CLEVELAND -- It's a subtle art, what Roberto Pérez has done behind the plate for these Indians pitchers, and Tuesday's showing in Game 1 of the World Series against the Cubs only further boosted his prestige as one of the game's best defensive specialists.Perez stole strikes from a star-powered Cubs
CLEVELAND -- It's a subtle art, what Roberto Pérez has done behind the plate for these Indians pitchers, and Tuesday's showing in Game 1 of the World Series against the Cubs only further boosted his prestige as one of the game's best defensive specialists.
Perez stole strikes from a star-powered Cubs lineup, and then he downright stole the show with two home runs, something he had never done as a professional.
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Perez hit a solo rocket in the fourth to support ace Corey Kluber and a three-run shot in the eighth, both into the left-field seats, that accounted for four of Cleveland's runs in a decisive 6-0, 15-strikeout shutout of the Cubs at Progressive Field, causing jubilation among the Tribe faithful.
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"Oh, I don't think I've ever had a night like that," Perez said.
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Not many catchers have, certainly not in the World Series. Only legends Yogi Berra (1956) and Johnny Bench (1976) ever hit two home runs with four RBIs in a World Series game.
"My goodness," Indians manager Terry Francona gushed, "that was exciting to watch."
And mostly unexpected.
The 27-year-old Perez has unleashed three long balls this postseason, after coming up with three total in 184 regular-season plate appearances, to add yet another exceptional subplot to an Indians October that's brimming with them.
Perez is the first Indians player to hit two home runs in a World Series game; moreover, he's the first player to mash two homers in his first World Series game since Troy Glaus did the same for the Angels in 2002.
"He works really, really hard, and people don't count on him much outside of here, but we believe in him," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "That's why he's playing every day."
Perez has caught every inning of the Indians' nine postseason games, something one wouldn't have expected coming into this year. Regular Yan Gomes went down to injury in July, and a potential deal for Jonathan Lucroy at the Trade Deadline fell apart when the veteran catcher nixed the invite. Perez, whose rehab assignment following surgery on his fractured right thumb was cut short to ease these losses, was subsequently thrust into everyday action.
He hit .183 in 61 games, which ranked 376th out of 378 players with at least 150 at-bats, but he never lost feel for his adept doings behind the plate, which have proven instrumental in Cleveland's preposterous postseason run.
Tribe pitchers are 8-1 with a 1.58 ERA (14 earned runs in 80 innings) against baseball's best bashers; the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Cubs have struck out 96 times against Indians pitchers with Perez calling the shots. On Tuesday, Kluber fanned nine of his 22 batters, including a World Series record eight in the first three innings -- five of them looking.
"He did an unbelievable job," Kluber said. "It's almost like he knew what they were looking for. He had them off balance for the majority of the night. Really the only time that they got hits was really when I didn't execute a pitch. If I did what he asked me to, then it worked pretty well. But that's how he always is."
Counterpart Jon Lester didn't have such an easy time in the early going. The Indians tagged Chicago's proven postseason performer for two first-inning runs, before Perez's fourth-inning solo shot created a three-run advantage. Lester's 92.2 mph fastball was hit at warp speed, measured by Statcast™ with an exit velocity of 112.9 mph. That marked the hardest-hit ball off the Chicago left-hander this season, topping Freddie Freeman's 111.5 mph homer on April 29.
The one-out blast from Cleveland's No. 9 hitter was also the hardest-hit home run of this postseason, besting Jayson Werth's homer, with an exit velocity of 110.5 mph, in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. Lester had limited opponents to two runs in 21 innings in his three previous playoff starts this month.
Cubs reliever Héctor Rondón became Perez's next victim in the eighth, yielding a three-run blast that left Perez absolutely giddy.
"Oh after that second one, he was definitely, definitely excited," Indians outfielder Rajai Davis said. "You could see that joy in him. For him to go out and hit one home run is one thing, but for him to hit two, I mean, that's the stuff you see in history books."
"I've come a long ways," Perez said. "I'm just playing with a lot of confidence right now. I'm not trying to do too much at the plate. I'm just trying to control my emotions. First World Series experience, and just trying to go out there and compete and try to get on base and make something happen. It's an unbelievable feeling."
Jane Lee has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2010.