ST. LOUIS -- The 2-2 pitch came out of the right hand of Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs and seemed to be homing in on the center of the plate, just above the knees, a hitter's pitch.
In the batter's box, Giants right fielder Hunter Pence knew what was at stake. His team was down by a run in the top of the seventh, but had runners on first and second with just one out in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium. He began his swing, intending to do some damage.
At the last moment, though, the pitch began to break toward the outside of the plate. Slider. Pence lunged at the ball but missed, striking out and ending up on one knee. It was an apt visual for the Giants' offense in Wednesday's 3-1 loss to the Cardinals, especially for the middle of the order. He finished the game hitless, stranding five runners, two of them in scoring position.
"I'm the goat today. I didn't get the job done with big opportunities. And I'm going to go home and learn from what happened, come back for a big game tomorrow and be hungry," he said afterward. "Jim Thome said something to me earlier this year that I really liked. He said when he has a bad game, he goes home and gets better because of it. It makes him better. And hopefully, I'm able to do that. I'm going to get ready for [Cardinals Game 4 starter Adam] Wainwright and continue to push. We've got a lot of series left."
Pence said he won't fret and his confidence remains as high as ever.
"These things happen," he said. "Obviously, you don't feel good about it, but you try to learn from it. That's how I look at it. I'm going to try to be prepared and no try to do too much. Just try to take what they give me and let it happen. That means not trying to do too much. And don't swing at balls. Swing at strikes and hit it hard.
Both Buster Posey and Hunter Pence have cooled off in October after enjoying big regular seasons
.336, 24 HRs, 103 RBIs
.207, 2 HRs, 5 RBIs
.253, 24 HRs, 104 RBIs
.161, 0 HRs, 0 RBIs
"I always feel good with a bat in my hands. I'm always excited in the batter's box. I love to hit. That's just how I am. I feel pretty calm. I feel pretty good. It just didn't happen."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy admitted he's considering dropping Pence down in the order.
"We might talk about it," Bochy said. "We had our chances. We left too many on base. What you try to do in a game is create those chances, and he's the guy we want up there with men on base. He knocked in over a hundred runs this year. He's got a knack for driving in runs. They made good pitches. He's got to put this behind him."
Said Pence: "Wherever he wants to put me, I'm going to give him my all. I haven't gotten it done yet but I come here feeling confident every day no matter what."
San Francisco's Nos. 3-4-5 hitters -- Pablo Sandoval, NL MVP candidate Buster Posey and Pence -- have been largely held in check so far in the NLCS. And that's one reason the Giants find themselves down, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series. But Pence has been having the most trouble.
In the third inning, the Giants had one run in and a runner on third with one out when Posey was walked intentionally to get to Pence, who grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the fifth, with two outs and a runner on first, he grounded into a force play. And in the seventh, as noted, he struck out with runners on first and second and one out.
The Giants left 11 runners on base and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, so Pence wasn't alone. But the fact that this is a continuation of his postseason woes puts him in the spotlight. His playoffs totals this October: 5-for-31 (.161). And he still doesn't have an extra-base hit or an RBI.
"He's been trying to do everything that he can," said ace right-hander Matt Cain. "Sometimes it just doesn't happen. None of us are worried about him. We know what he's capable of. And you know what? We're going to need him for the rest of these games."
Pence has gotten some credit for helping the Giants come back from the brink of elimination in the NL Division Series with his fiery pregame talks. And that counts for something. Still, if San Francisco is going to advance to the World Series this year, it's going to have to get more production from the middle of its order.
And right now Pence, on one knee, is the picture of that futility.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.