'Our guy' Salvy helps Royals stun Reds in 9th

All-Star delivers his 3rd walk-off of 2021 to complete comeback

July 7th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- When Whit Merrifield struck out looking for the second out in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night, the Royals were staring down a five-run deficit and, statistically, a one percent chance of beating the Reds.

So yes, there was a chance.

And the Royals made the most of it.

It took Carlos Hernández’s 3 2/3 exceptional innings of relief, Andrew Benintendi’s birthday home run in the eighth inning, Nicky Lopez’s liner to left field in the ninth and Salvador Perez’s walk-off line drive to give the Royals their best comeback win of the season, 7-6, over the Reds at Kauffman Stadium.

“That’s the kind of team we are,” Perez said after delivering his third walk-off hit of the season and seventh of his career.

The deficit looked insurmountable the way Reds starter Luis Castillo was throwing Tuesday night, keeping the Royals off balance for seven innings of three-hit ball. A hanging slider in the fifth inning, which Michael A. Taylor drove out of the ballpark to put Kansas City on the board, seemed to be his only mistake, but he cruised through seven with a five-run lead the Cincinnati offense had put up against K.C. starter Kris Bubic.

Benintendi cut that lead to three with his eighth home run of the season on his 27th birthday, a two-run shot to right-center field. After relievers Josh Staumont and Richard Lovelady got through the top of the ninth, the Royals started to roll off the Reds’ bullpen and error-filled defense.

Ryan O’Hearn drew a walk to start off the ninth. Then, Reds reliever Brad Brach hit Hunter Dozier on the wrist to put two on with no outs. Taylor hammered a grounder hard to third baseman Eugenio Suárez, but it went right through his legs, allowing one run to score.

“To see it come when we haven’t been playing our best baseball and still have that kind of hunger and belief -- and I know we make a big deal about it because if they don’t have that faith late in the game, it does not happen,” manager Mike Matheny said. “So it’s really impressive. Just each guy handing it to the next.”

Jorge Soler’s pinch-hit strikeout brought up Nicky Lopez, who has given the Royals some of the club’s best at-bats over the past month from the No. 9 spot in the order. Lopez had grounded out to second base twice in his earlier at-bats Tuesday, so he changed his approach facing reliever Heath Hembree. An inside fastball jammed him, but he was able to poke it out to left field for a game-tying two-run single.

Reds left fielder Aristides Aquino overthrew home plate trying to get Taylor out, and Lopez’s heads-up baserunning allowed him to reach third base. After he slid in safely, he hopped up and pointed to the dugout, where all his teammates were hanging over the railing cheering. 

“That was a fun moment, just sliding into third and just seeing my teammates happy for me, too,” Lopez said. “That’s the best part about it. It means a lot.”

After Benintendi struck out against lefty Amir Garrett, it brought up the player the Royals always want in game-winning situations: Their All-Star and veteran leader, Perez.

“Our guy,” Matheny said. “It’s amazing how he slows his heartbeat and makes something happen. … Puts us in a spot where we’re relying on the guy that’s been leading this team. And how fitting it is for him to come through.”

Perez, who always wants to be in the big moments to help his team win, swung through a first-pitch slider. He watched another go by in the dirt. On the third slider that graced the bottom of the zone, Perez swung and lifted the ball toward the left-field wall, over Aquino’s head.

“Not many people in their Major League career get an opportunity to celebrate a walk-off,” Matheny said. “The third one this year and the seventh of his career? That’s incredible. You can attribute as much luck as you want to, but I’m not buying it. There’s special people in those situations, and Salvy’s one of them.”

Being mobbed at first base with a stadium full of people celebrating won’t ever get old for Perez, who’s in his 10th season as a Royal. He loves to win and always wants to win -- and victories like Tuesday show that the Royals can still show that fight until the end.

“It feels good every time you hit a walk-off,” Perez said with a smile. “Doesn’t matter how many times you do it, it’s always good.”