SEATTLE — Salvador Perez seems unstoppable right now. And maybe he is, much to the chagrin of the Mariners.
Perez homered for the fourth consecutive day and third consecutive game against Seattle in the Royals’ 4-2 win at T-Mobile Park on Saturday afternoon, securing a series victory in the four-game set and Kansas City’s seventh win in its last nine games.
Following back-to-back grand slams against the Mariners in the first two games of this series, Perez came up with the bases loaded in the third inning Saturday but flied out to left field.
“You got to try,” Perez said about the grand slam that wasn’t. “But the game was not over.”
In his next at-bat in the fifth, Perez settled for a two-run homer, with the 367-foot shot ultimately being the difference-maker after Whit Merrifield’s leadoff homer and starter Daniel Lynch’s 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball. The Royals offense added an insurance run in the ninth and the bullpen held the Mariners from there, with Domingo Tapia, Joel Payamps — who notched his first career win with 2 2/3 scoreless innings — and Scott Barlow closing the door in the final 4 1/3 innings.
The homer was Perez’s 37th of the season, his seventh in the past nine games and his 16th in 39 games since the All-Star break — and since the Home Run Derby, which saw him crush 28 as part of the All-Star Week festivities.
“I’ve seen some good players, and he’s up there at the top of that list,” manager Mike Matheny said. “There are very few guys that you can be heading into the last month of the regular season and say that this guy needs to be in the conversation of one of the most valuable players in the league.”
In the past four games, Perez has more homers (four) than strikeouts (three), to go along with three walks (one intentional), including one in the eighth inning Saturday when Mariners reliever Casey Sadler did not throw one pitch in the zone to Perez.
Perez, who was the designated hitter Saturday, has hit 25 home runs as the catcher and 12 as the DH. Among American League players who have played at least 75 percent of their games in a season behind the plate, Perez is now tied with Carlton Fisk, who hit 37 in 1985.
“I said it after he hit his homer, I think we’re witnessing something that’s historic,” Lynch said. “We’ll never forget watching this season.”
Perez, 31, is putting together his best year in his 10th season in the Majors. Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Perez has caught more innings in 2021 than any catcher in the Majors except Boston’s Christian Vazquez. He has a 41 percent caught stealing percentage, which leads the AL, and he’s guiding a staff full of young pitchers through their first tastes of the big leagues.
“I think Salvy’s personality is perfect, especially for young pitchers,” Lynch said. “He’s never treated me like he was better than me, like a rookie. … I never feel intimidated to go and ask him a question or talk to him, because he’s so open and such a good guy.”
With 33 games to go this season, Perez is 11 home runs shy of matching Jorge Soler’s 2019 Royals single-season record of 48. After Saturday, he’s hit 16 homers in his previous 33 games.
Perez has talked endlessly this season about the work he put in over the winter with Royals coaches to improve his swing and pitch selection, and it’s clearly paying off.
“It’s about preparing yourself every game,” Perez said. “How are they going to pitch me? I have an idea. That’s what I do, I prepare myself every day to play and compete and try to win the game.”
The Royals are now 59-70 with just over a month to play. They’re near the bottom of the American League Central. But 2021 has been as much about development as it has been about establishing a winning culture behind the core group of veterans, and no one exemplifies that more than Perez.
More talent is on the way, too, with the Royals’ farm system now ranked No. 5 in all of baseball. Some of that promise is already here, showcased by the way Lynch has established himself in the rotation. Carlos Hernández, who threw 5 2/3 dominant innings on Friday, is part of that, as are other young pitchers also on the cusp of the big leagues.
And there’s no one better than Perez to guide them from behind the plate and be an example for the hitters in the middle of the lineup.
“They remind me of when I got called up in 2011,” Perez said of the young talent. “I’m excited for them. They play hard, they listen to me, to Whit, to [the coaches]. They take information from everybody to get better. I think that’s good.
“I feel like we’re going to do a lot of good things in the next few years.”