Texas Rangers

Pence explains how he connected for a pinch-hit grand slam that fueled a Rangers comeback

Hunter Pence wasn’t just sitting on the bench for the first seven innings Wednesday popping sunflower seeds and sneaking into the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse to check his soaps.

He knew who he might face in the later innings if called upon to pinch hit, so he busied himself coming up with how he might attack Michael Feliz. He watched as Feliz loaded the bases in the eighth inning with two walks after Delino DeShields beat out a double-play grounder.

Pence, the Arlington native, thought he might get a first-pitch slider. He went to the plate as the tying run with the Rangers trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by four.

Feliz threw a slider, and Pence didn’t miss it.

Pence lofted a pinch-hit grand slam high off the left-field foul pole, and the Rangers followed with three more two-out runs in the ninth inning to stun the Pirates 9-6 at PNC Park.

Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor hit two-run homers, with Gallo becoming the fastest hitter in American League history to reach 100 career home runs.

But that became a nice footnote to what really mattered most, the Rangers overcoming multiple mistakes and a 6-2 hole to avoid a second two-game sweep to the Pirates in a week’s time.

“I had an approach,” Pence said. “Two innings before I kind of had an idea of when I was batting, and through my at-bats I was just feeling like I wanted to look for a front-door slider and try catch it out front or just a slider in general. He threw the pitch I was looking for first pitch and I tried to put my swing on it.”

He did, and hit knocked the Pirates to the mat. Ariel Jurado worked a perfect eighth, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa doubled in Nomar Mazara from first base with two outs in the ninth for a 7-6 lead.

Odor followed with his third homer of the season, and Chris Martin worked a perfect ninth for his first save with the Rangers.

Pence’s grand slam was the seventh of his career, his first in more than three years.

“It feels good to tie the game up, but you don’t get to excited until you take the lead and win the game,” he said. “You know it’s definitely a momentum shift and gets everybody fired up.”

Gallo gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in the fourth as he launched a 443-foot blast that bounced into the Allegheny River beyond right-center field. He unseated Mark McGwire as the fastest to hit 100, doing it in his 377th game.

Only two players in MLB history, Ryan Howard (325) and Ralph Kiner (376), have done it quicker than Gallo.

“Three years ago if you told me I’d have this record I would have told you you were crazy,” Gallo said. “I’m proud of myself for getting to his point.”

Pence, who homered and drive in four Tuesday, could be looking at more playing time. The Rangers optioned DeShields to Triple A Nashville after the game to keep an eighth reliever in the bullpen and to also avoid losing Logan Forsythe or Danny Santana, who don’t have minor-league options remaining, on waivers.

“Delino is a valuable player. He’s a big leaguer,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “At this point in time, we are choosing to keep a deeper bullpen and didn’t want to cut ties permanently with anyone. We expect Delino will play every day in Nashville, get himself going, and be ready to help us again this year.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram