Jeremy Peña Refuses to be Shaken, Alex Bregman Only Blames Himself and the Astros Reveal Their True Character While Losing
It's Easy to Have a Good Clubhouse When You're Winning, But These Jose Altuve Powered Astros Always Seem to Stay TogetherBY Chris Baldwin // 06.12.22
Jeremy Pena is not afraid of embracing the spotlight. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is determined to lead the Astros deep into the playoffs. Again. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman is one of the Houston Astros' biggest names, a franchise cornerstone. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker always tries to keep his team steady — and focused on the big prize. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Framber Valdez works and pitches hard for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jeremy Pena's defense has been eye opening for the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Hector Neris got plenty of love from catcher Martin Maldonado after a scoreless inning. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman is a hitter on a mission. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Michael Brantley can still scorch baseballs for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jeremy Pena is showing poise beyond his years early in his Astros career. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve is still a hitter opposing pitchers have to fear. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Alex Bregman takes tremendous pride in putting in the work every day. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jose Altuve remains a force on the base paths for the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker has a championship contender in this team. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
If Jeremy Peña is shaken, he certainly does not show it. The Houston Astros rookie who’s done everything right saw everything go wrong in a 5-1 loss to the Miami Marlins, but Peña does not appear fazed as he steps in front of the big Astros logo wall in the clubhouse to talk to a few reporters afterwards.
If this is just a poker face, Phil Ivey would be impressed.
And after being unable to make the play on three hard hit balls to him in the second inning (only one is scored as an error, but Peña says he should have made the play on all three), this first year shortstop is only asking for more.
“Of course you want the next one,” Peña says when I ask him about the sequence. “You want to help the team. But yeah, it’s just part of the game.”
Just a few minutes earlier, Astros third baseman Alex Bregman stands in front of the same wall and tries to put the burden of Houston’s struggling offense on his own shoulders. Bregman wants the blame. Especially if it spares a teammate from it.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting the job done,” Bregman says, his eyes full of the fire that helped make him an American League MVP runner-up in 2019. “. . . I’ve struggled before in this game and all you can do is work on it.”
These two scenes — Jeremy Peña seemingly nonplussed and Alex Bregman pissed at himself — are outright signs of why Jose Altuve is sure these Astros will be just fine. Just like the 2017, 2019 and 2021 World Series Astros were just fine.
For all the changes the Astros have gone through in this golden era of Houston baseball, including losing both George Springer and Carlos Correa, this is still a clubhouse full of players who hold themselves accountable.
“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Altuve says when I ask him about Bregman trying to take the blame. “It doesn’t matter the day, the time, he wants to go out there and do big things. We all want to. I think the chemistry in our clubhouse is great.
“Everyone wants to play good. Him, me, everybody. I played really bad tonight. I want to come back tomorrow and play obviously better.”
It’s easy for a team to stay together when it’s winning and everything’s going right. A team’s true character is revealed when it’s losing, when struggles seem to start multiplying. The Astros are losing as much as they ever lose these days at the moment, having dropped four out of their last five games and five out of their last seven.
That reduces the 36-23 Astros’ lead over the American League Central leading Minnesota Twins (35-26) to two games in the all-important race for the AL’s second seed and the first round bye that comes with it in MLB’s retooled playoff format.
Of course, it’s still June and there is plenty of time for Bregman to still turn around his .220 batting average and .375 slugging percentage. There is still time for the Astros to remember how they used to dominate at Minute Maid Park.
There is time to put in more work. Still time to demand more of yourself.
“I think guys have done a great job of getting on base,” Bregman says after the Astros go 3 for 29 with runners in scoring position in two straight home losses to the unremarkable Marlins. “I think it comes down to driving guys in when they’re out there.
“I haven’t done a good job of that. I need to be better. I will be better. And I’ll work at it.”
In many ways, this is what makes the Astros the Astros. You’ll rarely hear an excuse from the players in this clubhouse. That tone is set by guys like Altuve, who’s still one of the best leaders in all of baseball, the hard work obsessed Justin Verlander, the ever professional Michael Brantley and the now 28-year-old Bregman, who’s always been a strong voice.
Jeremy Peña Embraces the Astros’ High Standards
Jeremy Peña clearly seems to have picked up on the tone, the standards already set. After the toughest inning (and arguably game, he also goes 0 for 4 with two strikeouts) of his first MLB season, this rookie doesn’t try to shift any blame. He doesn’t bring up the tough bounces that Astros manager Dusty Baker does when asked about Peña’s adventure of a second inning.
“I just misplayed them,” Peña says. “We’re not executing right now as well as we should be. Learn from it — and keep going.”
“That’s the kind of guy he is. It doesn’t matter the day, the time, he wants to go out there and do big things. We all want to.” — Jose Altuve on Alex Bregman blaming himself.
It is absurd to expect Jeremy Peña to outplay Carlos Correa over a full season. It would be a ridiculous ask from any rookie. But it’s also hard to imagine Peña cratering too. Not with this demeanor. Not with this calm under adversity.
Not with these teammates.
“I got one yesterday right at me and I couldn’t make (the play),” Altuve says when someone asks about Peña’s inning of defensive frustration. “That’s baseball. I think he’s playing great. I love the way he’s playing. He’s obviously playing 100 percent.
“Great kid and like I said, tomorrow’s another day.”
Peña hits a towering two run home run into the Crawford Boxes on that Sunday tomorrow behind Justin Verlander, the indestructible, ageless Tom Cruise of baseball. He also commits a throwing error in the seventh inning that helps the Marlins score their first run, setting the stage for a four run inning. Still, Houston wins 9-4 with Altuve playing as well as he wanted to (three hits, including a three run home run).
The Astros win big on Verlander day and still know their offense needs more work. That’s baseball too. These Astros won’t mope though. They’ll just continue to get after it. Together.
“No,” Peña tells PaperCity when I ask if he’s noticed any frustration in the clubhouse with the team having scored 16 total runs in five games before scoring nine on Sunday. “We have a good team. We know what we can do.
“It’s just a matter of doing it.”
It is easy to like any team when it’s winning. When everything is going right. But these Astros reveal their true selves when they’re losing. In many ways, that’s when you see what this team is really made of.
That’s when you can truly understand why they keep winning season after season.