Candidate Pena 'ready for the challenge'

BOSTON -- The Red Sox had to work around the Yankees’ playoff schedule Monday in order to squeeze in an interview with Tony Pena for their managerial vacancy.

After the Yankees lost their third straight in the ALCS Tuesday night to the Detroit Tigers, that shouldn’t be a problem if the Sox elect to bring back Pena for a second look.

It’s hard to gauge Pena’s chances. On the one hand, he’s a former American League Manager of the Year in Kansas City, where he was hired by Allard Baird, now one of Ben Cherington’s top assistants. Pena took a team that lost 100 games and finished with a winning record (83-79) in 2003.

But the Royals lost a franchise-record 104 games in ’04, and Pena’s managerial career ended in shocking fashion when he quit the following May after a loss in Toronto dropped the team’s record to 8-25. Managers seldom quit. They get fired. Managers who quit seldom get another chance.

The losing had extracted an obvious toll on Pena, who had taken Kansas City by storm with his endless energy and fun-loving personality, the same qualities that had endeared him to Boston fans when he was a Red Sox catcher for four seasons (1990-93) after being a five-time All-Star in the National League.

Pena made “We Believe” a T-shirt slogan that long-suffering Royals fans wore with pride in 2003. He came back the following spring with “Juntos Podemos” -- Together We Can -- little knowing that would prove to be a prescriptive for freefall.

"I have to be around my boys," Pena had said of his constant need to interact with his players. "It's like your house. If you are not around your kids, you don't know what they are doing. Baseball is the same thing. I want to know what's going on. I want to know how they think."

And then he walked out on them.

“I lost energy, and it's not fun," he said afterward. "It's better to turn it over to somebody who's having fun."

Pena returned to baseball the following season as the Yankees’ first-base coach. When Joe Torre left, he interviewed for his job, but Joe Girardi was hired. Pena remained in pinstripes, and now serves as Girardi’s bench coach. At 55, the fun and energy are back.

“I’m ready for the challenge, no question,” Pena told Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald in Detroit on Tuesday. “When you manage the first time and you come around a second time, you have more time to think about it. You have more time to learn. Every day is something new in baseball and you know more and more about the game. Right now, I’m better than I was. There’s no question about that.”

The field of candidates for the job is comprised of four men at the moment. Two -- the Dominican-born Pena and Orioles third-base coach DeMarlo Hale, an African-American -- satisfy MLB’s preference that teams interview minority candidates.

Neither Pena nor Hale, who was on Terry Francona’s coaching staff, were asked to interview last year after Francona was fired.

Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach was the first to interview, last Friday. Former Astros catcher Brad Ausmus, now a special assistant with the Padres, is scheduled to interview Wednesday, Hale on Thursday.

Still hovering in the background is John Farrell, the Toronto manager who has been identified as Boston’s preferred choice but as of Tuesday had not been informed, according to a baseball source, that the Red Sox have asked for permission to talk with him.

Pena is the only one of the four declared candidates with big-league managing experience. In his case, it may be both blessing and curse. He says he is better for it. Whether the Sox believe so remains to be seen.