TOKOROZAWA, SAITAMA PREF. – As Wily Mo Pena munched on a bowl of fruit on his way out of Seibu Dome, he tried to remember having a bigger hit than the one he had Monday against the Lions, a two-run double that accounted for the majority of his team’s runs in the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks’ 3-2 win over the Seibu Lions in the decisive Game 3 of the Pacific League Climax series first-stage.
He’s hit plenty of balls farther than the one that sailed over Masato Kumashiro’s head in left field in the fourth inning but failed to clear the wall.
Pena is a hulking 191-cm, 118-kg slugger, with monstrous power that’s been on display since his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2001. From city to city, his batting practices were the stuff of legend around the major and minor leagues, as the Dominican launched ball after ball into orbit.
Though he had more than his fair share of strikeouts during the actual games, he kept running into fastballs and crushing home runs.
This hit was different. Not only did it send the Hawks through to the next stage of the postseason, it reaffirmed Pena’s pregame promise to manager Koji Akiyama that if he kept Pena in the cleanup spot, despite the slugger being 0-for-8 in the series, things would be different. About halfway up a lengthy stairway, Pena finds his answer.
“I haven’t had something like that,” Pena said of Monday’s hit. “I think my biggest was when I got called up and hit a home run in my first game back,” he added, referring to a June 21, 2011, blast for the Arizona Diamondbacks, his first day after being called up to the team.
That homer was his first in the majors in three years.
“This one will be tied with No. 1,” Pena said.
Pena was grateful Akiyama stuck with him despite his poor showing in the first two games, but Akiyama hinted that dropping his slugger in the order was hardly a consideration.
“Who else can do it if not him?” Akiyama asked.
Pena was also convinced everything would work out in the end.
“I knew my stroke was right,” he said. “In my first couple of games, it was like nothing happened, but I knew I wasn’t struggling. After that, everything was fine.”
The Hawks will need Pena’s bat going forward, as they attempt to overcome the automatic one-game advantage the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have been granted in the PL Climax Series final stage. The Fighters earned the advantage by winning the PL title.
“We’re going to try to win the first one so we’ll be tied,” Pena said. “That’s what it’s about. So we’re trying to get the first one. Soon as we get the first one, then we’ll try to move on.
“We just have to be ready. I know we don’t play for a couple of days, but that’s not an excuse. We just have to go to Sapporo now and do the best we can. That’s what it’s all about.”