KANSAS CITY, Missouri – In hindsight, the Chicago White Sox probably should have walked Salvador Perez with first base vacated in the first inning of a no-run game Sunday, even if it would have gone against any traditional strategy.
Instead of congesting the bases, they watched as the Venezuelan catcher for the Kansas City Royals cleaned them up.
On Dylan Cease’s second pitch, a 99-mile-per-hour fastball off the plate, Perez made the kind of contact that sounds like a rocket exploding. The ball shot out into the afternoon sun, traveling what seemed like an eternity toward the fountain in upper right field – a hit off the ball that traveled about 448 feet.
“Most of us couldn’t stand in right field with a ‘fungo’ (practice bat) and hit it there,” admitted Royals manager Mike Matheny, shaking his head. “After contact with the bat, he looked different. I do not know what to say”.
It is difficult to put into words the season that Pérez is having.
Even when the Royals are out of competition – 17 games behind the AL Central leaders White Sox before Tuesday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles – their 31-year-old catcher is making this streak something. safety pin.
With the home run off the White Sox on Sunday, he hit 41 on the season and ranks second in the league, behind Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani, and four behind Johnny Bench’s record he set in 1970 for a single player. who was a receiver in at least 75% of the games.
It ranks seven behind the franchise record, which Jorge Soler set a couple of years ago.
Even when Pérez doesn’t hit home runs, he still responds in the decisive moments. With his tying RBI single Monday in the eighth that helped the Royals beat the Orioles 3-2, he reached 103 RBIs this season – a career high.
“It’s just a big number,” said Matheny, who was a catcher for 13 seasons but only had 67 career home runs. “To be able to do that, even with all the blows you take behind the plate and the kind of player you’ve been all season, offensively and defensively, we’re witnessing something special.”
It’s even more special when you consider the path Pérez took to get here.
He had long ago made his mark as one of the best receivers, with six consecutive All-Star appearances and not winning the Gold Glove on only one occasion. He had four straight seasons with at least 20 home runs and consecutive 80 RBI seasons in 2017 and 2018, numbers never before seen for a catcher.
Then the unthinkable happened. The following year, Perez was diagnosed with a tear in the ligament in the arm he throws with in spring training and led him to miss the entire season.
Perez was ready to reappear in the shortened season due to the pandemic in 2020. He had a career-best .333 average, with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs, foreshadowing what this season would be like.
Beyond that 37-game sprint, Perez fully prepared himself during the winter months.
Always obsessed with his craft, Pérez put emphasis on achieving better physical conditions. He started a healthier diet and added more stretching and flexibility work to cope with the rigors of a full season.
“This has great meaning,” Perez said. “I am aware of all my hard work this past winter, from October until the day I arrived in Arizona for spring training. If you work hard, you are going to have good results. You have to be consistent. I started to take care of my body and power in the ideal conditions to play. “
And oh yes. Pérez has participated in 136 of 137 games this season, 108 behind the plate, where heat, protective gear and crouching take a huge physical toll on a player.