Pena enjoying amazing season under the radar

By PA SportsTicker

TAMPA, Florida (Ticker)—Alex Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz all are All-Star sluggers who will garner heavy consideration for the American League MVP this season.

Funny that no one is mentioning Carlos Pena, who - outside of Rodriguez - has outhomered everyone in the Junior Circuit this season.

Pena added another chapter to his storybook 2007 season on Wednesday night, clubbing two home runs and collecting a career-high seven RBI to pace the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to a 17-2 rout of the Baltimore Orioles.

It was the third multi-homer game in the last two weeks for Pena, whose single-season franchise-record total of 37 trails only Rodriguez (48) and Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder (41) for the most in the majors. Reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard also has 37 blasts this season.

Pena enters this coming weekend with a team-leading 105 RBI and is on pace to finish the season with 123, which also would be a club single-season record.

“I’ve been doing a pretty good job of trying to keep things simple,” Pena said Wednesday. “The less you think, the better you hit. Less is more.”

Rodriguez, Howard, Guerrero, Fielder - not exactly names that the 29-year-old is accustomed to being grouped with.

Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon feels his power-hitting first baseman’s accomplishments have been somewhat diminished by Tampa Bay’s 58-82 record - the worst mark in the majors.

“(Pena) would be in the running for MVP right now if he was in a different city,” Maddon said. “Right now every pitch he’s seeing, he looks like he’s going to hit it hard somewhere.”

The fact that Pena is even playing in a major-league city - let alone thriving in one - seemed like a longshot this time last year. A career journeyman, he was released by the New York Yankees on August 16 before being signed by the Boston Red Sox two days later.

A Massachusetts resident and a graduate of Boston’s Northeastern University, Pena never found a role with his hometown Red Sox, receiving just 33 at-bats in 18 games.

It was yet another underwhelming pit stop in Pena’s disappointing career, which began in 1998 when the Texas Rangers selected the lefthanded Dominican with the 10th overall draft pick.

Pena showed flashes of power - 86 homers - in his first six seasons in the majors, but he never showed enough consistency to warrant an everyday job with the Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees or Detroit Tigers.

However, Pena has evolved into a star with the lowly Devil Rays and seemed at home following Wednesday’s blowout win.

“As a team, we’ve been swinging the bats very well,” Pena said after recording his 11th career multi-homer effort. “We’re having fun right now. Even though we’ve been through a season where we’ve had some tough stretches, this is great.”

“Putting up 17 runs is impressive,” Devil Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine added. “Carlos Pena, I’ve never seen a guy swing like this.”

Pena essentially has no shot of trumping Rodriguez - who also happens to be enjoying a career year while spearheading the Yankees toward the postseason - for the American League MVP.

But Pena also is a likely lock for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award - an honor which clearly is a testament to his perseverance.

“I’d just like him to stay (hot at the plate) for the next 10 years or so,” Maddon said. “That’d be kind of cool.”


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Updated Thursday, Sep 6, 2007