Walk it off, Peña! Rookie blasts tape-measure HR in extras

April 24th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Jeremy Peña pounded his chest as he approached second base, later saying his trip around the bases Sunday afternoon was a blur. He was mobbed by his teammates at home plate and turned the mood inside the Astros’ clubhouse 180 degrees from where it was headed moments earlier. 

Peña, the rookie shortstop who took over for Carlos Correa, crushed a pitch from Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano and sent it 425 feet over the wall in straightaway center field for a two-run walk-off homer in the 10th inning that sent the Astros to an 8-7 win in the series finale at Minute Maid Park. 

“It was a blur,” he said. “I kind of ran the bases a little fast, but it was a great moment.”

The homer, the third of Peña’s young career, enabled the Astros to avoid a three-game sweep, snapping a four-game losing streak at home as they prepare to hit the road to face the Rangers on Monday. He’s the first Astros rookie to hit a walk-off homer since Brian Bogusevic on Aug. 16, 2011, against the Cubs.

“That was a big home run by ‘La Tormenta,’” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Boy, we needed that one badly to get off the losing streak and have a happy flight on the way to Texas.”

Peña has enjoyed early success in the Astros’ lineup, but he entered Sunday in an 0-for-10 funk that caused Baker to drop him to eighth in the order from the leadoff spot, where he had batted the previous four games with Jose Altuve out. Peña was 1-for-13 in those games and was riding an 0-for-14 slump after going 0-for-4 in his first four at-bats Sunday.

“Something I learned and I picked up in this game is separating your at-bats, separating pitch by pitch, separating your defense from your hitting,” he said. “So that at-bat was a clean slate. I was just going up and trying to help the team.”

Romano, who had converted a club-record 31 consecutive games for the Jays, struck out Aledmys Díaz to start the 10th with the automatic runner at second base as the tying run. Peña took the first two pitches for balls before ripping a 96.6 mph fastball from Romano and sending it over the wall in center.

“Super tough guy to do it against,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “He’s one of the best. He had 31 in a row. They got a really good team over there and to come back and battle and win today with that swing of the bat was huge.”

Peña’s early body of work has been solid. He seems poised and comfortable on the field and is hitting .260/.333/.540 through 14 games. Even during his slump, he’s found a way to get on base. Peña has reached base in a team-high nine consecutive games.

“He’s very confident, though, and he knows his ability, and he’s very level-headed,” Bregman said. “He doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low and stays focused. That’s a big swing for our team.”

Indeed. The Astros’ win probability was only 19.4 percent after Díaz struck out against Romano to start the 10th. The next two spots in the order -- Peña and catcher Martín Maldonado -- were a combined 0-for-6 with three strikeouts heading to the 10th.  

“That guy’s a tough pitcher,” Baker said. “It’s the first [save] he had blown. [Peña] got one of the best. He also got his first walk-off hit, walk-off homer. That was great for our team, great for our city, great for the fans that stuck around to see that ballgame. Boy, that will hopefully start us on a winning streak here.”