HOUSTON — Jeremy Peña began his major-league career, as has almost every position player who ever debuted, no matter how touted, hitting near the bottom of the order.
He did well enough that by his fourth game, Astros manager Dusty Baker experimented with hitting him second. Only one other shortstop in the last half-century, Trevor Story in 2016, had hit in that spot in the lineup so early in his career.
For most of 2022, Peña moved in and out of that second slot depending on his success rate. Only on Oct. 1 did he become the Astros’ No. 2 hitter for good. Since then, he has been a mainstay in the Houston lineup, arguably their most consistent hitter and defender this postseason.
And during the Astros’ run to their second world championship in franchise history, the rookie peaked at the most opportune time.
In Game 4, Peña delivered the two-strike single that spelled the end of Aaron Nola’s night. In Game 5, Peña made two splendid plays in the field, drove in the two decisive runs with a single and a home run and handled the last out with ease.
And after going 2-for-4 with a run scored in the Game 6 clincher, Peña was named World Series MVP, becoming the first rookie position player to do so and adding the honor to the ALCS MVP he won earlier this month.
Rookie Jeremy Peña named MVP
After hitting .400 in the Astros’ six-game victory over the Phillies, Houston rookie Jeremy Peña was named World Series MVP.
Peña’s inexperience transforms his performance from unusual to unprecedented.
No rookie shortstop had ever clubbed a World Series home run. Only two rookies have tallied more extra-base hits within one postseason than his nine this year. And Peña became the first rookie position player to be named MVP since the award was introduced in 1955.
Astros manager Dusty Baker compared Peña’s postseason play to Andruw Jones’ 1996 World Series against the Yankees, as a 19-year-old rookie for the Atlanta Braves. While Peña, newly 25, is significantly older, Baker felt the resemblance remained strong.
“Every once in a while these guys come along, not that often,” Baker said. “But it just goes to show you, I mean, his future is very, very bright.”
In terms of Wins Above Replacement, Peña produced nearly as good a 2022 season as Correa — and for about one-fiftieth of the salary.
“Obviously, coming in as a rookie at the major-league level isn’t ever easy no matter what,” Astros pitcher Justin Verlander said. “But to step in and try to replace a Carlos Correa on a roster that he was a mainstay in and a leader of our team … 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.”
Peña’s baseball education began long before the Astros drafted him from the University of Maine in 2018. His father, Geronimo, played in the majors. His older brothers played. But Verlander credited second baseman José Altuve and third baseman Alex Bregman for demonstrating the examples that Peña has followed.
“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,” Verlander said. “You get what you get.”
This is what the Astros do. They churn out stars, retain some and replace others with more players developed in house. Peña is the latest in the line as the organization continues to put distance between itself and the sign-stealing scandal.
Excepting 2020’s neutral-site finish, the last time the World Series did not conclude at Minute Maid Park, the 2018 midterm elections had not yet happened. The 2022 midterms are next week. These days, the baseball season runs through Houston.
Jeremy Pena talks after Game 2
Jeremy Pena discussed his game plan for the World Series after Houston’s Game 2 win.
What the Astros have received this postseason in exchange for their confidence in Peña is the play of a much more seasoned player. October baseball often means rookies are extensively scouted for the first time and opponents can better attack their weaknesses. It’s normal to see a phenom wilt in such situations.
Instead, Peña is playing his best baseball yet. He smarted from an August stretch in which he succumbed to chasing pitches, and he refined his two-strike approach to spoil pitch after pitch until he sees a mistake.
“Literally every single week that goes by, I feel like he just gets better and better and better, and he continues to grow,” Bregman said. “It’s really impressive to watch.”
Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Beat a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.
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