SAN FRANCISCO — Only Hunter Pence. Only the athletically awkward Pence could have swung his bat, broken it, hit a pitch three times and come away with a three-run double in the biggest game of the season for the San Francisco Giants.
And only Ozzie Smith-like reflexes from St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma could have stopped Pence's grounder from getting through. Kozma didn't show them.
In one of the strangest moments you'll see on a baseball field, Pence's three-hit swing fooled Kozma, who broke the wrong way as the ball sliced and hopped its way into center field, giving Pence two RBIs in the third inning of NLCS Game 7 on Monday night. Outfielder Jon Jay misplayed the ball — as if it were still reacting by Pence's hard-to-believe swing — and a third run scored. Pence, after seeing a video replay via the Fox TV broadcast, said he caught a break. So to speak.
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"That's in super-slo-mo. I didn't even feel that," Pence said. "You couldn't see that with your eye. It broke my bat and I thought I had just stayed inside it. I guess fate just found a way."
The Giants have found their way to the World Series for the second time in three seasons, with Pence's funky hit the centerpiece in a five-run third inning that sparked them to a 9-0 victory. St. Louis had led the series 3-1 before crumbling. Kozma, a hero down the stretch of the regular season and in the NLDS against Washington, had an adventurous time in the field for the entire series against the Giants. This play didn't appear to be his fault, however.
"The read I got was that it was going to the hole," Kozma said.
The next thing you know, the ball's in center field.
These animations from MLB GIFs shows how the ball changed direction on Kozma, as if it were blown by an angel's kiss. This amazing animation shows Pence's bat breaking, yet keeping enough integrity to not only hit the ball three times, but hit it hard enough for a seeing-eye single. Like trying to play stickball with a used-up wrapping paper tube.
In case you're wondering about a batter being out because of a "double hit" (or in this case, a triple hit), Pence's hit is protected because the bat broke. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated filed this post, explaining:
Rule 6.05 (h) states that a batter is ruled out and the play is ruled dead with no advancement by the runners when the bat hits a ball a second time in fair territory. But the rule does include a comment specifically to address the circumstance of a broken bat causing a double hit. It states, "if a bat breaks and part of it is in fair territory and is hit by a batted ball or part of it hits a runner or fielder, play shall continue and no interference called."
It's possible, even probable, that a triple-hit has happened before. It's just hard to pick up something like that without the neat slo-mo cameras. And, as Pence said, you couldn't tell with the naked eye when it happened.
But a ball changing direction like that? Kozma, who had rescued the Cardinals at shortstop after Rafael Furcal went down with a season-ending injury, definitely needed to have a Wizard-type moment to make a play on it. And not even Ozzie Smith with the Cardinals. Ozzie with the Padres.
This would have been Kozma's only hope. Help, Mr. Wizard!
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