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An old school rookie: Peña rockets Astros to Game 5 win, one win from World Series title

Image Credit: Bill Menzel/Latino Sports

PHILADELPHIA — When you look around the visiting locker room at Citizens Bank Park, a limited amount of familiar and aging faces of a Houston Astros team that won a World Series title in 2017 can be found. Despite five years passing, a message remains timeless: Win. As you pass lockers belonging to veteran players José Altuve, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and Yuli Gurriel, you’ll find a locker that belongs to a 25-year-old rookie who has seamlessly camouflaged himself within the blue-collar ethics of the Astros organization.

Astros rookie Jeremy Peña came into the postseason hoping to make a lasting impact —  the same way he did while he was the everyday shortstop for the Astros during the regular season. Instead, the 25-year-old took the national stage, dismantling all doubts that can hover over a rookie, projected his talents underneath the lights, and molded his own path to greatness.

In Game 5 of the World Series, Peña was the leader, the facilitator, and the hero. The six-foot shortstop carried the Astros to a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies and are now one win away from being crowned World Series champions. 

“I just had to come in and be myself, play my game,” Peña said, proving to everyone that he will always remain true to his craft and his craft alone. “But at the end of the season, once we accomplish our goal, which is to go all the way, then I’ll sit down and reflect on the journey. But there’s still work to do and we got to lock in.”

Peña facilitated in scoring two of the three Astros runs on the night. The first opportunity came in the first inning after José Altuve sped across the bases for a leadoff triple, opening the RISP opportunity for the rookie. The University of Maine alum would send a grounder into ceter field to score Altuve and give them the quick 1-0 lead. 

The second opportunity came in the fourth inning when Game 5 starter Noah Syndergaard hung a 77 mph curveball down the middle of the plate on a 2-2 count, allowing Peña to drill the pitch over the left field wall to give the Astros a 2-1 edge. It would be the last pitch Syndergaard would throw as manager Rob Thomson cut his starter’s leash after his three-inning loss and opened the gates to the tight-knit bullpen. 

In the World Series, where rookies tend to lean on veterans, the veterans are leaning on the rookie to help carry them closer to a championship title. Dusty Baker and Justin Verlander both praised Peña for stitching his own shoes, as he continues to defy the odds with growth and maturity that is a rare find. 

“To come in and do what he’s done, to showcase his game, and step up in the biggest of moments, it’s just been, it’s been a lot of fun to watch. I think it leads by example,” said 17-year veteran Verlander. “To his credit, he watches, he learns, he takes what these guys give him in advice and what he sees and learns and takes it and runs with it with his talent. You get what you get.”

“He came into camp as a young player. He had his eyes open. He always paid attention. You could tell he was very attentive and confident but quiet. Boy, he’s played remarkably well. Boy, I mean, he’s really carried us for a while here through this postseason, and that’s especially tough for a young player, a young shortstop. And I’m just glad we have him,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said with a slight tease of relief. 

Not only is Peña’s maturity recognized on the field, but it’s also shown by his day-in-and-day-out approach, which can be compared to the work ethic and demeanor of veterans like Altuve and Bregman. 

After giving up a solo home run to fan-favorite Kyle Schwarber, Verlander did not maintain the shaky mechanics that failed him in Game 1 of the Fall Classic — something the veteran said he studiously reviewed since Friday, filtering out the mechanics that failed him in his previous start. The 39-year-old workhorse settled into a trance that pushed him through five frames of four-hit ball and six strikeouts. The use of an improved slider (which increased in velocity compared to his yearly average) and offspeed pitches helped give the two-time CY Young winner and nine-time All-Star his first World Series win.

“I can say I got one [a win]. My boys, my teammates, my family, they gave me the rookie treatment after the game. They put me in the cart and rolled me in the shower, and just dowsed me with all sorts of stuff, and it was one of the best feelings in my career. Just truly love these guys. I love our team.”

It wasn’t until the eighth inning that the Phillies showed that they could resuscitate their offense with a rally. Despite not recording a hit, Nick Castellanos was patient at the plate against no-hitter participant Rafael Montero with a seven-pitch walk. Two batters later, Bryson Scott walked on four-straight pitches before the Game 3 NLCS hero stepped up to the plate. Finally, Jean Segura broke his hitless slump in the World Series and knocked in an RBI single to shave the Astros’ lead to one. 

However, thanks to a pair of late-game defensive gems from Trey Mancini and Chas McCormick, any chances the Phillies had of getting on base via hard-hit balls came to a devastating blow as the Phillies now face their first elimination game in the 2022 postseason.

“We’re going to just lock back in and play our game,” Peña said as the Astros head home to face the Phillies in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park Saturday night. “Show up ready to go, ready to compete and try to close it out.”

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