Kuip & Miller: Giants did not have much room for error
Hunter Pence's first-inning home run landed an estimated 476 feet away from home plate at Coors Field. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
DENVER – Hunter Pence hit the longest home run by a major leaguer this season Tuesday night. It traveled an estimated 476 feet, striking a trash can on the far side of the concourse beyond the left field seats at Coors Field.
Want to see Pence go to even greater lengths? Just try to ask him about it.
“Yeah, um,” said Pence, after the Giants’ 5-3 victory, “Petit pitched an amazing game, the bullpen, too. Really, the tone was set by the way Petit pitched for us.”
But what about that home run? Brandon Belt, on first base, said he didn’t even bother to watch it.
“Well,” said Pence, “it was awesome to see Brandon get four hits in front of me. He’s been outstanding, swinging the bat. With that performance in front of you, you get a lot of opportunities to drive one in.”
But your home run … it was one of the longest anyone could remember seeing. Did you watch it, at least?
“No,” said Pence, “because there’s a lot of game left. It’s the first inning.”
OK then. What will you say about your home run? Anything?
“Nothing,” Pence said.
He paused, but it wasn’t an awkward moment. Pence wasn’t trying to be curt. There are just so many other topics he’d rather glow over, and in this abyss of a season, the Giants had music in the clubhouse and a shiny victory to admire.
“This game is about the win,” Pence said. “The win is great, and it’s a joy to compete out there with these guys. People are diving out there. Pitchers are pitching with their hearts. Win, lose or draw, that’s fun to be a part of.”
This one was a win because Yusmeiro Petit threw strikes in the ballpark where you absolutely cannot afford to beat yourself. They won because they added on after Pence and Pablo Sandoval provided the club’s first back-to-back homers of the season in the first inning. And they won because Gregor Blanco and Marco Scutaro both made difficult plays to put the tourniquet on the Rockies’ rally in the seventh inning.
“When a guy is throwing strikes, it seems your defense is crisper,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s what wins games for you. Defense makes a big difference in your season. It stops rallies. It stops runs. It cuts down pitches on your pitchers. These are the things we need to get better at and we’re working on it.”
Now this is a topic that can get Pence rolling.
“The end of the season it’s extremely important to get back playing ball the way we’re capable,” Pence said. “It’s been disappointing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t turn it around.
“Just going hard, that’s a lot of fun. The effort and enthusiasm has been tremendous lately. We’ve got to black out the standings and play every game like it’s a playoff game.”
Doesn't exactly sound like a guy looking ahead to free agency in five weeks, does it?
Pence has said many times that he wants to re-sign with the Giants. He reiterated that stance when I asked him before Tuesday’s game, saying even though he’s so close to hitting the open market for the first time in his career, he’d be willing to sign a multiyear contract to stay if he felt it made sense and was fair.
The Giants have not brought anything to him yet, Pence said. And he also noted that the situation would become more complex once he would file for free agency. By that point, he owes it to himself to be open minded to other clubs.
I told Pence that I know he doesn’t want to think about his free agency until it happens, but it’s my job to ask.
“And it’s my job to block it out,” he said, smiling. “So we’re both doing our jobs.”
Well said, sir.
Leave it to Belt, then, to describe what it was like to watch Pence pierce the upper troposphere as he stood on first base following the first of his four hits:
“It felt like I hit a home run myself because I put my head down and went,” Belt said. “I assume it went out by a few rows.”
Uh, yeah. All of them, actually.
“All of my four hits combined probably weren’t hit as far as his,” said Belt, who took umbrage when told that ESPN Stats and Info calculated the shot at 476 feet.
“They should’ve given him 500 feet,” Belt said. “I don’t trust those. I’m marking it down – 500.”
How far did Pence think it went? We never got around to asking that question. Pence probably would’ve replied by discussing the situation in the Middle East, or something, anyway.
Instead, he revealed the origin of his choreographed handshake dance with Sandoval.
“Pablo, he was teaching me to salsa in the batting cage,” Pence said. “And we added it to our handshake because the old one wasn’t working.
“This one’s working.”