Why Hunter Pence's penultimate Giants homer was big for playoff push

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Pence's penultimate Giants homer was huge for playoff push originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Hunter Pence's penultimate home run in a Giants uniform just might have been one of their biggest hits this season.

Pence's pinch-hit three-run home run on Aug. 11 initiated the Giants' 7-6 comeback win over the Houston Astros. Without that victory, San Francisco currently would be on the outside looking in at the MLB playoffs.

The Giants entered Saturday, the day Pence retired after 14 MLB seasons, with a one-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies for the NL's eighth and final playoff spot.

With such a thin margin actively separating the Giants from making the playoffs and ending their season Sunday, you can point to any number of wins as the difference. Highlighting Pence's last meaningful moment is orange and black is narratively convenient, considering he retired just over a month after being released in the middle of a season in which he slashed .096/.161/.250 and was worth almost a full win below replacement.

But considering all the lifts Pence has provided the Giants over the years, it's also only fitting to look at this season as him giving them one last boost.

Pence earned the nickname "The Reverend" after providing a fiery pregame speech with the Giants down two-games-to-none in the 2012 NLDS, inspiring them along the way to a World Series run. He was dominant in the 2014 World Series, and Pence very well could've been the World Series MVP that year were it not for Madison Bumgarner's own legendary stretch in the Fall Classic. Giants fans celebrated Pence's last game with the team in 2018, and they reveled in his return this offseason, too.

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The 2020 Giants, if they make the playoffs, will etch their names in the franchise's history books without Pence. He was designated for assignment over a month ago, when San Francisco was in the midst of what would become a season-long seven-game winning streak. The Giants were 13-16 at the time of his release, and they're 16-13 since.

Yet, the Giants will have to make playoffs outright, since they don't own the tiebreaker over any other teams. San Francisco's cushion could be just a game or two, and any number of close calls could be credited for the Giants' playoff berth. They had just a six percent chance of beating the Astros on Aug. 11 before Pence's homer got them back in the game, and an 18 percent chance after his ninth-inning single moved the tying run into scoring position.

If the Giants do clinch a playoff spot, Pence's second-to-last trip around the bases will be a big reason why.

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