SAN FRANCISCO - In the seventh inning Tuesday, the Giants turned it back to 2014. Left fielder Gregor Blanco lined a double into the left field corner and second baseman Joe Panik scored easily. Right fielder Hunter Pence chugged home from first, scoring the go-ahead run.
Manager Bruce Bochy is looking to keep the throwback vibes going.
After a 5-4 walk-off win over the Padres, Bochy said Pence will start the final four games of the season in the leadoff spot. This is a nod to a man who has meant more to a franchise than most, but it's not simply about nostalgia.
Right now, Pence, relegated to backup duty for most of his final season in San Francisco, might be Bochy's hottest hitter. He had two hits Monday and scored three runs Tuesday, one coming on a homer to left.
"I know he's excited about being out there every day," Bochy said. "He's going to be leading off every game. He's excited about being out there every day as we wrap up."
More than anything, it seems like a cloud has been lifted for the fan favorite. He kept quiet about his future plans for most of September, but in recent days he has admitted that he hopes to play next season. He will try to play winter ball in an effort to prepare for another run somewhere, and he now seems to be taking it all in as his five-year contract approaches the finish line.
"It's a joy for me deep down inside to take this field for as many years as I have, and these last few games," Pence said.
It's been a joy for his teammates this week, too. The dugout erupted when Pence hit his homer, and Blanco emphatically clapped at second as Pence hit the plate and jumped to his feat, screaming. Madison Bumgarner, who had the walk-off hit, credited both for the way they're finishing this season.
"It says a lot about the character of those two guys," he said. "It's tough this time of year to come and play as hard as you ordinarily would."
That will never be in question with Pence. Bochy would have sent him out there the final four games anyway in recognition of all he has done, but it's a nice boost that he's playing so well. It'll make it that much easier to write his name atop the lineup four more times, including in games that will matter for the Dodgers, and Pence seemed grateful for the opportunity.
"I've been fortunate to have one game in the Major Leagues, much less as many as I've had," he said.