Pence's HR might be Series-altering

KANSAS CITY -- Has a World Series ever been won in the first inning of Game 1?

OK, the correct answer is no, even though the 2007 Rockies might not be so sure about that.

But what are we to make of that moment in the first inning Tuesday night, when Hunter Pence sent a baseball flying through the electrified Kansas City night, flying over the center-field fence and finally coming to earth in front of a sign that said, "Hunter Pence thinks we're in Kansas"?

We don't know, obviously, what's to come in this World Series. But it felt like more than just one swing of the bat. It felt like more than just a two-run homer that turned a 1-0 San Francisco Giants lead into a 3-0 Giants lead only five batters into this World Series.

As you listened to the pandemonium of a fired up, packed house at Kauffman Stadium transform into what-just-happened confusion, it was hard not to wonder if the course of the 110th World Series hadn't just been altered in a way no one in Kansas City saw coming.

"It's one game, bro," Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval said after a 7-1 thumping of the no-longer-undefeated-in-the-postseason Kansas City Royals in Game 1 of this World Series. "We've got a lot of games to play."

And that would be true. But you should know teams that win Game 1 of any World Series the way the Giants won this one tend to spray a lot of champagne in October.

Over the past 30 years, only one team -- the 1996 Braves (who threw a 12-1 wipeout at the Yankees in Yankee Stadium and then got Jim Leyritz-ed) -- has won a World Series opener by six runs or more and not gone on to win that Series. So there's that.

There's also this: Teams that win Game 1 by almost any score tend to ride that momentum all the way to the parade floats. Only one of the past 10, two of the past 17, three of the past 20 and four of the past 26 teams to win a World Series opener have wound up losing that Series. There seems to be a trend in there somewhere.

Finally, there were the unique circumstances that surrounded this particular Game 1 blowout: A host city that had waited 29 years for this night to come around. ... A home team that had ended the dreams of three other AL titans this month without losing a single game. ... And the amazing, overpowering noise and emotion that filled this ballpark on an evening that was supposed to remind Kansas City what the magic of October baseball was all about.

Until the shock of a first inning in which James Shields gave up hits to five of the first six batters he faced. Until Hunter Pence saw a 3-and-2 fastball headed his way, center-cut, down the middle of the plate and changed everything.

"To do that, in their park, in the first inning, the way they were playing," Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco said, "that was huge."

In the Royals' previous two series, against the Angels and Orioles, they trailed after exactly two innings in seven games. They trailed for nearly every minute of this game, from the fourth hitter on.

The Royals also had allowed only three runs over the final 24 innings of the ALCS. It took Shields just five hitters to give up three runs in this game. What does it feel like for the Giants when they get three runs for Madison Bumgarner before he ever throws a pitch?

"It feels," Sandoval chuckled, "like a vacation."

Blanco started the onslaught against Shields by dumping a leadoff single in front of the human Web Gem, Lorenzo Cain, and admitted afterward he was shocked Cain didn't catch it. After all, Blanco said, "It seemed like every ball in the playoffs that was hit, they were catching it."

Yeah, no kidding. But there were more balls to come that even Cain couldn't catch. Buster Posey singled. Sandoval doubled in the first run. Although Posey got thrown out at the plate on what seemed like a big play at the time, the momentum that out generated disappeared the moment Hunter Pence swung the bat.

Before that swing, Pence was 0-for-11 in his career against Shields, his worst 0-for against any pitcher in the big leagues. He'd hit one home run, against anyone, over the previous 50 days -- a Sept. 20 homer against the Padres' Andrew Cashner. He'd been telling his teammates he felt he'd been letting them down in this postseason.

"But this guy's will is so strong," Jake Peavy later said about Pence, "he doesn't care what happened the day before. It doesn't matter. He's going to come out today believing that he's going to find a way to beat you. He was 0-for-11 against James Shields, and I can promise you that not any of that mattered to him. He was in the moment. And he was going to find a way to do it. And you saw what happened."

As Shields hunched over, hands on his knees, trying to digest the pain of what had just happened, Pence roared around the bases, then floated toward his dugout, "cursing and jumping, like he usually does," Blanco said.

As he popped down the dugout steps, pounding palms, the Fox dugout microphones picked up the sound of a teammate saying, "Welcome to the show."

Whereupon Pence looked up and responded, "About time I helped."

From all accounts, he meant that seriously. Before that home run, he'd driven in just three runs and had just three extra-base hits in this entire postseason, or 44 plate appearances. He wasn't proud of that.

But "anybody who thinks Hunter Pence hasn't helped us win eight games to get here is sadly mistaken," Peavy said. "This guy helps merely by showing up and being Hunter Pence, by the teammate he is to these guys, by the defensive plays that he's made. He got a huge, two-strike, two-out hit off John Lackey [in Game 3 of the NLCS]. He's been a big part of this.

"And in that spot there," Peavy went on, "if James Shields gets out of that inning with only one run, after we had a guy thrown out at the plate, they would certainly have had some momentum there. So that was a huge, huge at-bat, to say the least."

For one thing, reliever Jeremy Affeldt said, "after a hit like that, the crowd kind of goes from screaming to 'Oh, man.'"

For another, it meant delivering an instant three-run lead to Bumgarner, a man who, conveniently, had never allowed a run in 15 World Series innings.

A couple hours later, that remarkable streak ended on a seventh-inning Salvador Perez homer. But those 21 consecutive shutout innings will still go down as the second longest streak to start a career, behind Christy Mathewson's 28 innings.

And one more thing: Bumgarner is now the only active pitcher who has won a game in three different World Series. The only other pitchers who have done that over the past three decades are Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine and Andy Pettitte (who did it in four). This guy has now done it before his 26th birthday, which is a scary thought for the rest of the NL West.

But afterward, the laid-back Bumgarner got more animated talking about Pence than about himself.

"It's been an honor and a blessing to have him as a teammate," Bumgarner said.

"I paid him to say that," Pence retorted.

The real payoff was the baseball Hunter Pence fired toward the Kauffman Stadium waterfalls in the first inning. Will this World Series ever be the same? We're about to find out.