Perez the difference maker in Royals' come-from-behind win

Veteran catcher hits go-ahead home run to help Kansas City take G1 of a twin bill in St. Louis

July 10th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- is heading to his ninth All-Star Game next week, but first and most importantly, he’s trying to keep the Royals afloat in the standings as they prepare to make a playoff run in the second half of the season.

The veteran backstop was the difference maker Wednesday in the Royals’ 6-4 win over the Cardinals in Game 1 of their doubleheader at Busch Stadium, blasting a 424-foot home run to dead center field in the sixth inning to break a tie and give Kansas City the lead and eventual victory -- their 50th win of the season, only six fewer than they had in 2023.

This is a big week for the Royals as they head into the All-Star break, with two games against the surging Cardinals on Wednesday and three against the Red Sox this weekend as the Royals try to chase them down in the American League Wild Card standings.

“Every day we come into the ballpark and prepare ourselves to win,” Perez said. “That’s the goal, to make the playoffs. … Hopefully we can continue that way and make it. The biggest thing is we have to focus day by day. I always say I don’t care who we’re going to play tomorrow or in two or three days. We’ve got another game tonight, and we’re worrying about the pitcher we’ll face tonight and trying to win tonight.”

Perez’s 15th home run of the year came after a three-run fifth inning from the Royals -- featuring the bottom half of their lineup. After being held scoreless through four innings against Cardinals starter Andre Pallante, Hunter Renfroe led off the fifth with a double. A single from Freddy Fermin and a double from MJ Melendez gave the Royals their first run, and No. 9 hitter Garrett Hampson brought them home with a game-tying two-run double to the wall in left-center.

“Like most teams, when the middle of the order is producing, that’s a good sign for us,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “But when Hampson’s driving in two, Freddy’s getting on, those kinds of things are going to make us a lot better.”

Lengthening the lineup is key for the Royals as they try to fix some offensive struggles over the past month, and seeing results from everyday players like Renfroe and Melendez as well as role players like Fermin and Hampson is one step toward doing that.

Perez made it all count with his 19th go-ahead RBI of the year, which is tied for second with teammate Vinnie Pasquantino in the American League behind Aaron Judge’s 21.

And the top of the Royals’ lineup came alive in the eighth thanks to singles from Maikel Garcia and Bobby Witt Jr., a sacrifice fly from Pasquantino and Perez’s second RBI of the day, this time on a base hit up the middle, insurance runs that were huge later when James McArthur allowed a solo homer before locking down his 16th save of the season.

“Two to three guys can carry a lineup maybe for a couple of weeks, but throughout the season, you’re going to need some contributors down at the bottom of the order,” Hampson said. “The more traffic we can create for those guys to get up, that’s the most important thing. We want the bases loaded for Bobby and Salvy.”

The offensive burst backed up starter Alec Marsh, who allowed three runs in six innings and earned his seventh win of the year almost a week after his shortest start of the year when he allowed five runs in three innings against the Rays. He put the Royals in a three-run deficit off two home runs, but after a two-run shot from Alec Burleson in the third inning, Marsh retired his final 11 batters to keep the Royals in the game.

“It’s been tough, not going to lie,” Marsh said. “There’s a lot of things going on when you have a bad game like you did last time, and things start to steamroll, you just try to search for answers. Sometimes you just got to take a step back, and I had one goal today, which was just to let it rip.”

There to help Marsh keep it simple was Perez behind the plate, making an impact offensively in big moments but also helping guide Marsh through that start.

There’s not much more that can sum up Perez’s impact than that.

“Just his presence behind there,” Marsh said. “…He’ll give me signals like, ‘Hey, take a deep breath. Calm down. It’s OK. Work through me,’ that type of stuff. It feels like we’re on the same page, like I know what he’s saying back there. It’s great to have.”