Pence's intensity drives him -- and NL champions

Pence's intensity drives him -- and NL champions

Pence's intensity drives him -- and NL champions
SAN FRANCISCO -- Hunter Pence transfixed a reporter with his stare, the kind that looks like it can bore a hole through a skull, and volunteered some information about himself.

"I was called 'Captain Intensity' in high school," Pence said Tuesday. "They were making fun of me."

Nobody, but nobody, makes fun of Pence today.

World Series

Pence certainly has more than his share of quirks. Lots of players wear high socks, but the expanse of hosiery and his lanky build give him a unique look. He doesn't throw a ball as much as he slings it. And his impetuous swing won't serve as the basis for any instructional videos.

Maybe Pence looks a little goofy, but that makes him one of the most entertaining players to watch. Many fans following the World Series on television will be seeing the San Francisco Giants perform for the first time this season. And it's a good bet that Pence will be the Giant that viewers remark upon first and remember the longest once this Fall Classic pitting San Francisco against Detroit begins Wednesday.

"They're going to notice the uniform, the awkward stance, the weird way he throws," left-hander Javier Lopez said, "but ultimately what you're going to see is a guy who's out there grinding, playing hard."

As the nickname he earned at Arlington (Texas) High School indicated, Pence is all about effort. During Tuesday's customary pre-Series interview session, he even answered questions with the same zeal he displays on the diamond.

Asked what he thought of Detroit's Comerica Park, Pence said that he never has played there, but he didn't stop with that response.

"One of the really fun things is to go to different cities and see different stadiums," he said. "Major League Baseball is an amazing thing to be a part of. I'm grateful that I get an opportunity to go to Detroit. I've always wanted to."

Regarding the challenge of playing right field at AT&T Park, Pence said, "I am blessed to be able to play baseball for the Giants at AT&T Park! It's a beautiful field. I am grateful every day that I'm out there."

A reporter observed, "Now that the sugar high is wearing off, you have to face [Detroit ace Justin] Verlander." Pence's response was almost predictable: "I don't think the sugar high's wearing off."

To Pence, playing baseball is a privilege that's meant to be savored. That's partly why he has been the perfect pregame orator for the Giants during this postseason. Players agree that the inspiration he provided helped spur San Francisco to tie a record by winning six consecutive elimination games.

Lopez said that several Giants, including Pence and second baseman Marco Scutaro, were having lunch in Cincinnati before Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

"You could kind of sense from the body language of people that somebody needed to say something," Lopez said.

During the meal, they discussed the pressure that players were feeling, and Pence emerged as the choice to stand and deliver.

Though Pence joined the Giants shortly at the July 31 Trade Deadline, his lack of seniority on the club wasn't an issue. Meetings, said Lopez, "resonate a little more when it's an everyday position guy speaking."

Pence's talk that night resonated and motivated.

"I knew it was going to be great," Lopez said. "I didn't know that it was going to be that powerful and that passionate. That's kind of what got everybody. The intensity he had in the speech really got the guys going and got us focused."

Pence talked about never surrendering.

"That's what we needed to hear as a team, to have a guy who says, 'No matter what happens, whether it's good, bad or ugly, we're going to die on this field today,'" Lopez said.

Pence talked about affection.

"He was saying, 'I love you guys. I truly love every one of you and I want to play another day with you,'" left-hander Jeremy Affeldt said. "That kind of stuff is not said by a lot of guys. They're not that comfortable with that in the clubhouse."

Pence made his point.

"It got everybody on the same track," right-hander Matt Cain said.

Despite mustering one hit in nine innings, the Giants triumphed, 2-1, in 10 innings to record the first of their elimination-game victories.

On the field, Pence has lacked the impact he made during the regular season, when he amassed 24 homers and 104 RBIs with Philadelphia and the Giants. He owns a .188 postseason batting average (9-for-48) with one home run and three RBIs, but he finished the NL Championship Series in positive fashion, contributing two hits as the Giants thrashed St. Louis 9-0 in Game 7.

Pence's first hit, a third-inning, two-run double, was nothing short of an oddity. His bat shattered as it actually made contact with Joe Kelly's pitch three times.

"He's unique," manager Bruce Bochy said.

"Whether he strikes out or hits the ball, his at-bats are going to be exciting," Affeldt said.

And when he speaks, people listen. More importantly, they want to listen.

"You'd never hear a negative thought from that guy's mouth," Lopez said, "and that's really tough in a performance- and failure-based sport."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.