Salvy on ASG start: 'That was unbelievable'

Veteran makes history with Ohtani; Merrifield assists in final out

July 14th, 2021

Both Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield have been to All-Star Games before, but the experience never gets old for the two Royals veterans.

Perez was the starting catcher for the American League All-Stars, and Merrifield pinch-hit and took over second base in the sixth inning of the AL’s 5-2 win at Coors Field, the league's eighth straight victory in the event.

“That was unbelievable,” Perez said after he exited the game. “One of the best lineups I’ve been in in the All-Star Game. It’s good. I’m so happy to be here, and I thank God for the opportunity.”

Perez was part of history by catching Angels star Shohei Ohtani, who started for the American League and also hit leadoff after participating in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday night. Ohtani earned the win after he threw a scoreless first inning to Perez, who made sure to give the Japanese right-hander a big fist bump as they were walking off the mound.

“It’s better to catch him rather than face him,” Perez said with a laugh. “He’s one of the best players in the league right now. You guys see what he’s doing. Hits homers, he’s going to steal bases, the way he pitches -- slider, curveball, split-finger -- everything for strikes. It’s like a dream for me to catch him. Hopefully we’ve got more opportunities in the All-Star Game to do that.”

Ohtani showed off his power arm and threw a clean first inning, seeing his fastball top out at 100.2 mph and regularly hitting 99 mph. Perez was ready for them all.

“The way he warmed up and got ready for the game, he was so easy,” Perez said. “But in the game, it was a 100 mph fastball, 99 mph. It’s like, ‘Wow. He’s pretty good.'”

Perez hit seventh in the stacked AL lineup and struck out both times he came to the plate, once against Milwaukee right-hander Corbin Burnes and once against Rockies righty Germán Márquez, a fellow Venezuelan. Perez avoided a ball over his head and jokingly exchanged words with the pitcher, asking to get a few more balls over the plate -- and both had huge smiles on their faces.

“I have a ton of respect for Salvador, what he’s done in his career,” Márquez said after he left Tuesday’s game. “And just being from Venezuela, I wanted him to feel that support that he had from Venezuelan guys during the Home Run Derby.”

In his second All-Star Game appearance, Merrifield pinch-hit for Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien in the top of the sixth inning and worked a seven-pitch at-bat against Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker -- including fouling off three 97 mph fastballs -- but struck out swinging through a well-located slider. In the top of the eighth, Merrifield grounded into a forceout against Cardinals closer Alex Reyes on a well-turned play by Padres infielder Jake Cronenworth.

“There’s definitely more understanding of how it all works, what goes on now,” Merrifield said about his familiarity around the All-Star festivities the second time through. “I knew a little more about what to expect, and it makes it easier having family here and how to set stuff up.”

Merrifield was part of a quirky play in the bottom of the ninth inning when White Sox closer Liam Hendriks spiked a breaking ball in the dirt past Rays catcher Mike Zunino. The ball bounced quickly off the backstop and into Zunino’s hand, and he threw out Omar Narváez at second base, where Merrifield applied the tag easily. Merrifield helped seal the deal for the AL, handling Trea Turner’s sharp grounder up the middle for the final out of the game.

On the FOX broadcast, Royals vice president of communications and broadcasting Mike Swanson got a special shoutout from Joe Buck because he’s retiring after 43 years in the industry and the last 15 with the Royals. Known as “Swanee” throughout the industry, he earned the prestigious Robert O. Fishel Award for Public Relations Excellence in 2002 and has long been respected around the game.