Déjà vu: Salvy's walk-off a familiar sight

Catcher's game-winning hit parallels 2014 AL Wild Card Game

April 22nd, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- In the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, the Royals down to their last out and runners on their toes ready to score, ripped a ball past a diving third baseman for a walk-off hit. He dropped his bat and sprinted down the first-base line, fists clenched with both arms in the air, screaming as his teammates surrounded him in celebration.

No, this was not the 2014 American League Wild Card Game, but the similarities are uncanny.

Perez’s most recent walk-off hit was Wednesday night in the Royals’ 9-8 victory over the Rays at Kauffman Stadium, helping Kansas City avoid a series sweep and end a 10-day homestand with a victory. It was a late April game in 2021, with a limited capacity allowed in the stadium instead of a packed house, but the way the ninth inning transpired felt eerily similar to Sept. 30, 2014, right down Perez’s celebration.

Both were 9-8 wins. The Royals overcame four-run deficits in both games. Jarrod Dyson pinch-ran, stole second and scored late. And of course, there was Perez’s hit down the third-base line.

“Just different people diving to the line,” Perez said Wednesday. “I wasn’t thinking about that, but as soon as I hit it, I was like, ‘Oh.’ And I think I reacted the same way. It’s kind of funny.”

In Wednesday’s wonky game that featured the Royals coming back against the Rays on two occasions, the Royals turned to speed in the ninth inning, down one run. Michael A. Taylor hit a bloop single to right field to lead off, and manager Mike Matheny turned to Dyson to pinch-run. He promptly stole second base and made it to third on a bunt from Hanser Alberto. Nicky Lopez’s squeeze bunt allowed Dyson to slide home safely to tie it.

“It was a perfect bunt,” Rays third baseman Joey Wendle said. “Perfect bunt, really fast runner on third. We were all ready for it. Just a perfect bunt, fast runner on third. I don't know that that particular play, there's any way to defend it."

The Rays then intentionally walked Carlos Santana, who had a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning, to face Perez.

And who else would the Royals want at the plate?

On a hanging slider from Rays closer Diego Castillo, Perez ripped his sixth career walk-off RBI -- and second of the homestand. Perez said he was mad about his throwing error in the eighth inning that eventually led to the Rays scoring a run to tie it. He made sure the error wouldn’t matter.

“I think it locked me in a little bit more, a little bit more concentration,” Perez said. “But we never quit. We never quit. We play hard until the last out. Crazy things like tonight can happen.”

The similarities to 2014 seem endless, but make no mistake: The 2021 Royals aren’t here just to reminisce, they want to win just like the 2014-15 teams did. And Wednesday’s late-scoring, come-from-behind victory is one reason they believe they can.

“I can honestly say I’ve never been around a team like this,” Matheny said. “Regardless what happens, they just believe. They’re saying the right things, and that’s fine and good, you want that positive energy in there. But then it comes down to -- they’re willing to do whatever they got to do to make it happen. That’s what makes us so special.”

Down 4-0 after Royals starter Jakob Junis saw a long first inning, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler homered to bring the Royals within two. The bottom of the sixth inning saw Santana, Perez and Soler hit balls 395, 394 and 395 feet, respectively, with no runs to show for it. Santana flew out, Perez was out at second on a ball he thought was a homer and Soler’s fell at the warning track for a double.

“That’s kind of a kick in the gut,” Matheny said.

But the Royals didn’t quit, with Alberto’s triple and Santana’s go-head homer in the seventh. Even as the Rays crawled back to take the lead in the ninth, the Royals had the last say.

“It’s very special, man,” Perez said. “We know what we got to do. These players in this locker room, they know their job. One of the good things we have is we like to play hard to the last out. We never quit. I always say that because that’s what I see from all these guys. No matter what the situation, we continue to play until the last out.”

Matheny hardly had words to describe what he saw transpire Wednesday night. It wasn’t a playoff game, but it sure sparked some memories of one.

“I don’t even really know what to say, except what I was just saying as I walked through that line high-fiving guys,” Matheny said. “I love this team. … I’m just hoping not too many of our fans went to bed early. I hope they stuck around for that one because that’s one you’ll talk about for a while, one you remember. It’s one we’ll be talking about for a while.”