Never mind the .148 batting average coming into the game. Never mind the 0-for-17 recent slide with sporadic at-bats. In an ironic twist of fate, Pena found himself in the designated-hitter slot late in Sunday's game against the Twins. He proceeded to go 2-for-2, including a game-winning single in the 12th that lifted the Royals to a 5-4 triumph at Kauffman Stadium.
Pena was Kansas City's starting shortstop earlier this season, but prolonged batting woes coupled with the emergence of Mike Aviles left Pena cast as an extra infielder and, in one case, an emergency pitcher.
But for one shining day, at least, Pena was a true hitting hero.
When Pena's sharp single to center in the 12th drove home Mark Teahen, the Royals rushed en masse toward Pena and mobbed him.
"It's a great feeling, to have all the guys jumping on you and punching you," Pena said. "It's the only time you get punched and it doesn't hurt."
Pena said the game-winning hit was the first of his career. He had entered the game as a pinch-runner for designated hitter Billy Butler in the eighth, and scored the tying run when Minnesota shortstop Adam Everett made a throwing error.
Manager Trey Hillman stayed with Pena in the DH slot thereafter, and Pena made a bid to help win the game in the 10th inning when he went up the middle for a hit against lefty Craig Breslow that sent the potential winning run to third with one out.
The Royals couldn't get it done that inning, but it was Pena to the rescue once more in the 12th.
Hillman was particularly happy to see good things happen for Pena, who has maintained a positive attitude despite losing his starting job.
"Refreshing," Hillman said. "Very refreshing."
It was also refreshing for the Royals to snap some gloomy trends that had been developing against the Twins. Minnesota had taken the opening two games of the series, and the club entered play Sunday sporting a streak of five straight wins at Kauffman Stadium.
The Twins, who slipped out of first place in the American League Central with Sunday's loss, are generally regarded as a team that doesn't beat itself. But two throwing errors loomed large in the series finale.
Starter Scott Baker made a throwing error that set up Kansas City's two-run rally in the sixth. Everett's errant throw on a routine grounder to short by Ross Gload prevented Minnesota from carrying a 4-3 lead to the ninth and turning the game over to closer Joe Nathan.
"It gives you a little life because you don't see those guys do that much," Hillman said.
Royals starter Gil Meche battled through 6 1/3 innings, and the bullpen trio of Ramon Ramirez, Joakim Soria and Leo Nunez took it from there. Minnesota didn't score over the last five innings.
Kansas City (54-64) snapped a four-game losing streak, and can now head out on a nine-game road trip with the Pena-induced momentum.
With one out in the 12th, Mark Teahen smacked a hit to right and showed some aggressive baserunning to stretch it into a double. Teahen finished the day 3-for-5, and boosted the attack all day with his hard running. It was Teahen's infield hit that started the two-run eighth.
When Teahen managed to reach second in the 12th, it changed the entire inning.
"[It was] a perfect situation to force it," Hillman said. "Even if Mark is out in that situation, it doesn't bother me. You've got to be aggressive."
The Twins chose to walk Jose Guillen intentionally and take their chances with Pena.
A predictable move, but one that didn't work on an unpredictable day.
Once Pena broke an 0-for-17 skid in the 10th, it paved the way for a confident Pena to come up big against Breslow in the 12th.
"That first at-bat helped me be in a better groove," Pena said. "I had already seen the pitcher and had a better idea what he was throwing. I've been working on staying on top of the ball and being a little shorter [with my swing]. I got a good pitch to hit and drove the ball good."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less