Peña’s clutch HR caps ALCS MVP performance

Rookie continues hot hitting to erase Yankees’ early Game 4 lead

October 24th, 2022

NEW YORK — Jeremy Peña might not win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, but the Astros rookie is heading back to Houston as the AL Championship Series MVP.

The 25-year-old shortstop punctuated his epic four-game run in Houston’s sweep of the Yankees with his third homer of the postseason during the third inning of a 6-5 win in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. The big blast spoiled an early Yanks’ lead, took the ticketed crowd of 46,545 out of it and served as the proverbial turning point in the final game of a series that was never really close.

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Jeremy Peña’s three-run home run
Carlos Correa used to thrive in these October moments, and though Peña’s soft-spoken humility prevents him from saying it out loud, it’s clear that he’s motivated to carve out his own name.

“It’s surreal,” Peña said. “You dream about this stuff when you’re a kid, and shout-out to my teammates. We show up every single day. We stayed true to ourselves all year. We’re a step away from the ultimate goal.”

Field view of Jeremy Peña’s homer
Peña finished the ALCS 6-for-17 with two homers and two doubles, good for a .353/.353/.824 (1.176 OPS) slash line. The finishing touch featured the shortstop pummeling a middle-in slider from Nestor Cortes after the Yanks’ lefty led off the inning with walks to Martín Maldonado and Jose Altuve for a massive blast down the left-field line. Statcast measured the homer a projected 408 feet and 104.8 mph off the bat.

3B view of Peña’s HR
With one epic swing — hands in, hips torqued — Peña tied the game at 3 after the Yankees took an early lead against Lance McCullers Jr., the first time that Houston had trailed New York at the end of an in-game inning in 11 meetings this season. The only other times they trailed were via walk-offs from Aaron Judge during a series in June.

It was an impressive sequence of making a mid-at-bat adjustment. Cortes, who exited immediately after the homer with a left groin injury, wouldn’t throw Peña a fastball, instead attempting to jam cutters and sliders inside, with one changeup way off the plate. So, on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, Peña went hunting for offspeed ahead 3-1 in a hitter’s count — and he feasted when he saw the hanging breaking ball.

Peña knew he got all of it, transferring the barrel to his right hand as he paced out of the batter’s box, watching the ball sail before pinwheeling the lumber down the first-base line and breaking into a stride. As he rounded third base and glanced to the visiting dugout, he smiled toward his teammates and broke into a shrug, akin to the one that Michael Jordan made famous during the 1992 NBA Finals.

Altuve and Correa had a relationship that Astros manager Dusty Baker likened to Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, so the words from Altuve — the 2019 ALCS MVP — carried weight.

“I think it’s important that Carlos passed the torch to him because I’ve seen some players don’t pass the torch,” Baker said. “They pass some dynamite. But Carlos passed the torch and he was a mentor to him. This is what baseball and life is all about, rooting for somebody else, because there’s a lot of jobs out there. We wanted to keep Carlos. Carlos wanted to stay but [we]couldn’t get things together. But the organization also felt that Peña was the right guy for the job, and he’s exceeded expectations.”

Aside from Sunday, Peña also put the Astros squarely on his shoulders with a solo homer in the 18th inning of their marathon ALDS Game 3 win in Seattle, the only run of what’s easily been Houston’s most tense game in these playoffs.

Peña’s 22 homers in the regular season were tied for sixth among shortstops and ranked second among first-year players to only Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez, who will likely be the runaway AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. Peña should be a finalist for that honor, if not runner-up. But Peña, who is good friends with fellow Dominican Rodríguez, will probably be fine with that given that his team is headed to the World Series.