ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Pena understands that recording 1,000 career hits isn't exactly a celebrated accomplishment in baseball. The bigger round numbers -- 3,000, usually -- receive the most attention. But that didn't mean his 1,000th hit as a Major Leaguer wasn't special to him.
The Rays' first baseman picked up his 1,000th hit in style during Tuesday night's 5-0 win over the Angels, blasting a solo home run into the right-field stands against Angels right-hander Ervin Santana in the sixth inning. For Pena, No. 1,000 came about 10 1/2 years after No. 1, which he recorded on Sept. 7, 2001, against Kris Wilson of the Royals.
"It's a tale of a dream come true," Pena said when asked what 1,000 hits mean to him. "I'm grateful that I was able to get the opportunity to get one hit. I dreamt about getting one hit in the big leagues, so for me to be able to get 1,000, I can't put it into words how special it is for me. The one thing that sticks out is I'm grateful, extremely grateful. ... I celebrated my first one. I celebrated the fact that I got one, so 1,000 is just icing on the cake -- a lot more icing on the cake."
Of course, Pena's moment came with another humbling subplot: The first person he passed as he trotted around the bases to raucous applause was Albert Pujols, who is a year younger than the 33-year-old Pena and already has 2,089 career hits.
"All I thought of was, 'Wow, this guy's got 2,000 of these things.' I'm like, 'Man, I have to do this double to reach where he's at,'" Pena said. "It kind of puts things into perspective, but that doesn't take away from how grateful I am and how cool it is just to be able to say I got 1,000 hits in the Major Leagues. That's awesome."
Pena kept his home run ball, as a young boy caught it in the stands and offered it back without asking for anything in return. But Pena was flattered by how excited the boy was about the opportunity, so he gave him a bat and batting gloves anyway. That ball will go next to the one he knocked for his first career hit, Pena said.
"Obviously you know Carlos is a very bright young man, and he's worked very hard," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I didn't have any big league hits, so I'm kind of impressed. I think it's pretty cool. It's not the end. He's still a young man."
Also pointing to the way Pena has matured as a hitter, Maddon added that he expects Pena's next 1,000 hits to come much quicker than the parts of 12 big league seasons Pena needed to get the first thousand.
"Yeah, please. That took me a while, brother," Pena said, laughing. "A lot of effort, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of adversity -- which makes it that much more special for me also to be able to stick around and to be able to reach that milestone. For me, it's truly special."