ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Pena missed the final 25 games of the 2009 season, but the Rays slugger managed to claim a share of the American League home run title with Mark Teixeira of the Yankees, as both finished the season with 39 home runs.
"It's a thrill," Pena said. "I would be lying if I told you I wasn't extremely excited about it ending up this way. I wish I would have kept on playing. It's still a question that remains to me -- what it could have been. But I'm also grateful because I thought it was a good season for me -- a season I can build on.
"I just also feel there's so much room for improvement that it really excites me and motivates me to keep on working hard and to keep on trying to improve on all aspects of my game."
Being recognized as the co-leader for home runs makes Pena the first Rays player to lead the league in that category. Pena finished second to Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees in 2007, when he hit a club-record 46 home runs to Rodriguez's 54.
Pena had 39 home runs on Sept. 7, when a CC Sabathia fastball fractured the slugger's left index and middle fingers during his at-bat in the first inning of a day-night doubleheader.
"It is fitting that he ended up being co-home run champion," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The way he was swinging the bat, I could envision easily 45 home runs out of him this season. He was going that well. Of course, that could have meant a few more victories. But that's part of our game. That's how it works. I'm just pleased that he's able to hang that title up on the wall."
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no player in the live-ball era (since 1920) had led his league in home runs despite missing at least 25 games to end the season. Elias pointed out that two league leaders missed their final 20 games -- Dick Allen in 1974 and Jimmie Foxx in '39.
Teixeira started at first base for the Yankees on Sunday, flying out to center field and striking out in his first two at-bats before walking twice in the sixth and being lifted for a pinch-runner.
"When my injury happened, there was so much of the season left that the last thing on my mind was the fact that I was going to be able to lead the league in home runs," Pena said. "So, what can I say? I'm just grateful that I am up at the top, especially with all the great hitters coming up behind me. ... I didn't expect this to happen, so I'm really honored and thrilled."
Pena's teammates were happy for him.
"It's real nice to see him hang onto that," Andy Sonnanstine said. "He was a great player all year, a great teammate and an unbelievable guy in the clubhouse. It's really nice to see him succeed like that and have that honor."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.