The Trib’s Martin Fennelly wrote a nice piece on Carlos Pena’s Saturday night performance that seems even more relevant after yesterday’s effort.
There were others who came through in this game, like rookie catcher John Jaso, whose RBI single
after Pena’s eighth-inning hit gave the Rays their first lead of this series, 3-2. But this was senior night, and Rays seniors, refusing to make this their last game, came through large.
Pena’s four big swings — he hit for the cycle in four straight at bats spanning Saturday night and Sunday afternoon — are certainly memorable. (Maybe even bigger than the result is the fact that Pena drove two balls into the left-centerfield gap, always the indicator that he is about to go on a tear). But, I think there is something bigger than those swings to be appreciated about the final weeks of Pena’s time as a Ray: his desire to finish this task before thinking about his next task.
No one has struggled like Pena. In fact, heading into the playoffs I wrote:
No, the biggest decision heading into October is what to do with emotional leader Carlos Pena. If it weren’t for a putrid May (.233 OBP, .250 SLG), his September 2010 (.278/.231, two home runs) would be the worst month of Pena’s career, resulting in a temporary stay on the bench. Maddon even spent two afternoons working with Pena in the cage, hoping that a different approach might break his slump … and it worked (Pena walked and homered in the Rays’ playoff-clinching win Tuesday night). Obviously, the Rays don’t want a scuffling Pena adding an automatic out to the lineup. But I suspect that Pena’s power potential — not to mention the psychology of the situation — will force Maddon’s hand into putting No. 23 on the lineup card in virtually every game.
In a way, I was right. Joe Maddon continued to be loyal to his veteran players and put Pena on the lineup card three times in the first four games. I just was wrong about the outcome of those decisions. (Honestly, who could blame me? Right?)
Looking back, I think I see where I went wrong. I assumed Pena was like other professional athletes, sensing the end of the season and the series; looking to the door instead of back into the clubhouse. Woops.
Rather than go quietly into that good night (“good night” = Scott Boras’s war room) Pena stoked the troops with a an apparently passionate speech about remembering this club’s humble beginnings. Then he turned around and found his groove. That was only possible because his skipper stuck with him through the lean times:
“It’s kept my faith in my own abilities, and faith that Joe (Maddon) and the guys have in me,” Pena said.
Chalk another win up for Merlot Joe. He beat the era of the mercenary pro athlete (ahem, Mr. James, Mr. LeBron James, I am looking at you) who spend their time looking to the next contract rather than finishing the current contract with a little faith. Thanks to his dedication, the Rays seniors — led by their senior captain — aren’t ready for graduation yet.