KANSAS CITY — On Aug. 10, 2011, Salvador Perez arrived with authority in his Major League debut, collecting his first hit and RBI while picking off two runners against Tampa Bay.
Ten years later, he’s still making a splash.
The veteran catcher homered twice during a three-hit night in the Royals’ 8-4 victory over the Yankees on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium. Not only did the night commemorate Perez’s anniversary, the homers were his 28th and 29th of the season — a career best after two years (2017 and ’18) of 27 homers.
He is on pace for 42 homers, which would be the third most by any player in history who played at least 75 percent of his games at catcher, trailing Johnny Bench (45 in 1970) and Javy Lopez (43 in 2003).
“Something I’ll never forget,” Perez said. “It was amazing, especially that we won the game. That’s the most important thing.”
Perez kicked off his anniversary game with a first-pitch homer in the first inning — a projected 418-foot shot into the fountains at The K.
His second round-tripper off Yankees starter Nestor Cortes was a moonshot with just one eye. A bug had flown into one of Perez’s eyes in the top of the sixth when reliever Josh Staumont entered, and Perez spent a few minutes with trainer Nick Kenny trying to get it out.
They didn’t find it until the game was over.
“No, they didn’t get it out,” Perez said. “Told the umpire Bill [Miller] that I didn’t want to be there all night, so let’s go. He goes, ‘Salvy, you sure you’re seeing everything good? Because I don’t want to get hit.’ I’m like, ‘I’m good, I got you.’”
Perez saw the curveball Cortes threw him to lead off the bottom of the frame just fine, belting a moonshot into the Yankees’ bullpen to tie the game before the Royals went ahead for good on Hunter Dozier’s double.
It was Perez’s 10th multi-homer game of his career and fourth this season.
“Special day,” manager Mike Matheny said. “To be able to do what he did, he’s at a different level right now. You’re talking some career numbers for him on an already good career. I still think he’s just kind of finding his stride.”
At the ballpark on Tuesday, Perez saw the video highlights from his debut, when he hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning against Wade Davis — Perez’s future teammate, one who threw the final out of the 2015 World Series and who threw a perfect eighth inning to Perez on Tuesday. In 2011, Perez collected his first career hit off Davis in the seventh inning.
“I thought he was so easy to hit,” Perez said with a smirk. “We were talking a little bit today. Like, ‘Thank you, Wade.’”
Perez has been one of the Royals’ most dangerous hitters for a decade and their savvy leader behind the plate, first guiding Kansas City to back-to-back World Series trips and now guiding through a rebuild with talented young pitchers establishing themselves in the Majors this season. He wants to be a Royal for life. Perez signed a $82 million extension in the spring that will keep him in Kansas City through at least 2025 with a club option for ’26.
The seven-time All-Star debuted at 21 years old and seems to keep getting better at 31. The homers also put him at 72 RBIs this season, eight shy of matching his career high (80 in 2017 and ’18).
Perez’s career as a Royal has been more about his accolades. An example of why is the story he told Tuesday night. Perez said he heard a young fan say his name and turned around to see a sign that was asking Perez to hit a homer because it was the fan’s birthday.
The fan got to see two homers, and Perez got the bat boy to bring the fan a ball while the Yankees made a pitching change.
“I like to make people happy. You never know how much they sacrificed to come and buy the ticket to see you play. I always say we need to play hard every inning because you don’t know how hard they work or do whatever they got to do to buy a ticket to come to see you. We need to play hard for the fans.”
The joy and passion Perez plays with stands out alongside his talent. He comes up in big situations, and he delivers. He flashes smiles when he hits home runs and later when he talks to reporters about his approach.
For as much emphasis as there is placed on the future of the Royals with the young prospects rising quickly through the pipeline, the organization’s cornerstone piece is Perez.
“The most special thing is to just watch the joy he plays the game with,” said starter Daniel Lynch, who allowed three runs in 4 2/3 innings Tuesday. “It’s a super important lesson for young guys like me and a lot of the young guys we have. That’s the ultimate confidence when you can play with that kind of joy.
“He deserves everything he has gotten and will continue to get. I mean, I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon.”
Perez has been doing it for 10 years already. Why not another 10 more?
“One of my dreams came true that day, Aug. 10, 2011,” Perez said. “Every Minor League player wants to get called up and play in the big league. So thank God for the first 10 years, and hopefully I can stay here and play for 10 more. It happened quick. That’s what I tell people. I don’t think it’s any problem to play 10 more years because it happened super quick.”