San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence struggled in September. And October wasn’t a whole lot better.
Until the first inning Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
With one mighty swing, Pence drilled a 3-2 pitch from James Shields over the center-field wall for a two-run homer that sparked the Giants’ 7-1 victory over the Royals in game one of the World Series.
Pence came to the plate with a runner at second and two out in the first with the Giants leading 1-0. Buster Posey had just been thrown out at the plate on Pablo Sandoval’s RBI double.
Pence who ranked third in the National League with a .351 average (40 for 114) with runners in scoring position and first in the majors with a .404 average (19 for 47) with runners in scoring position and two out, worked the count to 3-2, taking one borderline pitch that could have been called strike three.
Then Pence, who had been hitless in 11 career at-bats against Shields, walloped a 403-foot shot for his first home run since Sept. 20 at San Diego.
The homer sucked the air out of the festive crowd of 40,459 attending the first World Series game at Kauffman Stadium since 1985, though Pence said, “It was loud in my head …
“I was excited we scored a run, that’s a good feeling. I thought it was a good call to bring Buster. They made a good play. Once that happened, in my mind, the situation was two outs, a runner on second, and I had to find a way to get him in.”
Pence, a 2014 All-Star, batted .165 in September, the fourth-worst average in the National League. He was four for 54 (.074) with two RBIs during the final 15 games of the regular season, with one hit in his last 28 at-bats.
Though he had reached base in all 10 Giants postseason games this season, thanks to walks in two hitless games, Pence had scratched out just a .256 batting average in the playoffs entering Tuesday.
But on Tuesday, he reached base four times, adding a double and two walks.
“Hunter had a good day,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “He’s a great talent. Like all good hitters, they have their ups and downs, but he’s been so consistent for us all year. He’s a tough out. He’s someone we counted on all year.”
Pence opened the fourth with his fourth double of the postseason and scored in a two-run inning that knocked out Shields and gave the Giants an insurmountable 5-0 lead.
Pence, a darling of social media, has been one of the Giants’ most dependable players. One of four major-league players to appear in all 162 games this season, he batted .277 and ranked second in the National League with 106 runs, tied for second with 10 triples and was third in hits with 180 while belting 20 home runs and driving in 74 runs.
“He’s a guy who always does something to inspire his teammates,” Bochy said. “Not just how he plays, but the energy he plays with. He loves this game so much. He loves to win, he’s a special guy.
“Not all guys can get themselves up every day the way he does. He’s the lowest-maintenance player I’ve ever had. You just put his name in the lineup and leave him alone.”