Embraced by fans, Pence settles into Philly
After several ovations, outfielder enjoys first game with new team
PHILADELPHIA -- Hunter Pence hopped on a late-morning flight Saturday in Milwaukee, flew to Detroit, changed planes and landed in Philadelphia in time to catch Phillies batting practice a little more than five hours later at Citizens Bank Park.
He had everything he needed.
Well, almost everything.
"I'm a little uncomfortable," said Pence, who joined the Phillies following Friday night's trade with the Houston Astros. "I don't have my spikes."
That seemed to be the only thing that went wrong for Pence on Saturday. As he emerged from the Phillies' clubhouse and made his way onto the field before a 7-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, he warmly greeted his new teammates. They seemed as excited to see him as he was to join a team with a chance to win the World Series. The Phillies started the night with the best record in baseball at 66-39. The Astros started the night with the worst record in baseball at 35-71.
"I'm telling everyone I just jumped 62 games in one day," he said with a smile. "I think that might be epic proportions. I don't think anyone can beat that. It's pretty cool. ... A lot of players never get this opportunity. I've never been a part of it yet. I would sacrifice a lot for this. I'm thrilled to be in here and ready to go."
Fans cheered wildly when Pence stepped onto the field to stretch before the game. He heard more cheers when Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker said his name during lineup introductions. He received an ovation as he ran to right field in the top of the first inning. He got another ovation as he stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the second inning.
It continued from there.
"The fans were giving me chills," Pence said. "To see that kind of support from my first game, it's awesome. Thank you."
Pence went 1-for-5 with one RBI. He grounded out in the first inning, although instant replay showed he clearly beat the throw. Pence ripped off his helmet as he passed first base, but returned to the Phillies' dugout with a smile. Fans reacted well to the way he hustled down the first-base line.
He went hitless in his first four at-bats, but singled to center field in the eighth inning to score a run after the Pirates intentionally walked Ryan Howard to face him.
The last 24 hours had been a whirlwind for Pence. He had spent his entire career with the Astros until he was pulled from Friday's game at Miller Park. He got emotional as he hugged his teammates in the dugout. Now, he is in Philadelphia, wearing red socks and red pinstripes, but with a chance to win.
"Wins just kind of give you a different demeanor," he said. "You can just see that with all the people around. The way it was going in Houston, the demeanor was rough. It's hard on you to lose every night. Any competitor, any person that plays, it wears on you. ... Now I'm in a place where they really want me, and we have a chance to do something special, to create some historic moments for Philadelphia and for the game of baseball. It's an unbelievable opportunity, and I couldn't be more grateful."
The Phillies sent four prospects to Houston to get Pence to play right field and hit fifth behind Howard: pitcher Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, pitcher Josh Zeid and a player to be named later. MLB.com considers Cosart and Singleton the 37th- and 38th-best prospects in baseball, respectively.
The Astros also sent the Phillies $2 million to offset the roughly $2.3 million Pence is owed the rest of the season.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. pulled the trigger because the Phillies needed more production in right field -- offensively and defensively -- and because Pence cannot become a free agent until after the 2013 season. The future of the organization is important, but with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and the rest of the roster performing, the GM wants to take advantage.
"We gave them what we feel are four very, very good players," Amaro said. "We gave up a significant package for this guy. Fortunately we had some multiples of some of this talent. It hurt, but we thought it was the right thing to do."
It seems unlikely the Phillies will make another trade before Sunday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline, but that seemed to be OK with Phillies fans. They got their man.
"When you come to Philadelphia and you play a game at this stadium as an opposing team, you see the passion," Pence said. "It's always exciting. You come here and you want to play in those intense environments. Now those guys have my back. And they're also going to be on my throat if I'm not playing the right way, which is how it should be. You want to be in a town where it's exciting and people are paying attention."
Now, he just needs his spikes.
The Phillies uniform requires red spikes, which Pence did not have. He ended up wearing spikes a half-size too small. To make matters worse, Pence is a Reebok guy, and the shoes were Nikes. "So I was doubly uncomfortable," he said.
But that could not ruin his night.
"I can't even begin to explain it," he said. "It's surreal. I'm absolutely ecstatic to be here."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.