One of the finest setupmen in baseball history, Pena was able to notch over 70 saves despite infrequent use as a closer. The Dominican right-hander spent his prime years with the Dodgers, putting out fires from Tommy Lasorda’s bullpen. An unheralded pitcher on some strong Dodgers teams, arms like Hershiser, Valenzuela and Welch garnered the spotlight while Pena went about his work with little fanfare. Originally a starter, Alejandro was converted to relief work after an injury and made himself into an elite fireman.
Signed by the Dodgers out of the Dominican in 1978, Los Angeles called Pena up to the parent club for his first taste of Major League ball in the strike shortened 1981 campaign. In just 14 games, Alejandro had a tidy 2.84 ERA and averaged just 6.4 hits over nine innings. The Dodgers initially got Pena’s feet wet as a relief pitcher in Los Angeles but he started taking his regular turn in the rotation in 1983. That year he won a dozen games on a 2.75 ERA. In 1984 he won the ERA crown with a 2.48 mark while also pacing the NL in shutouts. Although he wasn’t getting the attention of the portly southpaw Valenzuela, Alejandro proved a highly dependable pitcher. Then the injury struck.
Right when Pena was making a name for himself as one of the top starting pitchers in the National League, he missed almost all of the ’85 season to injury. When he returned in ’86, skipper Lasorda employed Alejandro with baby gloves, using him as a long arm and spot starter. But in 1987 he found his niche when he was converted full-time to a relief pitcher. He saved 11 games that year before his finest season in 1988. Los Angeles captured the NL West flag in ’88 as Pena saved a dozen games on a 1.91 ERA. He posted a fine strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.07-to-1 as he led the Dodgers to the World Series. The Dodgers won the world title as Alejandro worked 9.1 innings and surrendered just three hits in that year’s postseason.
Alejandro was just as good in 1989 when he posted a 2.13 ERA and raised his strikeout-to-walk ratio to an amazing 4.17-to-1. After two terrific years out of their bullpen, the Dodgers had a strong trade chip on their hands so they dealt him to the Mets to land toolsy second baseman Juan Samuel. Used in a setup capacity by the Mets, Pena averaged a strikeout per inning his first season in the Big Apple. But in 1991, when the Atlanta Braves were in need of a closer, they sent pitchers Tony Castillo and Joe Roa to the Mets to land Pena. The trade was a boon for Atlanta. Pena was just what the doctor ordered. In fifteen games down the stretch, Alejandro saved eleven games on a 1.40 ERA, leading the Braves to the postseason. He added three more saves to his season’s worksheet in a brilliant NLCS but he lost his only decision in a World Series defeat to the Twins.
Pena saved 15 games for the Braves in 1992 but it would be his last good season. He became a journeyman after that. The right-hander spent a poor 1994 season with the Pirates before splitting the ’95 season with three different teams. He struggled mightily in Boston and was released only to sign on, and get back on track, with the Florida Marlins. In need of relief help again, Bobby Cox and his Braves dealt prospect Chris Seelbach to Florida to nab Alejandro and he went to his final World Series that year. He pitched a combined six scoreless innings between the Division Series and NLCS and worked in two World Series games as the Braves toppled the Indians. After the season he rejoined the Marlins and pitched briefly for the club in ’96 before calling it a career.
W 56/L 52/PCT .519/ERA 3.11/G 503/SV 74/IP 1,058/H 959/BB 331/SO 839