Hunter Pence’s piercing blue eyes grow even wider when he hears the word playoffs.
Reaching the postseason is no longer a dream for Pence. It’s an expectation.
When the Phillies acquired the two-time All-Star right fielder from Houston last July, Pence jumped from one of the worst teams in the majors to one of the best. He got his first taste of pennant fever, and wants more.
“Words can’t describe how amazing it was,” Pence said. “Losing in the first round was pretty painful, but it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Despite a franchise-record and major league-leading 102 wins, the Phillies lost in five games to eventual World Series champion St. Louis in the NL division series. It was a bitter disappointment for fans and everyone in the organization.
Winning five straight division titles and the 2008 World Series raised expectations to enormous levels in Philadelphia. Now, anything less than another championship isn’t considered a success.
For some, that’s pressure. For Pence, it’s an adrenaline rush.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “It’s a great time to be a part of this organization. It’s great from the top down. The fans are incredible and in this clubhouse, the expectations are to win a World Series. You couldn’t ask for more.”
Pence was considered the missing piece the Phillies needed on offense last year. The team couldn’t find a viable replacement for Jayson Werth, so general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made another major trade with the Astros to get Pence.
Pence hit .324 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in 54 games for Philadelphia. He finished the season at .314 with 22 homers and a career-best 97 RBIs. Late in the season, Pence replaced Chase Utley as the No. 3 batter, a spot usually reserved for the best all-around hitter in the lineup. With slugger Ryan Howard out indefinitely, Pence may have to bat cleanup to start the season.
“I’m pretty comfortable anywhere,” he said. “They ask me what the difference is and I can’t explain a difference. When you get up to bat, you look at the situation. The difference is what the pitcher is throwing and who’s on base. They have to throw the ball over the plate and you have to hit and find a way to get the job done and help your team win.