Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Rays brought Carlos Peña back to the team with a lucrative one-year contract… Well, it looks like it was money well spent!
In the team’s season-opening game against the New York Yankees, the 33-year-old Dominican baseball star not only hit a grand slam against Yankees ace CC Sabathia, but he hit a game-winning RBI against closer Mariano Rivera.
“Your heart starts racing in that moment and you try to control yourself as much as possible,” Peña said. “I tried to slow myself down and breathe and take it one pitch at a time, as easy as you can possibly make it. Instead of building the situation up you try to bring it down.”
Peña’s spectacular hitting lifted the Rays to a thrilling 7-6 victory over the Yankees on Friday. In all, he finished 3 for 5 with five RBIs in his return to the Rays after a year with the Chicago Cubs. All that after a spring in which he hit .107 and struggled so much that manager Joe Maddon initially penciled him into the No. 7 spot in the batting order for the opener before shifting the slugger into the sixth spot.
Peña, who was 0 for 11 lifetime against Rivera, won it by driving a 1-2 pitch off the base of the wall in left-center field for his fifth RBI of the game.
“He’s the greatest closer in the history of the game and we all know that,” Pena said of Rivera. “He has that illusion in his ball. You swing where the ball is at and it’s not there anymore. He has perplexed hitters throughout his career. He’s the best closer in baseball, and that’s for a reason.”
Earlier in the game, Peña brought the sellout crowd of 34,078 to its feet in the bottom of the first inning when he sent a 3-2 pitch into the right-field stands for his eighth career grand slam.