By: Noah Frank
When Brett Pill turned on a Wade LeBlanc changeup and sent it off the third level of the Western Metal Supply Company over the left field wall at Petco Park on the second pitch of his first Major League at-bat, it was the first time that many Giants fans had seen the young slugger. Some of them had heard, through Twitter, or through speculation from the various Bay Area beat writers assigned to the Giants, about Pill’s exploits at Triple-A this season, but few had actually seen the man hit. When he homered in his first Major League at-bat, though, he became the first Giant to do so since another powerful first baseman, by the name of Will “The Thrill” Clark. It’s funny, the power of ryhmes. Will. Pill. Suddenly, a new moniker was on the tip of Giants fans tongues everywhere: “Pill the Thrill”.
It may be a little early in Brett Pill’s Major League career to start bestowing him with nicknames attaching him to one of the most popular players in franchise history. But it can certainly be said that he has done his part in the time that he has been given this September to warrant serious consideration on next year’s 25-man roster. Entering tonight, he is batting .304 (14-for-46) with two doubles, two triples, two home runs and nine RBI. While the sample size is very small, he nevertheless owns the highest slugging percentage (.565) of any Giants player this season.
“It’s been a long time I’ve been waiting for it,” said Pill recently of his first-ever shot in The Show. “It’s everything I’ve dreamed of, so hopefully I can stay here for a little bit.”
For those who don’t know Pill’s story, this is a remarkable turnaround from this time last year. Coming off the best offensive season of his career in pitcher-friendly Connecticut in 2009, Pill was added to the Giants’ 40-man roster prior to the 2010 season. While he got off to a hot start that season and went on to lead the Grizzlies with 84 RBI, he batted just .252 with a .292 on-base percentage after the All-Star break. That led to the Giants decision to remove Pill from the 40-man, rather than extend the offer of a September call-up. It meant he would be placed on waivers, eligible for any other team to pick up, should they place him on their respective 40-man roster. Everyone passed.
So back Pill came to Fresno this spring. Unlike 2010, though, when he was the everyday starter at first base, he found himself facing a grim reality that saw him competing for playing time. By the end of April, free agent signee Brad Eldred, 2010 World Champion Travis Ishikawa, and the top prospect in the system, Brandon Belt, were all taking away time from Pill at first base. Thankfully for Brett— a notoriously slow starter whose .272 average in April of 2010 was the best of his career— he slugged his way to the tune of a .358 clip through the season’s first month, forcing manager Steve Decker to find a place for him. That place, as it would turn out, was second base, a position Pill had never manned in his professional career.
While nobody, especially Brett, would suggest that he was going to win any Gold Gloves at second, he played serviceably enough to keep his bat in the lineup. That proved to be crucial, as Pill would go on to hit .312 with 36 doubles, 25 home runs and 107 RBI in 133 games for Fresno this season. He finished in the top five in the Pacific Coast League in hits, extra-base hits and RBI. He also had the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in the league, fanning just once every 10.67 at-bats, a rarity for a power hitter. Still, though, in order for him to get a shot in the Majors this season, the Giants were going to have to purchase his contract again, meaning they would have to clear space on the 40-man roster.
That decision came down on August 31st, the day before the rosters expand to 40, allowing reinforcements to join the team. The Giants purchased Pill’s contract and activated him immediately, as he flew from Reno and joined the team in the dugout in the middle of that day’s game.
“I’ve never been up here,” said Pill of his journey to San Francisco. “It’s been awesome. Luckily I got to watch a few games before I got in there.”
A lot of players rue the time off between starts, something that is often used as a scapegoat for inconsistent performance, but Pill appreciated the chance to soak it all in.
“When we played (at AT&T Park) this place was sold out,” he remembered. “Then when we went to San Diego it was a little less of a crowd, so I think that might have helped a little bit too. My wife brought the dogs up and it kind of made me forget about baseball a little bit and made me just relax and play.”
Pill would have to wait until September 6th in San Diego to finally find his way into a game, but got the start that night against a familiar foe in LeBlanc.
“I hadn’t hit that guy (LeBlanc) all year,” laughed Pill as we sat in the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park a few days later. “I was like 0-for-12 against him, I think.”
And while Pill hadn’t been able to hit the crafty lefty in either Tucson or Fresno, both hitters’ parks, he rocketed a no doubter out of Petco Park, the most pitcher-friendly yard in the league. That earned him another start the next day. For good measure, he took Aaron Harang deep for his second home run in as many games as a big leaguer.
“I didn’t know how much I was going to be playing, so I just kind of took it like I did playing in Fresno,” Pill explained. “I just want to have good at-bats, be aggressive, take good swings. If I swing and miss, I swing and miss, but I didn’t want to get up there and be timid or passive. As long as I went up there and kind of aired it out I felt like whatever happens I felt like I gave it my best.”