There is a movement afoot in Philadelphia to commemorate each July 29th as “Ruben Amaro, Jr. Day.” For the third consecutive year, the Phillies general manager has managed to complete a blockbuster trade just days before the July 31 deadline.
July 29, 2009 saw the Phillies acquire Cliff Lee, July 29, 2010 marked the day that Amaro went out and snagged Roy Oswalt and, of course, this year’s anniversary, witnessed Ruben attain the services of one Hunter Andrew Pence, the former All-Star outfielder of the Houston Astros.
The cost to the Phillies was considerable, as they parted ways with first baseman Jonathan Singleton, considered by many to be a tremendous hitting prospect with great plate discipline, a hard throwing Texan, right-hander Jarred Cosart, who has been clocked at 98 mph on occasion and another young right-handed pitcher named Josh Zeid. However, the Phillies struggles by their fifth place hitters have been well documented and consequently, Ryan Howard, their chief run producer, has seen less and less hittable pitches.
Hunter Pence also provides the Phillies with a right-handed bat in a predominately left-handed middle of the order. Pence’s presence in the lineup paid immediate dividends in his initial game with the Phillies and not necessarily from his own contributions.
On July 29, in front of Citizens Bank Park’s 181st consecutive regular season sellout, with Pence penciled in batting fifth behind Howard, big Ryan finally received some decent pitches to hit. And hit them he did, as he crushed a tremendous blast over the center field fence which caromed off the ivy covered wall in front of “Ashburn Alley” in the bottom of the second inning, giving the Phillies a 1-0 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
In the bottom of the third inning with the Phillies up 2-0, Howard smacked a double off of the left-field wall, which provided the Phillies with a 3-0 edge. In the fourth inning, Howard laced a hard single to right, scoring Jimmy Rollins for a 5-0 lead. In the bottom of the sixth, Howard, needing just a triple to complete the “cycle,” blasted a long double to left-center field.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Phillies clinging to a 6-4 advantage, manager Clint Hurdle had seen enough of Ryan Howard. With Shane Victorino on third and one out, the Pittsburgh skipper decided to walk the big man intentionally. Up stepped Hunter Pence, who proceeded to line a 1-0 pitch into center for his first hit as a Phillie. Finally, Ryan Howard had a “bat” behind him to “protect” him in the order.
Pence’s second day in a Phillies uniform proved even more fruitful. With the Phillies tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 10th inning, Pence stepped in against young Pirate southpaw, Tony Watson. With one out and no one on base, Hunter lined a 2-1 offering into the left field corner for a double. Moments later, Pence scored the winning run on a line drive double to right field by Raul Ibanez. The victory completed a three-game sweep over the Central Division contending Pittsburgh club and ended an emotional roller coaster ride of a weekend for Pence, who had bade an emotional farewell to his Astro teammates on Friday night.
Hunter Pence, all arms and legs has an extremely unorthodox style of hitting. Pence also wields a bat which looks like it comes out of a 1950’s time warp. It’s an old-fashioned thick-handled and heavy-barreled weapon, which he “chokes up” on, making him resemble a rather menacing version of Nellie Fox or Phil Rizzuto. And when he makes contact, he’s exciting to watch, as his gangly frame hustles for the extra base. Phillies fans are known to enjoy their “gamers” and Hunter Pence certainly fits the description.
His five-year totals as a Houston Astro are impressive. In 680 games, Pence accumulated 2649 at bats, scored 353 runs, banged out 768 hits, had 145 doubles and 24 triples, slamming 103 home runs, driving in 377 runs and stealing 61 bases. His lifetime batting average as an Astro was .290, with an OBP of .339 and a slugging percentage of .479. Although Pence is only signed through 2011 at 6.9 million this season, he is not eligible to become a free agent until 2014, so Phillies fans can breathe easily. Pence is arbitration eligible in 2012.
To make room for Pence on the roster, Domonic Brown, still considered to be a major part of the Phillies future, was optioned to Lehigh Valley, where he will be afforded the opportunity to play every day, rather than sit on the bench and watch Ibanez, Victorino and Pence.