For Peña, Redding, Nats, No Problems in Houston

The Nationals' Wily Mo Peña makes a triumphant return to the dugout after his home run in the second inning.
The Nationals' Wily Mo Peña makes a triumphant return to the dugout after his home run in the second inning. (By Dave Einsel -- Associated Press)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

HOUSTON, Aug. 20 -- He was ridiculed and all but run out of Boston, where he flailed at breaking balls and looked at fastballs, and a team in a pennant race couldn't have that. So one Wily Modesto Peña found himself far from a pennant race Monday night, deep in the heart of Texas, something for the Washington Nationals to get excited about.

"The big man?" right fielder Austin Kearns said. "He obviously gives us something we haven't had here."

Red Sox fans must hear the dispatches and wonder how it can be. But a day after homering at RFK Stadium, Peña hit a rocket of a solo shot Monday night at Minute Maid Park, the blast that got the Nationals started on a 7-0 victory over the Houston Astros. That something the Nationals were lacking?

"A presence," Manager Manny Acta said, and Peña announced it by going 3 for 4 and driving in two runs.

More important to the outcome Monday night, and to ending a four-game losing streak, was the performance of right-hander Tim Redding, the former Astro who pitched seven innings without allowing a run and has, improbably, rung up seven quality starts in his nine major league outings this season. Take Redding's ERA at Class AAA Columbus (5.32), cut it in half, and you have something that reasonably approximates his ERA in the majors -- 2.53.

Throw in Dmitri Young's three-run homer that powered a five-run third inning, and the Nationals had everything they needed to pull even with the Florida Marlins for fourth place in the National League East. Still, the buzz in the clubhouse came from No. 16, the man who goes by "Wily Mo."

"It's scary," said Kearns, a teammate of Peña's in Cincinnati. "You used to get caught up watching him take [batting practice], just because you were in awe. But then we used to talk about it. He could hurt somebody."

Such is the style with which Peña can clout homers, stinging rising line drives. Monday night's was a 1-0, inside fastball from struggling Houston starter Jason Jennings, and Peña crushed it to left. It hit high on the wall, just beneath some railroad tracks, to put the Nationals up 1-0.

In Boston, such a shot might be seen as a tease. Even the Nationals know this can be fleeting.

"He has the potential to do that," said shortstop Felipe Lopez, another former teammate with the Reds.

The Nationals are about to find out whether Peña can turn potential into production. In his last 39 games in Boston, a span of 81 at-bats, Peña homered once, hit just .198, slugged just .321, and struck out an incredible 29 times. But he has shed that quickly with a couple of violent swings of the bat with the Nationals.

"It's not just about Boston," Peña said. "I learned a lot of stuff there. But that's all I've been wanting for, for this opportunity to play.

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