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Patience pays off for Rays' Pena

ST. PETERSBURG

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Sometimes, a man has to wait for his success to arrive.

Sometimes, no matter the circumstance, he has to have faith that it eventually will come along.

Consider, for instance, the long journey of Carlos Pena.

The latest leg of it came in the bottom of the fourth inning of Friday night's victory by the Rays, and at the time, Pena was halfway through the longest home run trot in the history of major-league baseball.

At the moment, Pena stood at second base with his hands folded on his hips, looking to all the world like a guy waiting for a bus. In reality, what he was waiting for was a bit of history.

And he waited. And he waited. And he waited.

For four minutes and 10 seconds, Pena stood there, waiting for umpires to reverse their initial call of a two-base hit. The crowd was going crazy, and his teammates were yelling for him to keep running, and the umpires had disappeared, and after a while, you wondered if they had become interested in America's Toughest Jobs.

"It was a long time," Pena, 30, said. "I was thinking about what I'm going to do tomorrow, what I'm going to eat. I got my whole day planned."

Then it happened — major-league baseball's first instance of instant replay being used to overturn a call into a home run — and finally, good things had come to Pena.

If that sounds familiar, well, it's also the story of Pena's season.

He has spent much of this season waiting, smiling and swinging, refusing to give into a simply awful start. Last season, he was the AL Comeback Player of the Year, and for the first three months of this season, he looked like the AL Going Back Down Again Player of the Year.

Lately, however, when it has meant the most, Pena has once again looked like the power threat that he was last year. This is the lesson that Pena has to offer. He is smiling now, and much of the reason is that he found a way to smile then.

Remember the early part of the season? Pena was hitting .219 after May, .228 after June. He struck out 70 of his first 196 trips to the plate.

And still, Pena would grin and shrug. He did not kick the furniture, although no one would have blamed him. He did not slap around the watercooler, no matter how much it was asking for it. From time to time, Pena did a little silent seething on the bench, but it never lasted very long.

"Sure, I was frustrated," Pena said. "I'm human. I would get disappointed. But I like enjoying myself. You have a choice. We can focus on something negative, or we can focus on something positive. It's my mind. I can do whatever I want with it in spite of what is happening around me. I choose to keep a smile on my face. It's more fun."

Lately, Pena has put smiles on a lot of teammates' faces. He now has 31 home runs and 96 RBIs, which is pretty close to any reasonable expectation of him.

Since the All-Star break, he has 17 home runs, which is second in the American League (to Detroit's Miguel Cabrera) and third in the majors (to the Mets' Carlos Delgado and Cabrera). Over the past two seasons, Pena has 77 home runs. In the American League, only the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez has more.

Who knew? There is also such a thing as the left-handed power of positive thinking.

When Pena is at his best, he is a disciplined, selective hitter. It is only when he starts chasing pitches, trying to force the issue, that he gets himself into trouble.

That isn't happening now. For instance, in Pena's second plate appearance on Friday, he walked with the bases loaded. Perhaps that doesn't sound like much, but it was the eighth time in his career that Pena has drawn a bases-loaded walk. Since baseball began charting the statistic in 1998, no player has more.

Then, there was the replayed homer. Perhaps Pena had that coming, too. Two or three times before, Pena estimates, he has hit balls that he thought were home runs that were ruled doubles. One of them came this year in Seattle. Pena would have loved to have that one replayed, too.

"I think it's fair for everybody," Pena said.

In other words, there isn't much reason for frustration these days. Still, Pena has a suggestion.

"You know, a punching bag would be a great piece of equipment," Pena said, grinning. "You don't want people taking baggage out to the field, do you? You could get a punching bag, beat the crap out of it and you'd be happy again. You could beat it with a bat."

The way he is going lately, of course, the punching bag might end up on the other side of the wall.

Eventually, the umps would figure that out, too.

Patience pays off for Rays' Pena 09/19/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 20, 2008 10:40pm]
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