When Hunter Pence starts, the Giants are 26-8.
That's a junk stat, of course. Correlation is not causation, unless it isn't the other way around. There's no reason to think the Giants are some kind of super team with Pence, just like there was no real reason to think they were a super team the last two years with Angel Pagan.
And yet, you've watched those games. You've seen Pence do excellent things on the field, and you've seen them result in Giants wins. He has five home runs this season.
May 17 @ Cincinnati (W)
May 26 @ Milwaukee (W)
July 10 vs. Philadelphia (W)
July 17 @ Arizona (W)
July 21 @ San Diego (W)
When Pence has just one run batted in, the Giants are 16-2. He is their Alpha and Omega, their everything. The Giants are on a 124-win pace with him in their lineup, and they would almost certainly be on their way to 124 wins if that random Cubs flunky didn't hit him with a pitch. And who's that chasing the Giants in the wild card hunt? Oh, how convenient.
On Wednesday, Pence was at his best. His first play might not look impressive to AT&T Park newbies, but you've seen 100 plays like it, with 97 or 98 of them breaking your heart:
When the camera cuts from this ...
... to this:
You know it's a triple, run scored. Peavy's already doing his welp-walk, and the Giants are down by a run. Worse, they have a runner at third and no outs. Instead, Pence comes careening into the middle of the frame, running at a full sprint and making the catch. It was a tougher play than it looked, and it saved a scoreless game.
Then, in the next inning, Pence caught a ball flat-footed, turned his body, uncorked that weird, disjointed throw of his, and it was a double play instead of a runner-on-third/one-out situation.
Phase I of his throwing motion is "The Glockenspiel," and it's used to transfer kinetic energy from his hips to his shoulder. Phase II is the "Blowing Dust out of the Nintendo Cartridge," in which he does something that science has proven doesn't actually work, but it does, and that's what makes his throw so strong. Phase III is the followthrough, known as "Uncle Grabby," and it's the secret to his accuracy. None of it makes sense. As long as it works, though, we'll all be thrilled.
Pence's final gift to the baseballing arts was his double in the seventh.
Here, perhaps, we have at least a rational reason for the Giants playing so much better when Pence is healthy. The Giants have six good, solid hitters in their lineup without Pence. When he comes back, he's something of a tipping point, one more flip of a loaded coin in the middle of all the other coin flips. There's just that much more of a chance that he's up instead of some double-play-prone goof, and it helps the Giants more than any single player should.
Or maybe the Giants are just in the middle of a hot stretch, and everything looks good in a hot stretch.
Regardless, Hunter Pence is a hero, a danged hero, and the Giants are better with him in the lineup. It's been 15 games since a pitcher threw seven complete innings against the Giants. Pence has been back for 17 games. Coincidence? Probably. I mean, wait, no, he changes everything, and we're lucky to have him. He's the kind of star who deserves to play behind a couple of star pitchers, don't you think?
Star pitchers like Jake Peavy! Well, he was a star on this warm day, befuddling the Brewers just enough. He got away with enough hangers that it's probably not safe to call him the #2 starter yet, but he's looked like a different pitcher since coming off the DL.
If the Pirates beat the Giants last year, remember how it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Giants were going to re-sign Peavy. He was that good at the end of the regular season, and he had the family ties with Bruce Bochy. He was a way to help the Giants' rotation without costing a draft pick or requiring an absurd contract. Then he had a solid NLDS start, a clunker in the NLCS, two clunkers in the World Series, and suddenly it was so very hard to imagine him as anything but a waste of money, a glorified fifth starter.
It couldn't just be a tired pitcher in the middle of his seventh month of pitching, no. Even though that pitcher was getting older and coming back from Jake Peavy surgery, that wasn't it. He was just bad and unwelcome. After three bad postseason starts!
This is the pitcher we would have been happy with if the Pirates had won, then. Not an ace. Not an eight-inning machine, start after start. Prone to bad outings and imperfect nibbling. But worth a team's time, and capable of helping them to the postseason.
As someone starting multiple games in the same best-of-seven series? Not sure about that, which is why the Giants are still going to be active at the deadline. But if they fail to swing a deal, at least it looks like they have three trustable pitchers for the rest of the regular season, with a Krusty-is-coming chance for a fourth with Matt Cain.
That would be an imperfect solution, but this is still a stronger team than I was expecting before the season. Peavy being closer to his second-half self would be a big part of that continuing.
The Giants threw their 13th shutout of the year, moving just one behind the 2012 Giants. Not bad for a team that wasn't supposed to be able to pitch four out of every five games.