Pena’s poise and 95-mph fastball won him the National League ERA title (2.48) for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1984, when he went 12-6 with four shutouts. But the young Dominican was already suffering from a sore shoulder, which required surgery in February 1985. More than a year of rehabilitation followed, but by late 1987, Pena had established himself as one of the Dodgers’ best relievers. Finding his niche out of the bullpen, he posted impressive strikeout numbers for the Dodgers until 1989.
Highly coveted by the New York Mets, Pena was dealt to the Big Apple along with Mike Marshall for Juan Samuel in December 1989. He continued his steady relief work with the Mets until September 1991, when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Tony Castillo to help the Braves run to postseason. Just two days after the deal, Pena pitched the ninth inning of no-hit game against the San Diego Padres started by Kent Mercker. He became the Braves closer for the remainder of the campaign and the postseason, saving eleven games and allowing just three runs in nineteen innings.
After struggling in 1992, it was discovered that Pena needed reconstructive elbow surgery. He missed the entire 1993 season, but came back to close for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1994 with his velocity intact. Pena credited his comeback to inner fortitude, saying, “Doubt is the worst thing you can put in your mind. If you put in your mind that you might not come back, you’re done. I never doubted that I was going to pitch again.” He finished his career in 1996 with an impressive 3.11 lifetime ERA.