By BEN WALKER (AP Baseball Writer)
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jeremy Peña trotted around third base, looked toward the Houston dugout and gave the most casual two-handed shrug you’ll ever see on a ballfield.
Like it was any routine game in May.
Only this was November. In the World Series. In the biggest game of his life.
Yep, the Year of Jeremy just kept getting better and better.
Showing the polish and poise of a proven veteran, the 25-year-old Peña put on quite an all-around performance Thursday night. He became the first rookie shortstop to homer in the World Series, added two singles and made a critical leaping catch in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 5.
“Rookie or not rookie, it doesn’t matter,” Peña said. “We’re in the World Series. You just go out and play. Go compete and let the best man win.”
Having already won the AL Championship Series MVP award and a Gold Glove in the last two weeks, the emerging star from the Dominican Republic helped Houston move one win away from the ultimate prize — the World Series trophy.
Ahead 3-2 in the matchup with the Phillies, it’s hard to imagine now the Astros started the season with many fans wondering how in the world they would replace All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa.
Again proving the biggest moments in baseball aren’t too big for him, the expressive and exuberant Peña grounded a hard RBI single up the middle in the first inning, then reached high to spear Nick Castellanos’ liner to thwart a potential rally in the third.
In the fourth, Peña lofted a go-ahead, solo drive into the left-field seats for a 2-1 lead and chased Phillies starter Noah Syndergaard.
Peña pointed his right index finger high as he approached second base and slapped his hands together after crossing the bag. He gave a shrug moments later — shades of Michael Jordan, maybe — and put his hands together to form a heart after touching home plate.
No wonder manager Dusty Baker and the Astros love him so much.
Peña showed he could play small ball, too, adeptly delivering a hit-and-run single that set up a much-needed insurance run in the eighth.
The three-hit show made Peña 8 for 21 (.381) with a pair of doubles to go along with the homer in the World Series.
That’s all come after he was 7 for 16 (.353) with two home runs and two doubles in the four-game sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS.
The Astros thought they saw something special as Peña batted .253 with 22 home runs during the regular season while excelling on defense.
This October — and November — the Astros and the baseball world have seen just how special.
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