HOUSTON — The crowd knew it long before the game was over and before the votes had been cast. Each time Jeremy Peña stepped to the plate during Game 6 of the World Series on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the chants rung out.
They were right. On the night Peña cranked out two more hits and scored a run in the Astros’ 4-1 championship clincher over the Phillies, the 25-year-old shortstop was indeed honored with the Willie Mays World Series MVP Award presented by Chevrolet, becoming the first rookie position player to claim it.
“This,” Peña said, “is special.”
So is he. The son of former Major League second baseman Geronimo Peña looked remarkably comfortable on the Series stage, going 10-for-25 with a homer and three RBIs while playing fantastic defense at short. His Game 5 homer off Noah Syndergaard was the first World Series home run by a rookie shortstop, and his sixth-inning single in Game 6 set up the three-run Yordan Alvarez homer that swung the game and clinched the Series.
It was a profound postseason run for Peña, who was also named the American League Championship Series MVP for his 6-for-17, two-homer, two-double performance against the Yankees. Peña became just the ninth player — and the second rookie — to be named LCS and World Series MVP in the same postseason, joining:
Willie Stargell, Pirates, 1979
Darrell Porter, Cardinals, 1982
Orel Hershiser, Dodgers, 1988
Livan Hernandez, Marlins, 1997*
Cole Hamels, Phillies, 2008
David Freese, Cardinals, 2011
Madison Bumgarner, Giants, 2014
Corey Seager, Dodgers, 2020
*Hernandez was also a rookie.
It was also Peña who had the base hits that preceded Alvarez’s epic blasts in the AL Division Series against the Mariners, during which Peña went 4-for-16 with a homer and a double. All told, Peña hit .345 in the playoffs.
So how does someone with so little MLB experience display such confidence and composure amid the game’s most demanding challenge?
“Man, where do I even start?” Peña said. “It has a lot to do with my family, my upbringing. Shout out to my teammates as well. They took me in since Day One. They gave me the confidence to just go out and play my game.”
In the outfield grass, in the midst of the post-Game 6 celebration at Minute Maid Park, Geronimo Peña, who never got the opportunity to appear in the postseason in a seven-season career with St. Louis and Cleveland, beamed with pride when asked about his son.
“He was amazing,” said the elder Peña, who was the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals in Dusty Baker’s first game as a manager with the Giants in 1993. “He has been growing so much, again and again, every day, growing. Every day he wanted to do something different, every day he wanted to go to the field. He’d say, ‘Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!’ He has a blessing that God has given him. But he also wants to work.”
The epic October/November followed a 2022 regular season in which Peña had huge shoes to fill after Carlos Correa’s departure in free agency. With a solid .253 average, a .715 OPS and defense that made him the first rookie shortstop to win a Gold Glove, Peña more than answered the call.
Peña never let the size of that assignment overwhelm him.
“I’d say the hardest part was just blocking everything that’s not part of the game,” Peña said. “There’s a saying that you can’t sink a ship with water around. It sinks if water gets inside. So I just try to stay strong and keep the water outside my head. Just keep playing my game, show up every single day, and just trust in my preparation.”
Peña’s unusual background had inspired one of the best quotes in the lead-up to this World Series.
“He’s the only Dominican dude I know,” Baker said, “who went to the University of Maine.”
“I think about the guys on the taxi squad, because Peña was on the taxi squad this time last year,” Baker said. “I urge them all, you don’t know. You could be next year’s Peña, because you don’t know how close to stardom you are.”
At the conclusion of this World Series, there was no question about Peña’s status. In 2022, he replaced a star. And then he became one.