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04/15/09 6:00 PM ET

Gold Glove ceremony humbles Pena

Rays' first baseman proud of honor recognizing '08 defense

ST. PETERSBURG -- Prior to Wednesday afternoon's game against the Yankees, Rays first baseman Carlos Pena received the hardware for his slick fielding last season.

Pena won the 2008 American League Gold Glove Award for first basemen, and he took possession of the coveted award minutes before the start of the game accompanied by his wife, Pamela, and their 3-year-old daughter, Isabella.

"I'm so excited about it," Pena said. "It's a beautiful award, trophy, but just what it represents is the most important thing. I take a lot of pride in my defense, so to be recognized, I couldn't be more grateful. It's definitely an honor for me, and I'll cherish this forever."

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By winning his first Gold Glove Award, Pena became the first player in Rays history to earn the honor, leading all AL first basemen and infielders with a .998 fielding percentage. Pena made just two errors in 1,099 total chances, including 991 putouts, and he was involved in 117 double plays. Pena made the routine plays, but he made the spectacular ones on numerous occasions.

The winners were selected by managers and coaches from each AL team, who can't vote for their own players.

The Gold Glove Award personifies what is felt about Pena inside the Rays' clubhouse.

"Words can't really describe it," right-hander Matt Garza said. "It's just way easier to pitch when you've got a guy like that at first base. You're not afraid to let a guy pull the ball down the line, because nine times out of 10, Pena's going to stop the ball. ... He has great range and extends very well. He makes plays, and it's like, 'Thank you.'"

Right-hander James Shields called Pena "an amazing first baseman."

"When I got called up, I got spoiled -- I had Travis Lee and now Carlos," Shields said. "Travis Lee never got a Gold Glove, but he deserved one. I think anybody on our team is capable of getting a Gold Glove. ... I think he's going to get it for many years to come."

Shields added that it was nice to see a Rays player receive some recognition with a postseason award.

"I think we're starting to get recognized a little bit for our hard work last year, what we accomplished," Shields said. "Carlos deserved every bit of that. This guy's unbelievable. He's already made five or six 'web gems' this season. It's a matter of trust, and everyone trusts Carlos at first base. It's just good to have a guy like that."

Rays manager Joe Maddon reflected on what Pena's defense has meant to the club.

"A ton -- you ask any one of the infielders how much more comfortable it is just to pick it up and throw it over there," Maddon said. "Of course, they always try to throw chest high, but they know if they don't, they have somebody to pick them up. When a first baseman does that on a poor throw and the runner is out, that definitely impacts the infielder in a positive way for his next play.

"Conversely, if you're unable to make that play, that could lead to more throwing errors. So it's invaluable to have a first baseman who is able to do that."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.