Nicky Makes History in Royals Finale

KANSAS CITY — Salvador Perez ended his season in the on-deck circle on Sunday afternoon, in the Royals’ 7-3 loss to the Twins at Kauffman Stadium, at 48 home runs. He was one away from breaking a tie with Jorge Soler for the Royals’ single-season home run record and one away from breaking a tie with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the Major League home run lead.

But Perez wasn’t upset with how things ended at all. How could he, after a historic season at the plate?

“People just texted me, you should have gotten one more, you should be hitting second today, first, to get as many as you can,” Perez said. “But I got 15 at-bats the last three games. And I got pitches to hit. I got four or five pitches in the middle. And things happen for a reason. I’m happy with the way I finished my season.”

Perez — who sprained his right ankle on Wednesday, the day he hit No. 48 — ended his magical season with 121 RBIs, second only to Hal McRae in 1982 among Royals. Perez’s 48 home runs are the most in a single season by a player who played at least 75 percent of his games at catcher.

“I think I did pretty good this year,” Perez said. “I love to play. I like to be there every day. … I love that. Honestly, I’m kind of sad because I just like to play. So tomorrow it’s going to be like, ‘OK. Now what?’ … I know some people are happy to go back home and all that. But I’m not that way. I just love to play. Hopefully we can be in October next year and see what happens.”

The Royals ended their 2021 season with a 74-88 record and in fourth place in the American League Central. Despite the fast 15-9 start in April, the final result was right around where they expected to be in terms of record, and there were some steps forward in their rebuild.

“Usually on this day, you’re excited, when we’ve had the seasons we’ve had in the past, to get done with this day and get into the offseason and reset,” second baseman Whit Merrifield said. “Today was the most unexcited I’ve been about it. One, I love those guys in that locker room. … I’m so excited about what we have moving forward that I wasn’t quite ready for it to end. We had some good momentum going, and I wanted to keep it going. I can’t wait to get back already.”

The Royals improved their winning percentage for the third consecutive season, after going 26-34 (.433) in 2020, 59-103 (.364) in ’19 and 58-104 (.358) in ’18.

They saw a second-half resurgence, going 38-35 since the All-Star break after going 36-53 in the first half of the season.

“They’re hungry,” manager Mike Matheny said. “As much as we bring up the style of play and the improvement, there still is a level of obvious embarrassment whenever you’re not winning as many games as you’d like. We head into this thing and believe we’re going to be a playoff-caliber club. When you’re not there, that’s not something that you’re just OK with.”

Matheny was encouraged by the belief he saw on the roster this season but acknowledged they’ll need to prove it in 2022. But the Royals took steps forward this season, and it starts with the young talent.

Six players from the 2018 MLB Draft class have now reached the Majors, including right-hander Jackson Kowar, lefty Daniel Lynch, righty Jon Heasley and outfielder Kyle Isbel all making their debuts this season following the debuts of righty Brady Singer and lefty Kris Bubic last year.

Carlos Hernández emerged onto the scene and put himself firmly in the conversation for next year’s rotation. Even Angel Zerpa, who made one start this season, did enough to put him in the conversation, too.

Good teams have good, consistent pitching. The Royals can feel that on the horizon.

“Just finding some consistency in all facets,” Merrifield said on what needs to improve next year. “You’re not going to play to your capability every game in this game for 162, but we got to find ways to win when we’re not playing well and when we are playing well, we got to figure out how to ride that wave a little longer.

“It always starts with pitching. I think our pitching took a huge step forward. There’s a lot of youth there. But we have a lot of confidence in those arms. We can feel it, as position players, when there’s a confidence in our staff. It helps us. And when they’re not pitching well, we got to swing the bat. We have the lineup to do that.”