SAN FRANCISCO -- You might remember those signs toted by fans that bore goofy declarations about Hunter Pence's perceived habits. They proliferated about a year ago but have mostly vanished this season. That's possibly because everybody knows what matters most about the man: Hunter Pence is a winning ballplayer.
Pence reinforced that truth in the Giants' 9-3 Interleague triumph Friday night over the Oakland A's. He hammered a pair of RBI doubles while recording his first four-hit game of the season as the Giants secured their ninth victory in 10 games. San Francisco also defeated the A's for only the third time in 10 meetings.
Characterizing Pence as essential to the Giants' success is an understatement. They're 22-7 when he starts, reflecting his multifaceted contributions to the club. Though he tends to bat in the middle of the order, he galvanizes the offense as much as any leadoff hitter. Consider: The Giants have averaged 5.76 runs per game when he's in the lineup. When he doesn't start, San Francisco's per-game average dwindles to 3.78 runs.
"He's one of our guys. He makes a difference," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's how good he is. ... Any time you lose a core player, that makes it a little tougher. He certainly makes us a different club."
Without Pence, who missed the season's first 37 games with a fractured forearm, the Giants' early goal was staying relatively close to Los Angeles in the National League West standings. With Pence anchoring right field, the Giants' hopes of surpassing the Dodgers have been restored, particularly since he returned early this month from missing 30 more games with left wrist tendinitis.
Pence looked healthy Friday. His 15th career game with at least four hits lifted his batting average to .311. He has 28 RBIs in 30 games, which suggests consistency. But, as Pence pointed out, he endures a season's ebb and flow as much as any other ballplayer.
"Some days I feel great. Some days are a grind," he said.
Pence demonstrated immediately this would be among his easier nights. He followed Buster Posey's first-inning sacrifice fly by doubling home Matt Duffy. Pence singled in the third and doubled to score Posey in the fifth before singling in the sixth. An eighth-inning popup prevented Pence from achieving a perfect night at the plate.
Minutes after finishing Friday's game, Pence sounded ready for Saturday's.
"I think it's a good feeling this time of year to be involved in the race to play some playoff ball," Pence said. "Every one of these games is really important for us. So for me, my day's exciting. We're having a lot of fun just competing."