The one thing people thought Hunter Pence was going to bring to the Phils line up was protection for Ryan Howard. Many felt Howard would see better pitchers, knowing he had a better hitter behind him team’s wouldn’t want to pitch around Howard to get to.
Whether it held true or not, for one night, Pence’s presence meant Howard could go off on opposing pitching. The Big Piece did just that, going 4-for-4 with three RBIs to help the Phils beat Pittsburgh, 7-4, Saturday night.
All Pence had to do was stand in the batter’s box and Howard knew he was going to get the pitches he will want to hit if he’s patient. It could have been that or it could have been the fact that the Pirates starter James McDonald isn’t that good. But the fact of the matter is that Howard got the job done tonight.
Howard’s big day started in the 2nd. The Phils slugger took McDonald deep to center, bouncing his 21st home run off the ivy to make it a 1-0 game. He then drove in his second run in the 3rd on an RBI double. His third RBI came in the 4th on a single.
With a chance to hit for the cycle in the 6th, Howard ripped another double off the wall in center. Howard thought the ball was gone and could have probably had a shot at a triple if he was busting all the way. But he stopped at second for his third extra base hit of the game. He walked in his final at-bat, ending his cycle bid.
In Pence’s debut, he went 1-for-5 with his first hit coming in the 8th inning. But the 28-year-old right fielder was robbed of a base hit his very first at-bat. Pence hit a ball up the middle in the 2nd inning. Neil Walker made the stop and threw to first. 1B umpire Angel Hernandez called Pence out despite the fact Pence clearly was ahead of the throw.
Pence’s love affair with the fans started three hours before game time. He gave the hundreds of fans in attendance a show during batting practice, ripping a few balls into the upper deck in left field.
Before the game got underway, the crowd reacted loudly when Pence’s name was introduced in the starting line up and they gave him and even louder ovation in right field when he took his place before the first inning. The crowd saluted him once again when he stepped up to the plate after Howard’s home run.
But the final interaction – and the one that left a soon-to-be lasting impact in the fans’ hearts – came in the 9th. After Pence’s first single in the 8th, he jogged out and waved thank you to the fans before the inning started. The fans chanted his name and he raised his glove one more time to thank the fans.
Cliff Lee also pitched tonight (who knew?). He allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out 11 in 7 1/3 innings of work. Manuel probably could have pulled Lee after seven innings but opted not to, causing the left-hander to allow two runs in the 8th before being pulled for Antonio Bastardo.
Ryan Madson pitched a perfect 9th, striking out the side for his 18th save on the season.
2B: Howard 2 (23), Ruiz (16). 3B: Victorino (12). HR: Howard (21), Rollins (13).
WP: Lee (10-7). LP: McDonald (7-5). S: Madson (18).