Spirited Pence brings out best in Giants 

click to enlarge Since returning from the disabled list on May 16, Hunter Pence has made his presence felt, helping the Giants take three out of four on the road against the Cincinnati Reds along with a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers at home. - BECK DIEFENBACH/AP
  • Beck Diefenbach/AP
  • Since returning from the disabled list on May 16, Hunter Pence has made his presence felt, helping the Giants take three out of four on the road against the Cincinnati Reds along with a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers at home.

The Giants swear it's a tangible thing. They feel it makes a difference in some way. While several major league front offices and every stat geek will scream it means nothing, they think it affects them in a real and measurable way.

Hunter Pence's spirit, energy and infectious positive vibe are qualities his teammates rave about. From Houston to Philadelphia to San Francisco, the outfielder's all-out, bug-eyed and sometimes awkward style has played as well in the dugout and clubhouse as it has on the diamond.

"It's nice to have our right fielder back," manager Bruce Bochy said.

Whether they realized it or not, the Giants missed more than just Pence's on-field contributions while he was out for their first 36 games recovering from a fractured left forearm. He returned to the lineup on May 16 in Cincinnati, and through his first seven starts, they did not lose a game, including a three-game sweep of the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers at home.

"We missed every thing about him. He is just a natural-born leader for this clubhouse," teammate Brandon Belt said. "He brings an energy when he is in the lineup, and I think everybody can feel that.

"We were all pretty pumped when we heard Hunter was coming back because we know what he can bring. It can be hard to explain, but it's like the players can really feel it."

The win-loss record feels it, too.

The Giants had certainly recovered from an atrocious 4-10 start before Pence was penned back into the starting lineup in right field. They batted a respectable .281 and averaged four runs in the 22 games immediately before his return.

In Pence's first two games, he went 4 for 8 with a home run and five runs scored. He followed that with a couple of poor offensive showings in his first games at AT&T Park since Game 5 of the World Series, but he contributed a difficult catch in the pushing wind on Adrian Gonzalez's 410-foot fly ball into triples alley.

"I'm not sure many people can get there and make that play on that one except for him," said Tim Hudson, who had his hide saved in a one-run game in the sixth inning.

Pence, who had 47 home runs in his first two full seasons with the team, picked up a couple hits and RBI in the finale against the Dodgers. But even when he does not show up in the "key plays" part of the game summary, he has an impact.

Pence lengthens a lineup that seems to be shallow beyond Buster Posey at times. Belt and Brandon Crawford are having fine seasons so far, and a few others have been occasional contributors. But other than Posey, none of them rivals the presence that Pence has had in recent years.

"He's one of those guys you have to prepare for, one you have to sort of examine where he is in the lineup and how his spot affects other things," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

The overall effect starts when Pence rolls into the home clubhouse on his scooter. It lasts through pre-game routines and the nine or so innings when everything counts.

Watching him interact with teammates or bursting with energy on the field provides a public snippet of Pence's personality. Talking to him as a media member gives you less, as the nine-year veteran is thoughtful but bland with his words.

"I'm very grateful that I'm back," Pence said. "I'm very excited. I'm trying to hold that in. It's about the team, though. I'm just playing the game with them."

That is about how candid Pence has been during his career. His teammates see a completely different level of who he genuinely is, though. Jimmy Rollins was a Phillies teammate for just 155 games, but it was enough for the new Dodgers shortstop to appreciate his Hunter Pence Experience.

"Hunter, man," Rollins said with a head shake and chuckle. "That dude is one of my favorites."

From his hiked-up pants to his striped socks to his wacky hairstyle, Pence is also a fan favorite. Two World Series runs with the guy obviously help those feelings.

There is not an advanced metric or statistical formula to quantify every way Pence stamps a baseball game. In this age of counting everything, he provides not only All-Star-worthy numbers, but also a presence the Giants say is invaluable.

"He's one of those guys that it's not just the talent he brings," Bochy said. "It's who he is —his personality, his energy. He makes us a better ball club."

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Anthony Witrado

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