ST. PETERSBURG — Carlos Pena admires teammate Carl Crawford so much, he has a small action shot of the All-Star leftfielder taped to a wall in his locker, right by David Ortiz and Ichiro Suzuki.
Calling Crawford a "Hall of Famer in the making," Pena added he was so happy that, one day, he'll be able to tell his kids, "Hey, I played with Carl Crawford.' "
Pena can also tell his kin that he upstaged Crawford on the night he tallied his 1,000th career hit.
Pena hit two homers and knocked in six runs, including the winner with a bases-loaded walk in the eighth, to lift the Rays to a wild, 10-5 come-from-behind victory over the Orioles on Friday in front of 12,146 at Tropicana Field.
Pena is coming off a career year of 46 homers and 121 RBIs. His strong start (five homers in 10 games) comes as no surprise to many in the Rays clubhouse.
"He's on pace to do it again," Crawford said. "Hopefully, he'll hit 50 this year. … He's been big for us."
The game was filled with subplots.
There was the hot topic of the hot corner, with touted prospect Evan Longoria making his way from Triple-A Durham for his anticipated big-league debut tonight at third base. Longoria takes the spot of injured Willy Aybar, placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday with a strained left hamstring.
There was the milestone. Crawford's bloop single in the seventh ("I thought I was out") gave him his 1,000th hit and drew a standing ovation. "It's something that no one can take away from me," he said.
But one batter later, Crawford had to share the spotlight with Pena, who hit a tying, three-run homer.
There was a redemption of sorts. Reliever Al Reyes, who was arrested early Friday morning after a bar fight, entered, and left, with cheers from the crowd as he got the final two outs of the eighth inning and picked up the win thanks to the Rays' five-run rally in the bottom half.
There was the battle of the bullpens. While the Rays relievers pitched three scoreless frames (including Troy Percival's 1-2-3 ninth), Tampa Bay feasted on an Orioles bullpen that went into the game as the league's stingiest (0.93 ERA). Baltimore relievers gave up three runs in the first nine games. On Friday, they surrendered eight.
Rays starter James Shields wasn't at his best, but of the five runs he gave up, three were unearned thanks to Jason Bartlett's two-out error in the first. With runners on first and second, ex-Ray Aubrey Huff — booed before every at-bat — hit a broken-bat grounder to the shortstop. A chunk of the bat flew toward Pena, who watched an uncharacteristic errant Bartlett throw sail wide right of his outstretched glove.
But thanks to Pena's six RBIs, one shy of his own club record, the Rays (5-5) have now won two straight after a four-game losing streak.
"This team has been shaking off the bad stuff real quick," Crawford. "In the past something like four losses would really turn into six or seven losses. This team just always feels like we can come out of any bad situation."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.