PHILADELPHIA –- Hunter Pence breathes life into the Giants every day.
He jokingly tried to do the same to the Phillie Phanatic prior to the first pitch Wednesday night.
“I just saw him fall and I didn’t want him to die, so I gave him some CPR,” said Pence, who later proceeded to pull the plug on the Phillies with a bases-clearing double in the ninth inning as the Giants nudged out a 3-1 victory at Citizens Bank Park.
“He’s so entertaining, makes it so much fun. I wanted to give him an opportunity to make fun of me so I went over there. I wasn’t sure what happened. He fell and I just wanted to make sure he didn’t choke.”
What happened was the Phanatic doing one of his oldest gags. He pretended to be top-heavy, holding his furry hands as if cradling a giant imaginary cranium. He’s been pulling that one on Bruce Bochy going back to the manager’s playing days.
Bochy laughs every time. He loves it. Almost as much as he loves managing Pence.
“He’s amazing. This guy really is,” Bochy said. “I mean, he’s just got so much energy. He’s tireless. He comes here early, he works out. To me, he’s an incredible athlete and he’s relentless. You see him every day. You know. There’s no letup on him.
“You’d think he’d back off a little bit but he’s full throttle on every pitch, and we’re glad to have him.”
One night after playing 14 innings over nearly six hours, the Giants endured a 59-minute rain delay in the top of the fourth. Madison Bumgarner saved an exhausted staff and probably saved Joe Panik’s place on the roster, coming back after the delay to throw five more scoreless innings.
And on a night of leaden bats and legs, Pence still had enough air in his lungs and lightness of being to flare Jonathan Papelbon’s 93 mph fastball down the right field line to break a scoreless tie.
Entering the series, Papelbon had allowed two extra-base hits all season. Counting Buster Posey’s tying homer in the ninth Tuesday, and Pence’s two-out double Wednesday, the Giants have nicked him for two in two nights.
But first Hector Sanchez had to turn a 1-2 count into a pinch walk that loaded the bases. And Pence had to get the benefit of a 2-2 pitch that catcher Carlos Ruiz did his best to frame. Pence fouled the next one back, then fought off a fastball.
Sanchez, who caught 248 pitches a night earlier, impressively scored from first base on Pence’s 125th hit, which leads the NL. He’s the only National League player on pace to finish with 200 hits.
“It was a lot of good at-bats to set up a pretty good situation for me,” Pence said. “They had nowhere to put me. A lot of good things can happen in that situation. It wasn’t like a crushed ball. It was more of a well-placed ball. I took harder swings at some of the foul balls.”
How was he not tired?
“You just have to be aware and conserve your energy, hydrate as much as you can, try to eat good food and not take as many hacks as you normally would,” he said. “That’s all.”
Bumgarner also credited his routine for allowing him to stay fresh despite being the one starting pitcher who didn’t benefit from any extra days because of the All-Star break. He pounded the zone while throwing just 93 pitches over eight innings, surely aware that the Giants could not afford an abbreviated night.
“He gave us everything we needed and more,” said Bochy, who joined Pence in also praising Phillies right-hander A.J. Burnett for throwing 131 pitches in his eight shutout innings.
During the delay, Bochy talked with GM Brian Sabean and had a roster move ready to spring if the delay had lasted another 10 or 15 minutes.
“Around the hour mark was the longest we’d go and that’s about what it was. … That rain delay, I won’t lie. I was talking to Brian and we were getting ready to get somebody here. That would’ve taken so much out of our staff to scratch Bum. We had guys on alert.”
If the Giants had run through their bullpen again, they planned to put Mike Kickham on a red-eye from Albuquerque. Panik, who is out just a day or two with a sprained ankle, probably would have returned to Fresno.
Instead, the Giants avoided a roster shuffle, positioned themselves to try for their first four-game sweep in Philadelphia since 1998, stretched their lead to two games over the Dodgers in the NL West –- and have a chance to go home with their bullpen in halfway decent shape when their archrivals arrive Friday to begin a three-game series.
The Giants also could wrap up a 6-1 trip with a victory behind Tim Hudson. They already have their first three-game winning streak since … well, you can probably figure it out: that three-game sweep of the Mets June 6-8, after which they stood 21 games over .500 and held a 9 ½-game lead in the NL West.
Have they turned a corner?
“It feels like it,” Bumgarner said. “We’re playing different –- a different kind of ball, I think.”
It is a more consistent kind. And nothing has been more steady than Pence’s fresh air. Baseball is a game that goes in cycles, with power or speed or defense valued and employed differently at times. But a reminder came earlier Wednesday, when Padres' Cameron Maybin got suspended 50 games for amphetamine use: perhaps the most underrated commodity in the game is energy on a consistent basis. It's the ability to work a tough at-bat no matter how many innings you've played in the last 24 hours.
“You want to get contributions from everyone,” Bochy said. “But the big guys are the guys who keep you consistent as far as scoring runs.”
Said Bumgarner: “Does he look tired? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s possible. Maybe when he goes home and goes to bed. Not when he’s here.”