He stepped into the box as the third batter of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Akinori Iwamura and Jorge Velendia had both just struck out against A.J. Burnett who was trying to cap off a successful season with a victory. Carlos Pena stood in the box and took a called first strike, then watched as a Burnett delivered another pitch, this time, a ball.
The count was now 1-1. Burnett turned and fired a 97 mph fastball that went right down the middle of the plate. Pena swung and lifted a towering drive that sent John-Ford Griffin back against the wall, when he ran out of the room and the ball sailed over the fence for Pena's 46th home run of the year. It was a new franchise record for the Devil Rays, surpassing Aubrey Huff's 34 homers from 2003.
It had been an incredible and unpredictable season from Pena who hadn't played a full season since 2004 with the Tigers. He was even reassigned by Tampa Bay at the end of Spring Training, relegating him to a choice of becoming a free agent or toiling away in the minors.
Pena has had a roller coaster career after being taken with the 10th overall pick of the 1998 draft by the Texas Rangers. After working his way through their system and becoming one of the game's top prospects, the Rangers dealt Pena in 2002 along with Mike Venafro to the Oakland Athletics for Jason Hart, Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick, and Mario Ramos.
Pena's time in Oakland was short lived though, as he failed to produce and was again traded in July to the Detroit Tigers in a three team deal. Pena did much better in a shorter time span and closed the season out strongly with Detroit. He had solid season in 2003 and 2004, but struggled in 2005 resulting in a demotion to Triple-A. After spending the 2006 season split between the Yankees and Red Sox organizations, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays signed Carlos Pena on January 29th, 2007, as a non-roster invitee to spring training.
During spring training, Carlos Pena didn't really impress, and towards the end of camp, Tampa Bay had a decision to make. Before the game on March 30th, the Devil Rays reassigned Pena to minor league camp, but that gave him the option to become a free agent and sign elsewhere. The Devil Rays had chosen to go with Greg Norton over Pena at first, but fate plays a role here as Norton injured his knee later that day. He'd require knee surgery, so two days later when opening day came, Carlos Pena was on Tampa Bay's roster.
Pena would not make his debut in a Devil Rays uniform until the 4th game of the season, but he didn't do well as he went 0-4 with a strikeout; he would go 0-3 the following day as well. However on April 11th, batting a lowly seventh in the Devil Rays order, he came up for the second time in the game in the top of the third inning. He would be facing Rob Tejada. Pena had already sent a ball to the warning track against in his first at bat. Ty Wigginton was on 3rd and the count reached 2-0, when Pena launched a ball into deep towards the right field seats. The ball would hit off the facade of the upper deck and fall into the seats for a 2-run homerun. His first for Tampa Bay.
MLB.com video of Pena's first HR
Unfortunately for Pena, he struggled during April, barely hitting over .200. He did however club four homers during the month. Greg Norton was due to return around mid-May, so Pena would have to make himself valuable quickly in order to stay with the team and avoid being demoted. He'd have plenty of oppurtunity do so as well, as Iwamura had suffered an injury and Ty Wigginton would be forced to move from first, to cover for Iwamura at third.
After securing a starting role, Pena started to click. After going 0-4 on May 1st, Pena would hit .377 the rest of the month. He also would hit another six homeruns to bring his total to ten on the season.
It wasn't just a month-long hot streak either, as Pena continued to hit well in June. Although his average slipped a little, his power remained as he hit seven more homers that month -- including this absolutely monumental blast against Aaron Cook of the Rockies at Coors Field. It landed in the 3rd deck out in right field, an estimated 452 ft.
Pena could not be stopped as in July he still smashed the ball, adding another eight homers to his total. At the end of July, as the Devil Rays had traded away multiple players, Pena remained a force in the middle of Tampa Bay's lineup, sandwiched between Delmon Young and Jonny Gomes.
It had been an incredible year for Pena, who when the season was set to begin was unsure of his future. Pena's best part of the year, was still yet to come.
In August, Pena finally feel in a dry spell, again struggling to hit above .200, but that only last for a few weeks. The final seven days of August, Pena was 12 of 30, with 5 homers, 4 doubles, and even walked 11 times.
In September, Pena tuned into one of the best players in the game as he began to rip through previous Devil Ray single season records. On September 2nd, he connected for a 3-Run shot off of Andy Petite to tie the former team record set by both Jose Canseco (1999) and Aubrey Huff (2003).
Pena didn't wait long to set a new record as the next day against Baltimore, he hit a homer in the most Devil Ray way possible. The game was tied at four, as the Devil Rays came in to hit in the bottom of the 7th. Jim Hoey had come on to replace Rocky Cherry, and produced a groundout and a walk to bring Pena up. With the first pitch of the at bat, Pena lifted a moonshot that seemed to run along the top of the dome. Nick Markakis tracked it down as much as he could, until it finally made contact with the 'C' ring. Tropicana Field ground rules indicate any ball that makes contact with that, or the 'D' ring is a home run, so Pena had just connected for his 35th homerun of the year.
MLB.com video of the record breaking blast
Pena would go on to have potentially the best month in team history as he set the record for HR (13) and RBI (29) in a month, as well as for a single season. In a game against the Orioles, he also set a new team record for RBI in a game, as he drove in seven runs.
So, after it was all said and done, Pena had slashed .282/.411/.627 with 46 homers in 144 total games. He had become the new franchise single season leader for numerous categories such as; WAR (7.2), OBP (.411), SLG (.627), OPS (1.038), HR (46), RBI (121), Walks (103), and (:% ( /\ 9,000).
For his amazing season, Carlos Pena was met with many accolades. He was awarded the Silver Slugger for best hitting first baseman in the American League, and he placed 9th for the MVP award. Due to his resurgence, Pena was also given the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. Fittingly, when January came around, the newly named Rays re-signed Pena to a three year deal worth $24 million.
In 2007, Carlos Pena gave the Devil Rays faithful possibly the best offensive season in franchise history. In the seven years that have followed, no one has come close to duplicating his numbers, though he has been surpassed in single season WAR, he still remains atop of the Rays leaderboards in numerous categories.
Thank you Carlos