Salvador Perez is not a pitcher, but he’s certainly been the Kansas City Royals’ closer this week.
Perez belted a walk-off RBI single past Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Joey Wendle, who terrorized the Royals all night, and down the left-field line to drive in Nicky Lopez with the winning run as the Royals claimed a 9-8 victory in a back-and-forth thriller Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
The hit marked Perez’s second walk-off RBI of the homestand, the sixth of his career. It’s also the third time in the past five games that he drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh inning or later. He’s the only player in the majors with multiple walk-off hits this season.
“We never quit,” said Perez, the Royals’ All-Star catcher. “I’ve said that before. We never quit. We play hard to the last out. Crazy things like tonight can happen.”
The Royals (10-7) avoided being swept in a series for the first time this season. They also finished the 10-game homestand with a 6-4 record, their most wins in homestand since July 12-18, 2019 against Detroit and Chicago.
Multiple times Wednesday night, it sure looked like the Royals might have bitten off more than they could chew by digging holes against the defending American League champion Rays. Except none of it was too much, at least not on this night.
How about facing a four-run deficit before they’d even sent a hitter to the plate? No sweat.
Can you overcome a three-run deficit with two and a half innings remaining? Watch this.
Muster another rally trailing by a run going into the ninth inning? Lined up perfectly.
“I’ve seen some really good clubs that when they’re down four-nothing in the first, they’re kind of checked out,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “They won’t say it, but you sense it.
“I just think it’s part of the DNA of this club that when something happens that they believe something else is going to happen in our direction. Just somebody get it going and hand it off. … It was a team effort if I’ve ever seen one. That’s probably as good a description of that game as one I’ve ever been a part of.”
Starting pitcher Jakob Junis allowed the four first-inning runs, but he managed his way through five innings. That length proved crucial considering the Royals bullpen took over in the second inning two nights prior.
Junis held the Rays to one run and three hits in his final four innings to keep the door open for the Royals.
“I couldn’t get that cutter to move the way I wanted and I was kind of battling my command a little bit,” Junis said. “That was just one of those outings where you’ve got to grind. You’ve got to do whatever you can, scratch, claw, throw whatever you can up there to get some outs. I think that was just a pure grind-it-out type of outing tonight.”
The Royals pulled within two runs, 4-2, after two innings but then trailed 6-3 going into the bottom of the seventh after what seemed like something between heartbreaking luck and the universe conspiring against them in the sixth.
In that inning, sluggers Carlos Santana, Perez and Jorge Soler blasted baseballs 395 feet, 394 feet and 395 feet, respectively, and somehow the Royals came away without a run.
Former Royals outfielder Brett Phillips, playing right field for the Rays, hauled in Santana’s high drive at the wall in right-center field for the first out of the inning.
Then Perez smashed a drive that appeared to be a home run, but it hit the padding on the top of the wall in right field. Phillips alertly relayed a throw into the infield in time to tag Perez out as he approached second base.
With two outs, Soler pelted the top of the left field wall with a laser that went for a double. The ball smacked the pad just inches from being a home run. The next batter, Hunter Dozier, grounded out to end the inning.
A total of probably less than three feet made the difference between three additional runs for the Royals.
Trailing 6-3 going into the bottom of the seventh, the Royals pieced together a four-run inning behind a pinch-hit two-run single by Hanser Alberto, and a two-run go-ahead homer to right field by Santana to give the Royals their first lead, 7-6.
The Rays responded in the eighth when Kevin Kiermaier singled, stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw by Perez. He scored to tie the game on a Randy Arozerena RBI double.
Wendle’s second double of the night and third hit drove in pinch runner Manuel Margot in the top of the ninth to give the Rays a one-run lead, 8-7.
Michael A. Taylor’s leadoff single against Rays reliever Diego Castillo set the table for the Royals’ ninth inning. Jarrod Dyson pinch ran, stole second base, advanced to third on Alberto’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Lopez’s squeeze bunt to tie the score 8-8.
With two outs and Lopez on second, the Rays intentionally walked Santana to pitch to Perez.
Perez, admittedly mad about his throwing error and somewhat miffed over getting tagged out on the ball he hit to the wall, stepped to the plate with another chance to deliver his team to victory.
“I’m just trying to do my job, try to hit the ball hard,” Perez said of the last at-bat. “Castillo is one of the best closers. He did a pretty good job last year, and he was good this year. So I just tried to see something up and hit it hard. He left me a slider right in the middle of home plate, and I hit it pretty good.”
The way the ball narrowly slipped past the third baseman and up the left field line was uncannily reminiscent of his 2014 AL Wild Card Game walk-off single. The final score of the game was the same as well.
Matheny, always thinking several steps ahead, had already begun thinking about extra-inning scenarios with a runner on second base and making sure reliever Kyle Zimmer was aware of what bunt defense they might use.
“I’m thinking more that than anything else and hoping for the best, and Salvy keeps producing the best,” Matheny said.