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Perez's hot month propelling KC's playoff push

Backstop contributing with bat as well as protecting basepaths from the dish

KANSAS CITY -- Maybe Salvador Perez just started celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month a tad bit early.

Like on Aug. 23. Since that date, the Royals' big catcher has been the hottest hitter in the Major Leagues, with a .403 (31-for-77) average and a whopping 23 RBIs with six home runs and four doubles in 22 games entering Tuesday.

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Actually, Hispanic Heritage Month began on Sunday and extends through Oct. 15, and Perez, from Valencia, Venezuela, would be happy to continue the celebration right through postseason play.

Perez has been a big factor in breathing life into Kansas City's long-dormant dreams of landing in the playoffs for the first time since 1985. It's a long shot, sure, but the Royals are in the chase.

"It's really great to be this close to making the playoffs," Perez said. "Everybody here is excited about it, and we're playing hard every day. We're trying to do it."

Perez is having a remarkable season despite two interruptions. He missed eight games after the death of his beloved grandmother in Venezuela in late May, and he sat out a week on the concussion disabled list in early August.

Going into the crucial Cleveland series that began with Monday's 7-1 win, Perez had a .287 average -- third on the club only to Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler -- and 69 RBIs, ranking fourth and just 11 behind Alex Gordon's leading 80.

Manager Ned Yost believes that, even playing home games in spacious Kauffman Stadium, Perez's home run total will grow as he gains more experience. How many might he hit?

"Who can say? 'Oh, yeah, you're going to hit 30 home runs,'" Perez said, then shrugged. "I don't know."

Perez was a first-time All-Star this year, and he caught the legendary Mariano Rivera's final All-Star appearance. The backstop was picked in the players' vote, and they know only too well the extent of Perez's considerable defensive abilities.

"The thing about him that's so impressive is he's such an athletic guy for a big guy. Really very athletic behind the plate," Yost said.

This year, Perez has thrown out 22 aspiring basestealers, second in the AL to Matt Wieters' 24 for the Orioles. After getting five pickoffs last year, even in an injury-shortened season, Perez has accomplished just one this year.

Not surprising, actually.

"They pay attention more," Perez said.

Yeah, with Perez behind the plate, the baserunners are on high alert, and that only serves to help his pitchers hold runners on base and reduce the stolen-base attempts.

When time permits during the season, Perez interacts with the Hispanic community. For the Cinco de Mayo Festival this year, he and teammates Alcides Escobar and Luis Mendoza made an appearance at the Guadalupe Centers in Kansas City.

"I like to make some people happy," Perez said.

Perez is an outgoing young leader in the Royals' clubhouse and on the field, but he doesn't say too much in his public appearances. But his wide smile speaks volumes, especially with children.

"We see a lot of kids," Perez said. "We sign autographs and take a lot of pictures. They're happy."

At 23, Perez remembers the excitement of meeting Major League players in the Venezuelan Winter League when he was a kid, notably Melvin Mora and Endy Chavez. Oddly enough, Perez wound up being a teammate of Chavez in the Royals' camp last spring.

Perez said that when he started playing baseball as a youngster, he never really thought about reaching the Majors himself. But he's not surprised that he made it.

"I've been working for that," Perez said.

On Tuesday night, Perez will make a contribution to the Kansas City community by sponsoring the distribution of Child ID kits for the National Child Identification Program. The kits enable parents and guardians to have information that helps authorities find missing children.

"Pablo Sandoval is doing it too in San Francisco," Perez said. "It's a good program. We're trying to help people and their kids."

Just like he's trying to help the Royals get into the postseason.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for

Kansas City Royals, Salvador Perez