Deposed closer talks magical run, how he plans to help, struggles on and off field
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Chris Perez went silent, he vowed to maintain his media silence for the entirety of the season. On Sunday, while the Indians celebrated the clinching of the top American League Wild Card spot, the deposed closer approached a group of reporters.
Perez covered a wide range of topics, ranging from his troubles on the mound and off the field to being stripped of his ninth-inning duties earlier this weekend. What the pitcher wanted to emphasize, though, was how happy he is to be heading to the playoffs with Cleveland.
After enduring four consecutive losing seasons with the Indians, Perez was savoring the champagne.
"You can't put this feeling into words," Perez said. "It's been a magical year."
With their 5-1 win over the Twins at Target Field, the Indians have earned the right to host Wednesday's Wild Card Game at Progressive Field, with first pitch scheduled for 8:07 p.m. ET. The Tribe ended the season on a 10-game winning streak, picked up 15 victories in their past 17 games, won 21 games in September and finished the campaign with 92 wins overall.
Cleveland has accomplished all of this without the same one-two punch that existed in the eighth and ninth innings in the past few seasons. Setup man Vinnie Pestano's struggles in the first half cost him his role, and the recent woes of Perez cost him his job as well.
Following Thursday's 6-5 win in Minnesota, after giving up four runs in the ninth inning, Perez stopped by the office of manager Terry Francona.
"I'm here to help the team," Perez said. "I went into Tito's office the other night and said, 'I'm not going to cost this team a playoff spot. You need to make a change right now. You've got four or five guys who are throwing the [heck] out of the ball. I don't have an ego. Make the change.' And he did.
"Fans asked me at the start of the year about what my goals are. I told them I'd take 20 saves if we could make the playoffs. We made the playoffs and I've got 25 saves."
Francona finished the season with a closer-by-committee, but a save situation did not present itself in the final three games.
In 54 appearances this season, which was his fourth as the club's closer, Perez posted a career-high 4.33 ERA with 25 saves in 30 opportunities. He dealt with a right shoulder injury in Spring Training and again in late May, when he was shelved for roughly one month. Upon returning from the disabled list, Perez posted a 0.53 ERA with nine straight saves through the end of July.
Perez also began his media blackout when rejoining the team in Baltimore during the June 24-27 series. The pitcher said he went silent due to some of the things that were written after he faced a misdemeanor drug charge in early June.
"A lot of stuff has happened to me this year," Perez said. "I told my wife I wouldn't talk until the end of the year, good or bad. ... There were some times this year that stuff was written that wasn't accurate. Or, somebody was making assumptions. I would have liked to talk to set the record straight, but I made a decision and stuck by it. It was time to just focus on baseball."
As for his struggles over the season's final two months -- Perez posted a 7.52 ERA with seven home runs allowed in 20 1/3 innings, dating back to Aug. 1 -- the pitcher said he simply has some mechanical adjustments to sort out. He threw off the mound at Target Field on Sunday to work on the issues.
"Physically, I'm good," Perez said. "It's just a little mechanical adjustment I need to make. ... I've had a rough couple of months, but you can't pick when it's going to happen. This game can humble you fast. I still feel I can contribute to this team. I know I'm going to. It's terrible when it happens late in the year and you're in it.
"I haven't given up. I don't know if [I'll pitch] in the fifth inning or the seventh inning, whatever, but I'm going to help the team. At this time of year, especially when you're in it, you toss your ego aside."