Mets' Jose Lima pitches against the Braves in the 2nd...

Mets' Jose Lima pitches against the Braves in the 2nd inning. New York Mets vs. the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in 2006. Credit: Newsday/Kathy Kmonicek

Tony Peña shook his head in disbelief, still unable to process the news.

Tears welled in his red-rimmed eyes as he spoke of a life filled with joy and youthful exuberance, a life that ended much too soon.

Jose Lima, the former All-Star righthander who spent 13 seasons in the majors - including a four-game stint with the Mets in 2006 - died Sunday morning after a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles. He was 37.

"He was a great, great friend," said Yankees bench coach Peña, whose friendship with Lima spanned nearly two decades. Peña also managed Lima with the Kansas City Royals in 2003 and 2005 and played with him in the Dominican Republic winter league.

"I remember when he used to call me 'Papa Tony,' " he said. "This is a tough time. I'm struggling today."

Lima was best known for his bursts of unbridled energy and his passionate fist-pumps on the mound. Some considered "Lima Time," as he called it, a form of first-class hot-dogging. But he didn't care. He was having too much fun being himself.

For those who knew Lima best, he was more than a sideshow. He was a generous teammate and a trusted confidant.

"Everybody loved Lima," said Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who grew up in Santiago, Dominican Republic, the same town as Lima, and shared the same barber. "He always made you laugh. Always had fun. It's a very tough thing to happen. He had very good relationships with a lot of people."

Mets infielder Alex Cora played with Lima on the 2004 Dodgers. "He just enjoyed life. He really appreciated the daily things," Cora said. "What I took from him is that this is a game and you got to enjoy it. And it doesn't matter what people think about you."

Lima was 89-102 during his career with the Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Royals, Dodgers and Mets. He played his last professional game on July 7, 2006, giving up seven runs and seven hits in the Mets' 7-3 loss to the Florida Marlins. Lima continued to play winter ball in the Dominican Republic and also pitched for the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball League in 2008.

Mets manager Jerry Manuel said he didn't know Lima well but enjoyed his passionate spirit.

"He was one of those characters that, I think, baseball needed. Definitely," he said. "He had the kind of joy for the game that you see in the children and I appreciated that about him."

"Everyone's going to remember Jose Lima because he was a good pitcher and talented, but he was a great human being," said Peña, who wrote the words "RIP Lima" on his baseball cap. "I don't know if you will find anybody that will say anything wrong about him because he was a great kid."

With David Lennon