Many people agree that the best way to beat back the emotional perils of the pandemic -- those sour moods that seem to strike us from time to time -- is to indulge in something that‘s guaranteed to make us happy.
For Giants fans, that antidote to angst is Hunter Pence.
Pence left the Giants on Aug. 24, when they released him. The impact of Pence’s parting reverberated further on Saturday, when he announced his retirement as an active player. Pence, 37, rebounded from a disappointing 2018 season with San Francisco to compose a slash line of .297/.358/.552 for the Rangers last year and make the American League All-Star team. But the optimism generated by his return to the Giants fizzled as he batted .096 in 17 games.
Pence nevertheless bears potential as a feel-good source. Mired in pessimism? Think of Pence leading fans in a “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant before the triumphant 2014 postseason began. Have circumstances figuratively backed you against a wall? Recall the tales -- they’re all true -- of Pence’s galvanizing oratory that gave the Giants the will to win six consecutive elimination games in the 2012 postseason. Need a quick fix to a galling problem? Imagine Pence scurrying toward a sinking line drive in right field to make an improbable catch, such as the one he executed in the eighth inning of Tim Lincecum’s July 13, 2013, no-hitter at San Diego.
Consider the collective mindset of Pence’s former Giants teammates. Years will pass, yet their memories of Pence as a source of everything positive shall remain forever fresh.
“Hunter was the super motivator on the team and had the ability to back it up,” right-hander Matt Cain said. “He was always going to be in the lineup, giving it max effort in the field or at the plate.”
Pence’s impact upon the 2012 postseason was incalculable.
“He kind of brought the fight back in everybody,” right-hander George Kontos said. “Hunter’s a pretty easy guy to get on board with when he gets fiery and gets those wide eyes. Without Hunter Pence stepping in and earning the nickname ‘The Reverend’ that season, I don’t know that we have that 2012 ring on our fingers.”
Pence’s defining moment occurred before Game 3 of the Division Series, which Cincinnati led, 2-0. The Reds hadn’t lost three games in a row at home all season, yet that was the streak the Giants had to sustain to avoid dropping the series. Pence basically willed the Giants to victory in that game and throughout the rest of October with his “I want to keep playing with you guys” speech.
“Hunter united us in 2012 in the playoffs,” said Cain, who started the openers and clinchers of all three postseason series that year. Referring specifically to the minutes before Game 3, Cain added, “He challenged all of us in the clubhouse that night to dig deeper than we had before. He took things to a different level of intensity physically and mentally and that rubbed off on all of us.”
Recalled Kontos, “Before every game we would huddle in the dugout and Hunter would be in the middle, firing us up. We’d throw the sunflower seeds and the gum and everybody would focus on the task at hand – which, obviously, was playing solid baseball. But I think we were able to keep everything in perspective, where the only thing that was important was the next pitch or the next at-bat or the next inning. We kept it very focused on the singular rather than on the big picture.”
As the results demonstrated, the Giants never wavered from the example Pence set.
“Hunter was the energy and the glass-half-full personality every team needs to balance out the ups and downs of the season,” left-hander Jeremy Affeldt said. “He was a perfect example of what it meant to play hard every day.”
Statistics were inadequate in defining Pence, who recorded a slash line of .279/.334/.461 with 244 home runs in 1,707 career games. For example, he batted only .219 in 59 games with the Giants after they acquired him from Philadelphia at the 2012 Trade Deadline. Yet he drove in 45 runs, a tremendous ratio. He also batted .390 in 11 World Series games with the Giants in 2012 and 2014.
“I’m so glad to say I got to play alongside Hunter because I knew how hard it was to face him when he stepped into the box,” Cain said of Pence, who spent 5 1/2 seasons with the Astros and Phillies before joining the Giants. “He meant business and I loved that Hunter.”