Angels' debuting rookie records walk-off rarity
ANAHEIM -- They crowded into the home of Carlos Perez's grandmother in Valencia, Venezuela, on Tuesday. Roughly 50 of Perez's family members -- uncles, aunts, cousins, mother, father -- gathered around a standard-sized laptop that had just been set up with an MLB.TV subscription because there was no way they would miss their little boy's Major League debut, no matter how far they were or how little technology they had.
And then, late into the night, they celebrated.
Perez's first Major League game went better than anyone could've imagined, with a sharp single in his first at-bat and a walk-off home run in his last. The 24-year-old catcher led off the bottom of the ninth of a tied game, got an 0-1 slider from Dominic Leone and lined it into the Mariners' bullpen, pushing the Angels to a 5-4 win that snapped their four-game losing streak.
Postgame, the carpet around Perez's locker was covered in shaving cream from a couple of celebratory pies to the face. Two historic baseballs sat just above his uniform. And his smart phone was lying around untouched. Perez hadn't checked it, but he could only imagine how busy it was.
"My family must be so happy," Perez said. "I can't wait to talk to them."
Perez wasn't supposed to be in the big leagues this early. The Angels called him up on Monday, designating veteran backup Drew Butera for assignment in the process, because Perez was hitting very well at Triple-A Salt Lake and their everyday guy, Chris Iannetta, had just six hits in 64 at-bats.
Then they watched Perez win them a game they badly needed.
"You couldn't have scripted it any better for that kid," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got a big smile, and rightfully so."
Perez is just the fourth player in Major League history to hit a walk-off homer in his Major League debut, and the second in franchise history. The last overall was Miguel Cabrera, then with the Marlins, on June 20, 2003, against the Rays. The other two were Josh Bard of the Indians (Aug. 23, 2002, against the Mariners) and Billy Parker of the Angels (Sept. 9, 1971, against the Brewers).
"I can't explain how I feel," Perez said. "I'll never forget this moment."
Perez identified this as his second career walk-off homer, at any level, with the other one coming in winter ball this past offseason. During that winter-ball stint, Perez learned to be more aggressive early in counts and believed that's what set his offense to a new level, allowing him to bat .361/.418/.556 with the Bees before his call to The Show.
He applied that mindset to Tuesday's ninth-inning at-bat.
"He threw me a breaking ball on the first pitch," Perez said of Leone. "I didn't know what was coming next, but I told myself to just stay aggressive."
Perez was basically a throw-in from a November trade with the Astros -- the one that sent Hank Conger to Houston for young starter Nick Tropeano -- because the Angels needed to supplement their catching depth.
"It's hard to find catching," Angels assistant general manager Scott Servais said prior to the game. "We needed it in our system, and Carlos had spent well over 100 games at Triple-A already and held his own. He had a really good winter ball, our reports were good on him, so, why not?"
Perez always had a plus arm -- he's thrown out 36 percent of would-be basestealers in his Minor League career -- and the Angels saw him make big strides in other aspects of his defense throughout Spring Training, from pitch framing to blocking to carving out a game plan. They sent him out on Tuesday for Garrett Richards, one of the toughest pitchers in baseball to catch, and came away impressed.
"He's ready for this challenge, and he had a great night tonight," said Scioscia, who insisted that Iannetta will continue to get a fair share of playing time. "If he can catch with that consistency, he's going to be in the Major Leagues for a long time, because he looked really good behind the plate."