Pena's entrance lacked grace
By Amalie Benjamin, Globe Staff | April 12, 2006
The cheers that filled Fenway Park on the final two outs of the eighth inning in yesterday's 5-3 win over the Blue Jays were -- contrary to the view of Wily Mo Peña, who called them ''incredible" -- either in relief or in jest. They certainly were not in support of Peña's (ahem) defensive prowess.
It was simply a coincidence that both fly balls off Keith Foulke headed toward right field to finish off the inning. But perhaps it was a good thing. Peña got some practice. And, if he is to be believed, the raucous support of his new home fans.
It already wasn't going well for Peña, obtained in a trade for Bronson Arroyo from the Reds during spring training, after a weekend in Baltimore that featured six swings, six misses, one ball, and two strikeouts in two at-bats at Camden Yards. Other than an opposite-field double against the Rangers in Texas, Peña hasn't exactly impressed, especially with Arroyo winning games and hitting home runs in equal proportion (two of each).
But when Peña started drifting back on Frank Catalanotto's fly ball to deep right in the eighth, the result was singularly unexpected. Pena seemed in position to catch the ball, to save a sure home run. Instead, with his back contorted over the short fence in front of the Blue Jays' bullpen, the ball bounced off his glove and over the wall for a two-run homer. Not exactly what one might call graceful.
''That was going back, back, back," said Peña, calling it ''not my fault."
''When I hit that wall, my hand was going back, and so that was why I don't catch that ball. But I do the best I can."
''That's a home run," manager Terry Francona said. ''He went back to the wall and he didn't bring it back. I think he probably hit the wall and it bounced out. That's kind of a freak play."
Peña really shouldn't have been in the situation. Had Trot Nixon not suffered a mild groin strain in the second inning, diving for (and missing) a short fly off the bat of Aaron Hill, the Catalanotto mishap likely wouldn't have occurred.
''It is different, when you have a small wall out there," Nixon said. ''You jump and, all of a sudden, your back bends in a way where it shouldn't bend.
''It's kind of a reaction thing. It's not something you can practice. It's just the way the body responds to having the wall hit you in the middle of the back. The ball just squeezed out. It would have been a great catch. It's a great effort anyway."
And not unexpected from Peña.
When Cincinnati came to Fenway for a series last year, Peña helped a Manny Ramírez fly over the wall by the Pesky Pole, lost an Edgar Renteria line drive in the lights, and played a David Ortiz carom into a double. Oh, and he struck out seven times in 10 at-bats (including five in a row) in that series.
But with the outfield injuries -- Coco Crisp's broken knuckle, Nixon's groin strain -- Peña should see more time on the field, including, Francona expects, the next two games.
The manager estimated Nixon wouldn't be out of the lineup for long, saying, ''I think he was concerned because it was getting tight because it was cooling off out there. Doc's already looked at him and I don't think that it is anything that is going to make him miss more than a day or two."
But that's not what Nixon said, explaining that he had spoken to Scott Waugh, the team's physical therapist, who expected that it ''could be a good five to seven days."
''Which is encouraging to me," said Nixon, ''but it's frustrating, in a sense, that all we can talk about half the time, with me, is injuries and so forth. But God's got a plan for me, and just the way I think I've played throughout my career, maybe my body takes a little bit difficult road."
One that, for now, sends Peña back to the outfield.
After the game, in a clubhouse happy with six wins in seven games, Peña wasn't distraught about his performance thus far. He said he needs more time at the plate, more time from the fans.
''I don't know if they're going to expect too much," Peña said. ''I know they just have to know me first. I know I'm going to strike out, but I know I can hit, too. I just have to get ready so I can be ready for every opportunity they're going to give me.
''If they be patient, they're going to see a lot from me."