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Pena climbs new peak in dream year
Two homers make him the third Ray to reach 30 as the resurgent offense keys a rare series win.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA, Times Staff Writer
Published August 27, 2007
Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Carlos Pena, right, receives congratulations on his sixth-inning home run from B.J. Upton in the second inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics.
ST. PETERSBURG - First baseman Carlos Pena says he has had this vision before. In fact, in April, when he was a nonroster invitee who made the Devil Rays' opening-day roster because of an injury, Pena promised this would be his best season in the majors.
Few might have bought it at the time. Pena, admittedly, is incredibly optimistic.
But on Sunday, the team's best offseason find hit a pair of homers, extending his career-high total to 30 and becoming just the third Tampa Bay player to reach that mark - all while leading the Rays to a 7-4 victory over the A's at Tropicana Field.
"I've seen this so many times in my mind, so I'm so happy to see it materialize," said Pena, 29, who is four homers shy of the Rays' single-season record by Jose Canseco in 1999 and Aubrey Huff in 2003.
The win gave the Rays (51-79) three straight for the first time since June 12 and their first series victory in nearly a month.
The Rays' bats came to life, scoring a franchise-high 35 runs in the four-game series after a 13-game stretch in which they hit .198 and averaged 2.4 runs.
Pena and B.J. Upton have provided a potent 3-4 punch since manager Joe Maddon flipped them in the order last week.
Upton's solo homer in the second gave him 20 this year and was his third in four games in the cleanup spot. The two have combined to hit 50 homers with more than a month left in the season. Both spent most of last season at the Triple-A level.
"We'll stay with it," Maddon said of flipping Pena and Upton. "I'm not going to try to be too smart now. I think it's just wise to let her fly right now."
The series started with a 10-run loss Thursday, prompting hitting coach Steve Henderson to call a meeting.
"I think it was a wakeup call," Upton said. "I don't think anybody in here liked it, especially the way that game went. We came out the last three games and played good baseball."
Pena's 29th homer came in the sixth and put the Rays up 5-2, and his 30th, a two-run shot off closer Huston Street, restored their three-run cushion.
The Rays took the lead in the fifth when Joel Guzman lined a triple that hit off the bottom of the left-centerfield fence, scoring Delmon Young and Josh Wilson. Shortstop J.J. Furmaniak's relay to third skated past Jack Hannahan and allowed Guzman to score, giving the Rays a 4-2 lead.
Upton thwarted a rally with the bases loaded in the sixth against reliever Scott Dohmann, catching a Hannahan drive to center and throwing out Jack Cust at home for an inning-ending double play. It was Upton's ninth outfield assist and the Rays' AL-leading 35th, one shy of the Phillies' major-league lead.
"It was kind of a low liner that I could get behind and put something on," Upton said. "I just wanted to make a strong throw and get it there as quick as possible."
Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine allowed two runs in the second then retired eight of his next nine en route to his first major-league victory at home and his second in his past three starts after eight straight losses.
The bend-but-don't-break bullpen made it interesting. Gary Glover allowed a leadoff homer to catcher Kurt Suzuki in the seventh and put runners at first and third for Dan Wheeler. Wheeler allowed a run-scoring single to Cust, making it 5-4, and walked Dan Johnson but struck out Mark Ellis on a 3-and-2 slider.
Out of nowhere
With two homers Sunday, Rays 1B Carlos Pena became the fifth player in the past 25 years to hit 30 or more homers after being a nonroster invitee in spring training. Here's the list.