HOUSTON — Where would the Houston Astros be without Jeremy Peña?
Last October, because the Astros lost to the Atlanta Braves within the World Series, Peña was an untested player on the team’s taxi squad — a gaggle of reserve players kept ready just in case. Carlos Correa was firmly implanted because the team’s star shortstop, and de facto spokesman, while Peña, Correa’s heir apparent with free agency looming, had only 182 minor league games under his belt.
A 12 months later, Peña’s mantle is filling up: a Gold Glove Award, the 2022 American League Championship Most Priceless Player Award trophy and, after a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 on Saturday that capped the Astros’ second title in six seasons, the World Series M.V.P. trophy.
By collecting 10 hits and playing stout defense against the Phillies, Peña, 25, became the primary rookie position player to be named the World Series M.V.P. He joined pitcher Liván Hernández (with the Miami Marlins in 1997) as the one rookies to win each an L.C.S. and the World Series M.V.P. awards in the identical 12 months.
“Individuals awards are cool and all, but that’s the trophy we would like right there,” Peña said while pointing to the Commissioner’s Trophy as he received his M.V.P. award on television after the sport. From the stands, a fan held an “M.V.Peña” sign.
If not for Peña, the Astros might have been in a difficult position. When it became clear Houston was not going to re-sign Correa, Peña was appointed as his alternative. Correa eventually signed with the Minnesota Twins during spring training.
Peña was not only a godsend for the Astros defensively but on the plate. In 136 regular-season games, he hit .253 with a .715 on-base plus slugging percentage and 22 home runs. Only Seattle’s Julio Rodríguez, the front-runner for the A.L. Rookie of the Yr Award, had more home runs amongst rookies this 12 months.
“I’d say the toughest part was just blocking all the things that’s not a part of the sport,” Peña said of his first season. “There’s a saying that you could’t sink a ship with water around. It sinks if water gets inside. So I just try to remain strong and keep the water outside my head.”
As one would expect, Peña struggled on the plate within the second half of the regular season. But he corrected his troubles and impressed his teammates, not only together with his demeanor throughout the down period but through the high-pressure postseason.
In a division series sweep over the Seattle Mariners, Peña hit .250 (4 for 16) with one home run. He got higher because the Astros advanced and the stakes grew higher, hitting .353 (6 for 17) with two home runs in an A.L.C.S. sweep of the Yankees, after which .400 (10 for 25) with one home run against the Phillies.
“He was a rookie within the regular season,” Astros left fielder Yordan Alvarez said in Spanish. “When the playoffs began, he was a veteran.”
“He’s been unbelievable,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman added. “I mean, seriously, just so pleased with him. He’s learned methods to take care of success, learned methods to take care of failure, and he’s been a person on a mission since he came simply to be himself.”
In an alternate universe, Correa accepted the team’s contract offer of $160 million over five years after the 2021 World Series. But in that scenario, where would the Astros and Peña be?
“You’ve to select and select sometimes and people decisions are never easy,” Astros owner Jim Crane said. “We knew Jeremy was an excellent player. We knew he had a whole lot of skills. Quite frankly, he exceeded our expectations and won two M.V.P.s. But that’s a judgment call on the time that he can fill the outlet, possibly not a Carlos, but he proved to be just pretty much as good or possibly higher, who knows?”
Added Astros General Manager James Click: “You’ve to make tough decisions on this job and Jeremy is making it appear like it was a straightforward decision, and it wasn’t. Carlos is an awesome player and has been an enormous a part of this franchise. But to do what Jeremy did and to step in and to raise his game within the playoffs, it just speaks volumes of his labor, his character, the talent that he has. There will not be that many special guys on the planet that may do what he just did.”
Had Correa remained in Houston, Lance McCullers Jr., a longtime Astros pitcher, said Peña “would’ve been an enormous leaguer for us this 12 months regardless of what, and I feel if we had Carlos Correa, we might’ve been just effective.”
Joe Espada, the Astros bench coach who works with the team’s infielders, said that as he saw Peña in spring training over time, he was impressed by Peña’s strength, humility and baseball smarts.
Early on, Espada said he didn’t take into consideration Peña replacing Correa. “But I said,” Espada continued, “if in the future he would have to interchange Carlos, he had the flexibility.” In following years, as Peña further developed, Espada said he thought to himself, “This kid generally is a special player.”
Peña was born within the Dominican Republic but his family moved to Windfall, R.I. when he was 12. He didn’t speak any English, which made life tough at first, but he learned loads on the baseball field from his bilingual teammates.
After the trophy and award presentation on Saturday, Peña found his parents on the sector and engulfed each in an extended embrace. As they hugged, Peña rested his head on his father’s shoulder.
Peña called his parents his “real-life superheroes.” He added, “Without them, I wouldn’t be on this position.” Following big hits through the postseason, Peña made a heart sign together with his hands and pointed it toward his mother within the stands.
“I’m so excited,” Peña’s father, Gerónimo, said in Spanish. “All I can say: completely happy, completely happy, completely happy.”
Peña’s mother, Cecilia, kept calling all of it a blessing. Gerónimo, who played in parts of seven major-league seasons with St. Louis and Cleveland but never reached the postseason, said that he was more nervous watching his son play than when he played.
While celebrating later within the clubhouse, Peña was still in disbelief that his journey had him living out his dream, and so quickly at that.
“I don’t even know where I’m at without delay,” he said. “I’m within the clouds.”
Tyler Kepner contributed reporting.