Hunter Pence on pace to join elite company

Pence: 'We have a lot of confidence in this lineup'

Hunter Pence on pace to join elite company
June 9, 2013, 12:30 am
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Hunter Pence is on pace for 31 steals and 26 home runs this season. (AP IMAGES)

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PHOENIX – Just three Giants in franchise history have hit 20 home runs and stolen 30 bases in a season: Bobby Bonds, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.

Hunter Pence is on pace to join them.

The high-energy right fielder jolted a groggy offense by stealing second base, stealing third base and then trotting home on an error to score the first run Saturday night. He later added a double and a home run as the Giants, who had scored eight runs in their previous six games, busted out for a 10-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

[Instant Replay: Giants find scoring touch in Arizona]

Pence is on pace for 31 steals and 26 home runs this season. If that holds, he’d be just the fourth 20-30 man in club history, joining three legendary names. Bobby Bonds did it five times; Barry Bonds and Mays each did it three times.

Some players are known as compilers. For others, stats are not the end goal but the byproduct of contributing to victories. As for Pence, he's not stealing bases at a career-best pace so he can nail batting gloves to the wall.

He didn’t hesitate when he reached on a fielder’s choice in the second inning against Trevor Cahill. Even though Miguel Montero is one of the tougher catchers in the league to run against, Pence noticed that Cahill wasn’t going to a slide step. So he made it to second base, and then decided to try again.

“They weren’t really holding me on and I know with two strikes he throws that sinker in the dirt,” he said. “I gambled.”

He could start a hotline. He is 12 for 12 in stolen-base attempts this season – the most steals by any player in the majors without getting caught.

Has manager Bruce Bochy awarded him the evergreen light?

“I don’t know if he gave it to me, but … I’m pretty much just going,” Pence said.

The Giants certainly got going against a pitcher, Cahill, who had a 2.52 ERA in five career starts against them and beat them earlier this season. Buster Posey hit a two-run home run to cap a six-run fourth inning – the club’s third consecutive two-out, RBI hit. Brandon Crawford set a career high with four hits, too.

It started with Pence’s daring on the bases, though.

“He’s living up to that name, `Full Throttle,’” Bochy said. “He’s a guy everybody feeds off, with that energy. He knows we’re struggling offensively. He’s not afraid to push the envelope. That run, it seemed to get us going.”

I asked Pence: when you see the manager make some lineup tweaks, putting Posey in the No.3 spot, does that make you realize that it’s time to pick it up? Does it give you a sense of urgency?

“Every single day you’re trying to give it everything you have,” Pence said. “It’s not like you say, `OK, I’ll go harder now.’ You can’t go harder than your hardest.”

Pence has never gone harder on the bases. His career high is 18 steals; he swiped just five last year and seven the year before. What’s with his sudden aggressiveness on the bases?

“Let’s just say I’m healthy,” he said, with little elaboration. “I kind of had two years of a tough situation.”

Crawford sure had a tough night Friday, when he took some feeble swings while striking out twice against undefeated left-hander Patrick Corbin. It was so apparent that Bochy had to send up Joaquin Arias to pinch hit.

A day later, Crawford collected a career-high four hits.

“I wasn’t really thinking about it till I got to first and I kind of realized it was the first time doing it,” he said.

Crawford’s season charts like a high-risk tech stock. He was hitting .320 on April 24, crashed down to .243 by May 6, then quietly hit in 20 of his next 23 games. He’s back up to .292 now.

There are few players who are as even-keel in their demeanor as Crawford, which really has suited him well as he’s learned to be a more consistent contributor at the plate. One day after he had two ugly strikeouts, he enjoyed one of the best games of his career.

“I’ve got to take it like it’s a new day because it is,” he said. “It’s a new game. You can’t worry about the day before.

“Anybody would be lying if they said they didn’t know what your average was. It’s on the big screen every time up. I try not to worry about it in the box. I think I do a pretty good job of that.”

Just like Pence won't worry about the pace he's setting in June. What would he say about joining Bonds, Bonds and Mays in franchise history?

“I’d say there’s a lot of baseball to be played,” he said, “and it’s one game at a time.” 

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