KANSAS CITY — Salvador Perez‘s goal this season was to hit 30 home runs. He had never gotten above 27 in a season in his career and thought, with all the offseason work he went through, 30 was a reasonable goal.
That mark was passed way back in August. Now, Perez is making history.
Bench did it in 1970. The next home run Perez hits will top one of the greatest catchers of all time.
“It’s an honor to tie Johnny Bench, one of the greatest catchers in baseball,” Perez said following the series rubber match. “I feel happy to be with the greatest. A lot of thanks to God for putting me in that position. We didn’t win today, but to me, it’s an honor to be there.”
“We’re witnessing a special player and a special season,” manager Mike Matheny added. “As much as the 45 is impressive, when you’re ever thrown in the conversation with who most would probably say is the greatest in the history of that position, to be able to be put in that conversation with some of the things you’re achieving is exceptionally rare.”
Perez first met Bench in 2014 at Perez’s first Gold Glove Award ceremony. He’s met the iconic Reds catcher a number of times since, but Perez never thought his 2021 season would one day be in the same conversation as Bench’s 1970 season.
“It’s an honor, man, every time you go to that ceremony and see a lot of great players, Hall of Fame players,” Perez said. “The only thing that comes to my mind is, ‘Hopefully I can be one of these guys and people can remember me for the rest of my life.’ It’s something I want to do. I just need to do my job, try to stay healthy and finish my career out hard.”
Perez, who was the designated hitter in the finale, has hit 30 home runs as a catcher — five shy of Hall of Fame backstop Ivan Rodriguez’s AL record of 35 set in 1999.
This season has been a magical one for Perez, who matched his own career high for homers back in August and hasn’t looked back, as he’s made his way into the AL MVP Award voting conversation. His 45th blast tied him with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. atop the Major League home run leaderboard and Perez leads the Majors with 112 RBIs.
It was also Perez’s 197th career homer, tying Mike Sweeney for second on the Royals’ all-time home run list.
“Sweeney, the Captain,” Perez said, referencing how Sweeney was the first Royals player to wear the captain “C” on his jersey. “I learned a lot of things from him. How he took care of people, how he took care of himself, how he played the game. How he always tried to win, always thinking about winning.”
With 16 games to play this season, Perez is three homers shy of tying Jorge Soler (48 in 2019) for the franchise’s single-season mark. And Perez’s home runs tend to come in bunches; Thursday was his third consecutive game with a homer, which he’s done three times this season.
“I think we all just feel lucky to be witnessing it,” said rookie starter Daniel Lynch, who exited in the third due to a cramp in his left calf. “To see what kind of person he is and how eager he is to help everybody, how much joy he plays the game with, it’s so easy to root for a guy like that.”
Perez said he talked to friends and family, including his mom in Venezuela, to help celebrate the milestone. But he emphasized it would have been a better celebration had the Royals won — because winning is all he’s focused on right now. Perez’s first-inning, two-run blast traveled a Statcast-projected 423 feet and provided the only runs for the Royals, with the A’s capitalizing on big innings in the third and ninth.
Because as much as Perez is chasing down his own accomplishments, the priority is getting back to winning games.
“A lot of family texts me,” Perez said. “My mom, she was crying. They are all happy. Maybe we can go eat. But that’s it. Tomorrow’s a new day. We need to try and win the [series opener against the Mariners]. That’s what I always say. It’s more important to win the game.”