World Series title runs in five years.
Now Pence is sidelined, possibly until the end of April or early May.
Is it an omen of other bad breaks to come for the Giants in an odd year after a World Series title? Is it just a setback to be overcome at the beginning of a marathon season?
Either way, it’s a headache the Giants didn’t need in a spring training that suddenly grew a lot more serious.
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.