Despite loss, Opening Day a thrill for Pence
Enthusiasm for the game has outfielder excited to get started
PHILADELPHIA -- Hunter Pence plays the game with the kind of boyhood enthusiasm that makes him a fan favorite, and playing nine innings in right field on Opening Day was still a tremendous thrill despite the Astros' heartbreaking loss to the Phillies on Friday afternoon.
Sure, Pence's desire to turn Houston into a winner runs deeper than that of just about anyone else in the clubhouse, but he offers a reminder that Opening Day is about a bigger picture. It's about a season filled with highs and lows, and the chance to make strides and achieve goals as the year progresses.
"The introductions, it's still a lot of fun [on] Opening Day," Pence said about 30 minutes after the Astros' 5-4 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. "I still have adrenaline going. I just got done working out after the game. It's a wonderful day. You want to get a win. Now that it's over with, we can move on. We have 161 more to go, and we've got a lot to prove. We've got to find a way to win the next two."
Pence arrived at the ballpark early Friday and soon had music pumping throughout the clubhouse. Never one to sit still, he bounced between his locker, the batting cage and the trainer's room and had the look of someone eager to get the season started.
Making his fourth Opening Day start for the Astros, Pence went 1-for-4 with a key double in the sixth inning against Roy Halladay. The Astros built a 4-0 lead and were ahead 4-2 in the ninth, but the Phillies rallied for three runs to spoil Opening Day.
"It was a great game," Pence said. "We came out and got in the fight and competed. They found some holes at the end and we weren't able to get the final outs, but we've got three games here. We've got two more to go, and we're going to keep going up there battling and going hard. I'm pretty happy with what we did today."
And rightfully so. The Astros swung the bats pretty well and were able to work deep counts against Halladay, played solid defense and got terrific pitching from starter Brett Myers and setup man Wilton Lopez.
"Everybody went up there and put up some tough fights, and we worked Halladay, one of the best pitchers in the game," Pence said. "So we worked his pitch count and got him out of there decently quick -- sixth inning, seventh inning, one of those two. That's not easy to do. He's got great stuff.
"You're going to have tough games. We're ready to get the next two. I really feel like we came out with energy, we came out together and everybody had each other's back and we're feeling good."
The excitement and anxiety of Opening Day is in the rearview mirror, but Pence is glad the grind of a 162-game season is under way.
"It's Game 1, and they got the win and they earned it, they came back in the clutch," Pence said. "We come out and we compete every day, and you build off it and you learn. I think that's what you're going to see all year long: Good games and hard-nosed baseball."
Pence knows no other way.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.