MINOR LEAGUES / SEAN WATERS : Pitcher’s Loss Proves to Be a Giant Gain
In his last start in the minor leagues on June 30, Phoenix Firebird pitcher Jim Pena gave up two home runs. Colorado Springs’ Reggie Jefferson hit a wind-aided homer over the right-field wall and Alan Cockrell slugged a home run down the left-field line.
Pena, who is normally a reliever and was making only his second start, had grown accustomed to high-scoring games, which are the norm in the triple-A Pacific Coast League. He wasn’t about to give up.
But Phoenix Manager Bill Evers had a different opinion and came to the mound to replace the former Mira Costa High and Cal State Dominguez Hills standout after three innings.
“I couldn’t believe he was taking me out of the game,” Pena said.
Evers reassured Pena that his seven-year professional career had not come to an end. On the contrary, the San Francisco Giants had purchased Pena’s contract and he was being called up to the majors.
Evers recalled the conversation:
“I told him, ‘Jim, that’s enough,’ ”
“He said, ‘Why?’ ”
“ ‘Because you’re going to San Francisco tomorrow.’ He didn’t believe me at first. He was totally amazed. It was the only bright spot of the evening.”
Pena was a happy pitcher despite being credited with the 7-3 loss to Colorado Springs at Scottsdale
Stadium. He gave up four runs on six hits, including the two solo home runs.
He couldn’t believe his misfortune worked to his benefit.
“Yeah, Evers really caught me off-guard,” Pena said. “He told me the Giants didn’t want me to show up with a tired arm.
“I had an idea I would get a chance once they moved me to the rotation.”
Pena told the story while resting on a king-size bed in a posh New York hotel. Pena and his roommate, reliever Bryan Hickerson, debated about which nightclub they should visit after their game against the New York Mets Friday night.
“This is the life,” Pena said. “I can’t believe I’m here.”
Pena, 27, didn’t exactly have eye-popping statistics (a 7-3 record and a 4.15 earned-run average), but they were good enough for the Giants, who were in need of pitching help before the all-star break.
When he was called up, Pena didn’t know if he would be used as a starter or reliever by Giant Manager Roger Craig.
Pena, a left-hander, made his debut as a starter July 7 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies at Candlestick Park and earned the victory. In the first inning, he walked former Dodger Stan Javier on four pitches.
“My first two pitches were bad, but I thought I threw a strike with my third pitch,” Pena said. “They got the rookie rule. Umpires are going to test you before they call a strike. I bounced the next pitch in the dirt.”
Pena settled down to get Mariano Duncan to pop out and Dave Hollins and John Kruk to strike out to end the inning. He pitched six innings, gave up three runs on five hits and walked a batter. He also got his first major league hit. The Giants won, 10-6.
Three days later, Pena was summoned in the seventh inning to pitch to Montreal Expo rookie Greg Colbrunn with two outs and the bases loaded. He got Colbrunn to fly to center.
“I threw a slider and he missed by two feet,” Pena said. “The pitch almost hit him in the kneecap. He nearly came out of his shoes. I think he was trying to hit a grand slam.
“I fell behind 2-1 and I decided to throw one down the middle. Give him something to hit. He popped up to center.”
Pepperdine Coach Andy Lopez knew Pena was something special when he was coaching at Mira Costa. Lopez guided the Mustangs to the Southern Section 4-A Division final in 1982 and Pena was his standout pitcher. Walnut beat Mira Costa, 4-0, in the final at Dodger Stadium.
“We made five errors and I was hit pretty well,” Pena said.
Pena, who was selected to the Southern Section 4-A Division first team, was offered a scholarship to attend UCLA, but he failed to qualify academically. Lopez accepted the coaching position at Cal State Dominguez Hills and offered Pena a scholarship.
Pena was a starter for four seasons at Dominguez Hills and holds several school records. He was drafted by the Oakland A’s in 1985 but decided to stay in college for senior season after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. The Giants drafted Pena with their 16th pick in the 1986 draft.
“It really doesn’t surprise me that Jimmy is doing well,” Lopez said. “He was very, very good at the high school level and very, very good at the college level. He just developed (as a pitcher) year by year.”
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