NEW YORK -- One thing can be said about the Royals on Sunday: they didn’t give up easily. Kansas City showed admirable late-inning strength in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. The club was two outs away from losing their sixth straight game, but Salvador Perez had other ideas. His go-ahead three-run homer helped the Royals defeat the Yankees, 8-6.
“This team just wants to keep fighting and playing the game hard. Impressive,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s obviously good to get our catcher back to do what he does.”
The Royals were down, 6-5, entering the ninth, and they were facing lockdown closer Clay Holmes. But the Royals were not intimidated, even knowing that Holmes had a 1.20 ERA entering the game and a deadly slider and sinker.
After Whit Merrifield walked and Bobby Witt Jr. was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second, Perez swung at a 1-2 pitch and hit a mammoth home run over the center-field fence and into Monument Park. It was his second home run since coming off the injured list on Friday.
“I try to do my best. The game is not over,” Perez said. “[Holmes] made a mistake, leaving a fastball right in the middle of home plate. He is one of the best closers in the game right now. The ball moves in -- sinker, slider. He is pretty good. He left me one in the middle.”
Yankees manager Aaron Boone knows why Holmes had a tough time in the ninth inning.
"Obviously he lost it a little bit there with two hitters, but got himself back into a good count with Perez there, and then probably didn't get the sink that he normally always has and Perez got him,” Boone said.
Perez’s blast traveled 441 feet and is tied for his longest of the year with a home run he hit on April 12. His game-winner was also his hardest-hit homer of the season at 112.2 mph. With the clutch long ball, Perez notched the 40th game-winning home run of his career, which ranks third in Royals history.
Matheny is not surprised that Perez -- who has a .286 career batting average with runners in scoring position -- frequently comes through in the clutch.
“It’s amazing watching this guy in big situations, how he thrives. It’s just not a coincidence,” Matheny said. “There are some people that take advantage of those opportunities and look forward to them – [Perez] just [does] the unthinkable when he gets to those spots.”
Perez said he loves to compete even though he is not having his best season. Entering Monday’s game against the White Sox, Perez is hitting .209 in 2022.
“In situations like that, I try to do my best. I try not to put too much pressure [on myself]. I just relax and swing at strikes,” Perez said.
Matheny also loved that Perez didn’t let his previous four at-bats bother him on Sunday. Perez had struck out three times before the game-winning homer.
“He doesn’t let the previous at-bats carry over and wants to be in those spots,” Matheny said. “It goes back to some success in the postseason. He has had enough to make him believe that he is going to come through in those situations. I hope that continues to be contagious all the way through the clubhouse. Right now, we talk about leadership and stepping up, and doing things that need to be done.”
Perez was not the only hero of the game. Reliever Taylor Clarke held the Yankees scoreless the last two innings and picked up his second victory of the season. It was his game to lose, with no one warming up behind him even as two runners got on in the ninth.
“He was deep into his pitch count, going through the heart of the order,” Matheny said. “They broke our hearts a couple of times, and Clarke gets it done. It was impressive.”