Learning with the Pros: Hunter Pence
One more home run and Hunter Pence will become the first Giant to join the 20-homer, 20-steal club since Barry Bonds in 1998. (AP)
SAN FRANCISCO – There’s no guarantee that Hunter Pence will be a Giant after 19 more games.
But until he hits free agency, he plans to carry his “one more day” mantra into every inning and every at-bat. And as long as he stays healthy, he’ll also do something that no Giant has done in 56 seasons in San Francisco.
If he’s in the lineup 19 more times, Pence would become the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every game in a season. Dark manned shortstop for all 154 regular-season games the Giants played that year, which culminated in a World Series sweep over the Cleveland Indians.
Pence was surprised to hear it’s been that long since a Giant started every game, but the news didn’t make him any more pleased with himself or his looming accomplishment.
“I just do what any professional would do,” he said. “I just try to be ready to play every day.”
At 152 games, Pence’s streak of consecutive starts is the longest among National League players. He’s poised to become the first NL player to start all 162 games in the field (not at DH) since Prince Fielder with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2009. And he’d be the first major league outfielder to start 162 games since Jeff Francoeur with the Atlanta Braves in 2007.
All the while, Pence doesn’t appear to be wearing down. He’s reached base in 17 consecutive games and is hitting .373 over that span (and .337 since the break). One more home run and he’ll become the first Giant to join the 20-homer, 20-steal club since Barry Bonds in 1998.
Not only has Pence started all 143 games thus far, but he’s gone the distance in all but six of them. He’s played 1,264 1/3 innings, sitting out just 13 others in blowout games. (That works out to 98.98 percent of the club’s innings in right field.)
He isn’t playing on cruise control, either. He showed little regard for self-preservation in Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks, when he sprinted near the wall and caught A.J. Pollock’s foul fly to get Madison Bumgarner back into the dugout. The game went 11 innings. Pence played them all, of course.
Is there any point this season when he’s felt tired?
“Nope,” he said. “I feel pretty good. I’ve been very fortunate to be fresh and to feel healthy.”
[REWIND: Bochy has no desire to interrupt Pence's streak]
You can quantify value in so many ways these days, but it’s hard to put a number on energy, on that ability to be ready to go at full throttle day after day, in an afternoon game following a night game, after a cross-country flight, in those extra-inning games, etc.
Energy is more important than ever in this era of drug testing. You can’t just pop amphetamines or spike the coffee pot like you could in past eras.
How is Pence able to maintain his frenetic energy?
“If I answer completely honestly, I’d say it’s a balance between eating, resting and genetics,” he said. “Some of it is just being fortunate.”
Pence’s paleo diet has been well documented. But he’s mixing in more carbs these days. He found he was cramping too much while subsisting on mostly lean protein, plus heaping plates of kale and olive oil.
Maybe the most tired part of his body were his jaws from doing all that chewing.
Other Giants have played in every game. Pedro Feliz did it most recently, in 2006, when the Giants played a 161-game schedule; he started 155 and came off the bench in the other six.
The last Giant to play 162 regular-season games was Will Clark in 1988, when he started 157 and came off the bench in the others. Barry Bonds played in all 144 games, starting 143, in the strike-shortened 1995 season.
There were only three other times a Giant played 162 regular-season games in a season, and each of them occurred in 1962. Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda played in 162 while Jose Pagan actually played in 164. The catch: the club played 165 games that year, when the National League was decided in a three-game tiebreaker.
To find the last Giant to start every game in a season, you have to go back to New York, and Dark, and the year that Mays made his famous basket catch at the Polo Grounds.
Actually, Dark might have had an even more impressively iron-man season one year before that. In 1953, he started 154 of 155 games: 108 at shortstop, 26 at second base, five at third, 14 in the outfield and one, believe it or not, at pitcher.
OK, so don’t expect Pence to take the mound. Unless the Giants ask him.
He’d probably go into that at full throttle, too.