CHICAGO — When Salvador Perez‘s spot in the Royals’ lineup came up in the top of the eighth inning of the Royals’ eventual 6-2 win over the Cubs on Friday afternoon, he wasn’t the one who stepped to the plate.
Jarrod Dyson took Perez’s place in the batting order while Perez was dealing with a headache caused by a foul ball off Chicago left fielder Ian Happ’s bat, one that hit Perez squarely on the top of his head in the bottom of the sixth. Kansas City manager Mike Matheny decided to pull Perez two innings later, but even lasting two more innings after taking a blow to his head was just another impressive feat for Perez’s teammates to see.
“It shows the true grinder that he is,” said Brad Keller, who pitched his second consecutive quality start and improved to 8-12 on the year. “A lot’s got to go on for him to get taken out of the ballgame. He’s gonna stay in no matter what. I know that [shot] to the head he took in the sixth was tough, but [he] still stuck it out for the rest of that inning and came out and caught the next inning. Just shows to you how much he cares to be out there and how much he loves to play this game.”
But even prior to that episode, Perez was busy thrilling his teammates throughout the series opener at Wrigley Field.
Perez was already involved in an incident with Happ in the bottom of the first, when Happ swung through a high fastball and hit Perez’s left index finger on his backswing. Perez spent a few moments in pain and was checked by a trainer, but like the competitor he proves to be time and time again, he remained in the game.
“We talk about checking boxes, I mean, this guy, there’s no doubt,” Matheny said. “There’s a different level of the everyday grind of this position, period, but let alone to get banged up and then still be able to be the kind of offensive force that he is — it’s just rare.”
In the innings that followed, Perez displayed the power stroke that’s helped him shatter his personal record for home runs in a season.
With the Royals trailing, 2-0, in the top of the fourth, Perez reached down for a low changeup from Cubs starter Zach Davies and golfed it to the bleachers to break up the shutout. Then, to hammer home how big of a year he’s having, Perez unleashed on a 3-0 sinker from Davies in the sixth, driving his second solo shot of the game (and 32nd homer of the season, an active career high) over the left-field bleachers for the go-ahead run.
“Look at that pitch that he hit for the first one, literally almost on the ground,” Matheny said. “There just aren’t many guys in the game that can get that kind of extension to pitches outside the zone.”
“It’s so much fun watching him this season,” Keller said. “Honestly, every season I’ve been throwing to him, it’s been awesome.”
However, the power show put on for the U.S Navy Blue Angels — who were flying over Wrigley Field for much of Friday’s game — wasn’t limited to Kansas City’s backstop.
Emmanuel Rivera tied things up at 2 in the top of the fifth with a solo homer, the first of his big league career in his 15th career game. Two batters after Perez’s go-ahead blast in the sixth, Andrew Benintendi nailed his 12th home run of the year that effectively iced the win for the Royals.
Cam Gallagher, who replaced Perez behind the plate, rounded out the scoring for Kansas City by launching a solo homer in the ninth.
Even though the Royals sit 53-68 after Friday’s win, Perez’s career year is the steady presence his club needs to make it through the last stretch of the season. Keller said the rest of the team feeds off his energy, because even when the game isn’t going their way, “he comes in with the same attitude and fires everyone up.”
It’s a good thing, then, that Perez was already telling Matheny he’d be ready to play on Saturday, just so he could be on the field to energize his teammates even more.