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Once again, Mr. August powers Rays

With a heavy heart, Carlos Peña smacked two home runs and singled home the game winner Saturday night against Texas.

After his first home run, Peña held up a sign he made before the game that read: “That was for you, Monty.” Monty was Greg Montalbano, Peña’s friend since their days playing baseball at Northeastern University, who died earlier that morning after a 10-year battle with cancer.

“He was my right-hand man,” Peña said. “We ate lunch together every day. Every day.”

Peña dedicated Saturday’s game to his friend, which might explain the productive night at the plate.

Or, maybe Peña’s power came from another source: the calendar.

Since joining the Rays, Peña has become Mr. August.

He has hit 28 home runs in the month of August since 2007, the most of any major leaguer. He has 11 this month, including six in his previous 16 at-bats leading up to Wednesday’s game.

Rays manager Joe Maddon calls this kind of production “toasty,” and Peña is getting toasty at the right time.

It was during this time last year when the Rays first baseman began delivering the big hits, carrying the offense after Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford went on the disabled list.

He seems to be doing the same now. What’s more, Pat Burrell seems to be caught in Peña’s draft. And has anybody else noticed how well Ben Zobrist is batting with a productive Peña waiting on deck?

Production from Peña and Burrell will go a long way toward another postseason for the Rays, who chase the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers in the American League Wild-Card standings.

Don’t let his .223 average and AL-leading 151 strikeouts and his incredibly low 35 singles discourage you.

Peña is going to strike out. A lot. And he’s going to hit for power, too. His 37 home runs lead the AL.

He is, after all, swinging for the fences, not for average.

And he’s swinging for the postseason, too.

Peña is the leader of this team, the captain. He called the players’ only meeting before the first game of the last homestand to refocus his teammates. No shouting or finger pointing. Just a little of the old “don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow, just worry about today.”

That’s how Peña approaches each at-bat. He clears his mind and breaks it down pitch-to-pitch. And when he stops chasing pitches that are out of the strike zone and zeroes in on those he can hit, well, you get 11 home runs through the first 22 games of the month with the promise of more in September.

Peña had a bad first half, an All-Star by name. But none of that will matter if Mr. August stays toasty and becomes Mr. September.

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