Baseball’s most significant streak came to an end the first week of Spring Training. What this means for the reigning World Series champs, and Hunter Pence, baseball’s most-inspirational Iron Man.
By Andrew Pridgen
Remember that number. Write it down on the back of your hand. Put it on a T-shirt. If you get drafted by the Yankees, stamp it on your back.
383 is the most important current streak in baseball. It’s the number of games Hunter Pence has played in a row.
In that time, Pence has hit .271 for the Giants. He’s been an instrumental bat and glove. He’s collected 408 hits, 225 runs, hit 54 bombs and driven in 218—leading the team in all.
But that’s not why it’s important.
In that time, he stood up like Brother Bluto in the middle of the visitors’ clubhouse when the team was facing a three-game-sweep elimination in the 2012 LDS against the fast-pitching, hot-batted Reds, and made a speech.
After having been traded to the club just six weeks earlier from the moribund Phillies, Pence said he wasn’t ready to go home. He wanted to play one more game. The off-season was there, but it could wait.
And who’s with me?
WHO’S WITH ME?
One by one the teammates, who’d only known him since August, stood up. Side by side. Shoulder to shoulder. Crazy eyes meet crazy eyes. The slow clap started. The sunflower seed shower started. Cue music. Cue dancing. Cue fireworks.
Three weeks later, Pence sprinted in from the outfield, hat flying off, hair ablaze, all legs and arms and yips—he dived into the scrum. “The Preacher” and his prophecy came true.
Two years later, he did it again. This time the stage was bigger, the scenario equally improbable. The streaky and tired Giants collapsed into the playoffs with a Wild Card bid. Pence, on the team’s last regular season home game, held the fan-appreciation-day crowd of 40k plus captive for 20 minutes after the final out.
“Today instead of saying we’re together—we’re going to be together…Today we’re going to pull every fiber of our beings collective—I’m going to challenge each and every one of you to see yourselves as a World Series Champion. This season, we got to the playoffs. We got step one. Thank you….”
And then, he did the unthinkable, the show-me-the-clip moment. He got all 40k standing and chanting, in unison, doing the Daniel Bryan ‘Yes Yes Yes.’
“Right now,” he said, “we’re not guaranteed another game here at home. We gotta go earn that. It’s part of the journey. Do you want to see another game here at home?”
“Yes. Yes. Yes.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. That’s together.”
“…It’s not weird if you gotta wear your own hat, or be wearing your Buster Posey jersey or be driving in your car so Buster can hit a home run or Affeldt can strike someone out throwing scud….It’s not weird.”
Thursday evening the Giants got the news that the streak ends at 383. Pence will be out an optimistic six to eight weeks after a Cubs prospect named Corey Black ran a fastball inside. Mid-season, Pence backs off that pitch, maybe it nips at his jersey. But it’s the first week of March and it got him square in the forearm.
Pence suffered what team docs are calling a “nondisplaced fracture of his left ulna.”
This probably means no scooter rides for awhile, but it also means the Giants’ World Series hangover may smart more than a seven-hour drive home from Vegas Memorial Day Monday. The Yankees’ Curtis Granderson suffered a similar break in 2013 during Spring Training and ended up playing only 61 games and hitting .229 that season.
It’s one of those sneaky, quirky injuries that affects or at least informs every at bat, every trot out to the field over the next calendar year. Pence’s specialty, since he smashed his curls underneath a black cap, is to play the wind-whipped carom-and-clang of AT&T’s arrogant right field like a Strad.
Right, which brutalizes hitters and fielders equally, knocking down homers and turning sharp-hit singles into stand-up triples on a misplay, requires a special kind of athlete with a special kind of attitude to dive when holding up will do. To get a jump before he can track. To slam into a wall full-out knowing he’s not the one made of bricks.
Nobody got it right till Hunter (apologies to Armando Rios).
Giants GM Brian Sabean, who took heat in the off-season for not bringing in a bat or a personality to replace third baseman Pablo Sandoval, may have Michael Moye on line one for the services of one Josh Hamilton before long. Travis Ishikawa, who plays a little first and a little left and sometimes hits LCS walk-offs against St. Louis, will join an outfield platoon of former Royals Justin Maxwell and Nori Aoki along with role players Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez—none of whom has experience in right.
Not exactly Combs, Ruth and Meusel. Hell, not exactly the Padres’ Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers either.
The good news is, Opening Day, Game 384—Hunter Pence will be in the clubhouse—counting down to start the streak over at 1.