Salvy passes Bench for HRs, lifts KC in G1

September 21st, 2021

CLEVELAND -- has hit a lot of home runs this season, but perhaps none bigger than the one he drove into the left-field bleachers on Monday at Progressive Field.

Because this trip around the bases was a historic one.

Perez hit his 46th home run of the season in the Royals’ 7-2 victory over the Indians in Game 1 of a straight doubleheader, passing Johnny Bench for the most home runs in a season by a primary catcher (at least 75 percent of games).

“It was unbelievable,” Perez said between games. “I was thanking God for this. It’s amazing. And I said before, I never had hit 30 in my career. So I was looking for 30 and 100 RBIs. So this is a dream come true.”

Bench hit 45 home runs in 1970. With a Statcast-projected 429-foot blast in the top of the fifth inning against Cleveland righty Triston McKenzie, Perez has 46 and counting as he raced toward the end of a breathtaking and historic season. The 31-year-old All-Star is tied with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the Major League home run lead.

“When you see a guy, a Hall of Fame catcher, you just try to be like him,” Perez said. “[I’m] going to compete and prepare myself. I don’t know what’s going to happen ... but I’m going to try my best to be one of those guys.”

When Perez connected with the slider that McKenzie left hanging in the middle of the plate, he knew he had just made history -- and so did the Royals’ dugout. Perez was greeted with a big celebration when he got to the top step of the dugout, starting with Whit Merrifield’s bear hug and another hug from bench coach Pedro Grifol, who has worked with Perez on his offense and defense constantly.

“Every home run is special, but that one -- it’s just hard to get your head around it,” manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s a long history of this game, and how many great players have come through. For him to do something that nobody has done, it’s amazing. For a guy that’s so respected and loved in this clubhouse, it was different than your normal home run.

“You could see the look on Salvy’s face, I’ll never forget it, once he started heading toward first base.”

When talking to reporters between games, Perez made sure to thank everyone around him -- from Matheny to Grifol, his teammates and batting practice pitcher Miguel Garcia.

“It’s a lot of work, and I don’t do this myself,” Perez said.

Perez is now two away from tying the Royals’ single-season home run record (Jorge Soler’s 48 in 2019). And his 198th career home run put Perez in sole possession of second place on the franchise home run leaderboard, passing Mike Sweeney’s 197.

Monday’s home run was Perez’s 31st as a catcher this season (the others coming as the designated hitter), putting him four shy of Iván Rodríguez’s American League record of 35 home runs as a catcher, set in 1999, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Since hitting his 45th home run on Thursday against Oakland, Perez was 2-for-14 with seven strikeouts. He admitted that he thought about the record through that small stretch -- who wouldn’t? -- but when he got to Progressive Field on Monday, he talked with Grifol and felt better about his swing.

“I was thinking about it the last series,” Perez said. “But we got here, I talked to Pedro, just tried to do my job. I hit the ball hard, tried to fix my stride. It’s hitting. It’s up and down.”

Perez’s historic home run was the cherry on top of the Royals’ win, which snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Indians. Three Royals hit two-run blasts: Perez, Hunter Dozier and Andrew Benintendi. The seven runs off McKenzie are more than Kansas City has scored against the tall right-hander in its previous six times facing him (five total runs in those games combined).

The focus, though, was all on Perez from his teammates and manager.

“You forget about what you’re doing personally and just congratulate him,” said starter Brady Singer, who pitched all seven innings and allowed two runs on six hits to go with one walk and seven strikeouts. “To be sitting in the dugout to watch that, it’s something I’ll always remember. We’ll all remember.”