Yes, the Philadelphia Phillies have struggled for most of this season, though they have just won four games in a row.

You can thank Hunter Pence for at least one of those victories.

In fact, thank Pence for a lot of things. He is, at this time, -- in my mind, at least -- the best player on the field for the Phils.

And even on those days when he's not the best player, he's certainly the player who leaves the field after every game having given 100 percent effort for nine innings.

To me, that matters.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say picking up Hunter Pence last season from the Houston Astros might be the best non-pitcher trade the Phillies have ever made.

To avoid any confusion, I did say "trade" not "free-agent acquisition." There's a difference.

And I did say "non-pitcher" because my trip down memory lane has revealed that just about every really good trade the Phils have ever made involved a pitcher -- some darned good ones, like four-time Cy Young award winner Steve Carlton (winner of 241 games for the Phillies), Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge, Jim Bunning and Curt Schilling, for example.

So I'll concede right off the bat that just about every one of those deals were superior trades to almost any deal made for position players.

Yes, there are lots of names you could mention -- Bobby Abreu, for example, who was a fine player for the Phils during the 91/2 years he played there, never hitting below .285 and hitting around 25 home runs each season.

Here's a name only us old-timers will remember -- Johnny Callison, an outstanding outfielder the Phils picked up in 1959, who finished second in the MVP voting in 1964 and made the National League All-Star team four times as a Phil.

For my money, though, I'd take Hunter Pence any day.

Pence came to the Phils the end of July, last season. He finished the year with the fourth-best batting average in the National League, .314, and he hit 22 home runs with 97 RBI.

So far this year, he's struggled a little bit with his batting average -- he's batting .248 through the first 38 games -- but he leads the team in home runs with nine and RBIs with 25. And I'd be willing to bet that by the end of the season he'll be hitting .300 or higher, because that's the kind of hitter he is.

Plus, he's one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball -- though he's muffed a couple early this season.

Still, I haven't hit on the reason I'm so enthusiastic about Pence. I don't necessarily think he's the best player in the National League. Or even the most talented.

But I haven't seen too many players who work harder or hustle more than he does. And he does it whether the team is winning or losing, whether he's having a good day or not, whether he's just made an error or failed to get a hit in a crucial situation.

There is at least one constant in his game -- hustle.

I was watching a Phillies game last weekend and one player after another -- for both teams -- hit ground balls to the infield and loafed down the first-base line. Half-speed at best.

But not Pence. In a losing game, he was still busting his hump getting down the line. He ran like his pants were on fire on routine ground balls. And he hustles to and from his defensive position all the time. Some players can't be bothered to do that.

Why does that matter? Because that's the way the game is supposed to be played.

Pence reminds me of Pete Rose to tell you the truth, because that's how Rose played the game, too. Say what you want about Pete Rose, he was a winner on the field. He always hustled. He always gave 100 percent. He even ran out walks for goodness sakes.

You don't see that much anymore.

Pence hit a home run to win the game for the Phils on Tuesday night against the Houston Astros. It was a walk-off homer in the 10th inning. It took him less than 20 seconds to round the bases.

There is a sense of urgency in his game. And I like it.

That's not to say the Phils are loaded with slackers. I wouldn't go that far. But they've got the best starting pitching staff in the major leagues, and they're 19-19, in last place in the National League East Division, 41/2 games out of first place.

A team full of Pences might be doing better. That's all I'm saying.

The best position-player trade in the history of the Phillies? Show me one better.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick