It was two weeks ago we learned that Carlos Pena would be signing a one-day contract with the Rays to retire with the franchise. He was honored on Sept. 18th during the previous home stand, and even joined the Rays booth to discuss in detail his appreciation for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Sports Talk Florida has the full signing press conference on their YouTube channel (h/t Matt Stein). The full 23 minutes are worth a listen. Pena credits the hand of God in his career and life, then dives into heartfelt thank you's and memories. He jumps into thanking the franchise at about the nine minute mark.
We on the mast head have been discussing Carlos over the last two weeks, remembering his contributions to the franchise. When I think back on Carlos, I remember the days of him being simply unstoppable. Not just in his breakout 2007, but his home run race with Mark Teixeira shortly after. Watching him come to the plate imbued excitement into the game. You know something incredible might happen.
As Erik noted on the e-mail chain, when it comes to best memories, nothing beats his return to the franchise on Opening Day in 2012. I'll let Darby pick up the round table from there.
Darby: Opening Day 2012, Yankees at Rays.
Baseball is a sport that builds moments that seem too saccharine even for the schmaltziest of fiction. Pena was a guy that made it damn near impossible not to root for him. No matter what other shortcomings there were in his game, he was always the guy who led the league in Smile%.
Carlos Pena's return to the Rays in 2012 was that perfect wave of nostalgia for the return of the mighty slugger (even though he had been gone for just a year). On the mound, one of the best lefties in baseball CC Sabathia. Bases loaded. 2-out. First at bat for Los back in the bay. The crowd gives a standing ovation as Carlos walks to the plate. Los got a Sabathia fastball right in his wheelhouse, and Pena sent that pitch rocketing deep into the right field stands.
Pena then got to cap off his heroes return with a beautiful opposite field walk-off hit off of another fairly good Yankee pitcher named Rivera. Perfect welcome home party.
Nomo: August 3, 2008. Tigers at Rays.
It's a back and forth game that goes to extras innings, because Troy Percival is awful. Then the Rays fall behind in 10th because Troy Percival is awful. They rally to tie it in the bottom of the inning bc 2008 is magic (though I'm pretty sure this is the inning Rodney almost killed Shawn Riggans), and then Pena wins it with the most exciting play in baseball: the walk-off walk.
Ian: My favorite Carlos Pena moment isn't a play, but an interview he gave during the 2007 season.
The Devil Rays were terrible in 2007, through no fault of Pena's, who was having an incredible season. Pena was one of the best reasons to keep tuning in to that team, but his good work was consistently undone by a historically bad bullpen.
On the radio, he was asked about the repeated failures of that bullpen, and he said the following, quoted as closely as I can remember. Some is undoubtedly misremembered:
"You know, I talk to guys down at first base, and they say, 'I don't know how I got a hit off these guys.' I mean you have Gary [Glover] and Chad [Orvella] pumping in heat at 95, 96, and the guys I talk to say they're really tough to hit. I just know [our bullpen] is going to start getting better results, because we're talking about some really good pitchers."
That was Carlos Pena's in a nutshell. A conversation with the constant stream of runners at first base over the improbability of them being there is ridiculous, and the Rays bullpen was only going to get better when it stopped including pitchers like Glover and Orvella, but rather than just seeming like a guy avoiding throwing a teammate under the bus, he actually convinced me that he believed in them, and it changed the way I thought about the season.
No one had more right to be upset at the repeated implosions than Pena, but if he could let it roll of his back and continue to hit home runs and scoop throws in the dirt, then I could sit back and enjoy the ride.
Danny: Sept. 10, 2008. Rays at Red Sox.
Of course I would choose Boston, right? There was a Wednesday night game in September when the Rays were inexplicably post-season bound in 2008, but these two teams were duking it out for the division title. The World Series champs against the beasts of the east.
It's officially my sophomore year in college, and I'm glued to every Rays game, every night of the week. This night in particular the game went 14 innings, and I remember being concerned I wouldn't wake up for class in time the next morning.
Two on, two out, and on deck was Carlos Pena. There was never a doubt in my mind: He's going to crush it, and I can go to bed. Sure enough, over the monster. In that moment, I trusted the Rays to win completely and went to bed. There was never as sure a thing as Carlos Pena. I miss those days.
For the links, it's all Carlos Pena from here on out.
- Required reading: Adam's deep dive into Carlos Pena's fantastic 2007 season from last off-season
- Carlos Pena interview with Neil Solondz
- MLB.com rewind through Pena's career
- Carlos Pena's ceremonial first pitch
- And finally some gold glove appreciation from his killer 2008 season at first