Postseason Peña 2.0 now available in flashy leather

October 15th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- At 26 years old, Astros shortstop has already earned a reputation as a clutch playoff performer.

Peña, taking over at shortstop last year for franchise icon Carlos Correa, earned that notoriety last fall when he won the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series and the World Series, an unprecedented run of success for a rookie. And, for good measure, he won an AL Gold Glove Award as well.

The expectations for Peña’s sophomore season were through the roof, and he endured some growing pains during the summer. Playoff Peña was back in the Astros’ win over the Twins in the ALDS, with several key defensive plays. The biggest came in the first inning of Houston’s 3-2 win in Game 4 at Target Field when he caught a lineout from Jorge Polanco and tagged out Edouard Julien, who led off the game with a double and couldn’t get back to the base.

“When Polanco hit it, I saw Julien’s first step to his right,” Peña said. “It was a sinking play. I just tried to do it in one motion, get it and dive right into it.”

Considering Royce Lewis homered moments later, being able to get the double play might have saved the day for the Astros.

“I always say whenever you can get the outs, you take them,” Peña said. “In the postseason, every play can be huge. Lewis hit the home run, and if Julien would have been at second, it would have been a two-run homer, and who knows what happens. Just try to play good defense and play for each other.”

Peña declined defensively at shortstop according to several metrics, but he reminded everyone of his value with the glove several times when it mattered the most. In a 2-1 win over the D-backs on Sept. 29 in Phoenix, Peña saved a pair of runs in the eighth when he made a diving stop of a hard-hit Tommy Pham grounder and threw him out on a close play at first, stranding runners at second and third base.

In the sixth inning of the Astros’ 6-1 win over the Twins in Game 3 on Tuesday, he made a terrific diving stop of a Ryan Jeffers grounder and started a 6-4-3 double play.

“He’s always been so clutch defensively for us since the day he got here,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “He reminds me a lot of Correa, who is so clutch on defense as well. He’s had big moment after big moment in his career in the postseason so far in his first two years. He’s a stud.”

As with any shortstop, Peña sees defense as his priority, and he’s one of the reasons why the Astros have elevated their game defensively in the playoffs. Houston didn’t make an error in the four-game series against the Twins.

“[I] just try to play my game,” Peña said. “Stay poised, have fun, enjoy it and not take this for granted. This is fun. A lot of players in their whole careers don’t get here, so [I] try to enjoy it every single time.”

Peña went 4-for-15 in the ALDS with one walk and one strikeout, and he's still looking for his first home run since July 5, though he had a five-hit game in Detroit on Aug. 27. The home run drought isn’t something he’s too concerned about.

“Of course, I want to be launching balls out of the stadium, but it is what it is,” he said. “It's part of the game. So [I] just show up every single day, prepare as best as I can to go out and help the team. That's my focus all year: just keep getting better, 1 percent better every day, and let the game take care of itself. As long as I take care of my preparation, then I'm OK with the result of the game.”

As he celebrated with his teammates in the moments after the Astros advanced to their seventh AL Championship Series on Wednesday, Peña looked around the clubhouse with gratitude for his teammates and his place on a winning club.

“I feel like the guys have done a great job in the clubhouse of taking me in and making me feel part of the team,” he said. “Since the first day last year, Spring Training, I felt like the city of Houston, the fan base, everyone has done a great job of kind of taking me in, and I really appreciate that. It doesn't go unnoticed, and I'd say it's played a big role in my comfortability here on the team.”