Perez voted unanimous World Series MVP
Seventh catcher to take home Fall Classic award
NEW YORK -- Maybe this was Salvador Perez's unshakable destiny, to be limping down this hallway in the basement of Citi Field, cleats clattering on the hard ground, shirt dripping with champagne, hands clutching the World Series Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet.
But maybe the dog deserves his due, too: the German shepherd that broke away from his handler on a military base in Venezuela, where Royals scouts were subjecting a then-16-year-old Perez to a workout. When Perez took off running for the 60-yard dash, so, too, did the dog. That's how the scouts on hand were treated to the fastest sprint in the young man's life, and, eventually -- once the dog was contained -- the smile that's as much a part of his trademark as anything he does on the field.
There was that smile again Sunday night, in the wake of the Royals' World Series title-clinching 7-2, 12-inning victory over the Mets. To limit this deep and relentless Kansas City club to a single MVP was no small task, but Perez represents a ballclub built on superior scouting, exceeded expectations and, most of all, indefatigability as well as anybody.
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"I always say we feel like a family here," Perez said. "We've got the same group, almost the same group as when I played my first year in 2007 in Arizona, the Rookie League. It's amazing to now win a World Series and see the same guys with you."
Perez, who received unanimous support for the honor after batting .364 (8-for-22) with two doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored in the World Series, is an amazing story all his own -- one that now includes a Chevy Camaro for himself and a Chevy Silverado for a Play Ball league in his hometown of Valencia.
It was there, in Valencia, where, in 2006, the Royals first saw Perez. That they saw him at all is a testament to an international scouting operation put in place by general manager Dayton Moore, who had just taken over an organization with just three scouts outside the United States and the lowest international budget in the big leagues.
"Orlando Esteves was a pro scout here, and we put him in place [in Venezuela], trying to build our international program," Moore said. "We felt Orlando could transition in that department, because he's very aggressive."
To look at Perez -- raw, oversized and unable to speak a lick of English -- and assume he'd become an All-Star catcher and clubhouse leader would have been impossible. But Esteves and fellow scout Juan Indriago liked the makeup, liked the skills, liked the smile and liked the way he hustled with a dog nipping at his heels. Perez signed for $70,000.
The rise since then has been a remarkable one, and it coincides directly with that of the Royals. With a rocket arm and reaction time, Perez overcame any concerns about his unusual size -- he's 6-foot-3, 240 pounds -- behind the dish. And with an ever-improving hit tool and eventual command of the language, he became the all-around asset you see today. Perez came up to the big leagues in 2011, but his first full season was 2013, when Kansas City made a 14-game jump in the win column. That's not what you'd call a coincidence. Since the start of 2013, Perez ranks second only to Buster Posey in games caught (430) and hits (433), and he's third behind Posey and Brian McCann in home runs (51) and RBIs (219).
In the World Series, Perez managed a pitching staff that completely shut down the Mets' offense. Even though New York seemingly had the starting-pitcher edge in every game, it was the Kansas City staff - starters and relievers -- that was truly dominant. The Mets hit .193/.254/.298 for the series, and that .552 OPS is the fourth-lowest of any World Series team in the Wild Card era.
"He hasn't even hit his peak yet," Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "He's learning, he's getting better. He's getting better at navigating a pitcher through a scouting report before a game and having a plan and making adjustments in the game if we have to. He's a huge, huge complement to this pitching staff, and he's one of the toughest guys I've ever seen."
Indeed, on this postseason stage, Perez demonstrated almost unbelievable durability. Because of his height, Perez is an easy target for foul tips off the mask and fingers. During the American League Championship Series, he stayed in the game after a Josh Donaldson swing hit him on the glove hand. In Game 4 of the World Series, he stayed in after a foul tip off the collarbone.
Turns out, the only thing that could pull Perez out of a game was Royals manager Ned Yost. When Perez singled to ignite the five-run 12th inning that would seal this Fall Classic, Yost lifted him for pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson, who would steal second base and go on to score the go-ahead run on Christian Colon's single. Yost would later call lifting Perez, who had played every inning of the Series prior to that point, his "lone regret" of the postseason, but it's hard to argue with the end result.
"I really wish," said Yost, "that Sal could have been out there to jump in Wade's arms when we got that final out."
Ah, well. The end was still far more satisfying than 2014, when Perez made the final out of the World Series with Alex Gordon representing the tying run at third. Perez and the Royals didn't let the bitter taste from that moment leave their mouths this season. And though Perez did have to learn that sometimes it's OK for a catcher to take a day off during the regular season, his tireless work ethic and determination has been a driving force in Kansas City's clubhouse.
Perez became the seventh catcher in history to be named World Series MVP and the first since Toronto's Pat Borders in 1992. He's the second Venezuelan-born Series MVP, joining Pablo Sandoval (2012).
More than anything, Perez is the perfect representative of these Royals -- a determined bunch that never quit on a game or themselves and played every inning as if being chased by a dog.
"We never put our heads down," Perez said. "We never think the game is over. We always compete to the last out."