KANSAS CITY -- Nicky Lopez ended up stealing his 20th base of the season in the sixth inning Tuesday night because he got a good read and a strong jump off A’s reliever Yusmeiro Petit, landing on second base to put another runner in scoring position for Salvador Perez.
Of course, Lopez had a feeling he wouldn’t need to be in scoring position anyway.
“Sometimes when I get on, they’re just like, ‘Hey, stay here. Sal’s up,’” Lopez said. “... First base is scoring position for him as well.”
Lopez’s feeling was right. Perez, once again, came through a few pitches later to hit his 43rd home run of the season and cap an epic comeback in Kansas City’s 10-7 win over the A’s at Kauffman Stadium.
“You just expect it. You just know this guy lives for these moments,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s able to find something in those spots every single time. This is a special season. We keep talking about it, but it’s worth repeating.”
At one point down six runs to Oakland in the series opener, the Royals scored three in the third, one in the fourth and four in the sixth to overcome that deficit. Kyle Isbel hammered his first career home run to give the Royals some insurance runs in the seventh, and they never looked back, a quartet of relievers tossing four scoreless innings to close out the victory.
Perez’s 43 home runs rank third on the Major League leaderboard, and his 109 RBIs lead all of baseball. The 31-year-old is having a career year defined in part by coming to the plate in big situations -- and coming through.
Perez has now hit 15 go-ahead home runs this year. He’s done it time and time again, and Tuesday was no exception, despite the Royals’ deficit looming large early.
Royals starter Jackson Kowar didn’t make it out of the second inning, facing five batters without recording an out and allowing five runs in his one-plus inning -- the second time he hasn’t been able to make it out of the second inning against Oakland this season. The Royals were down five by the end of the frame, after Ervin Santana limited the damage to escape the inning.
“It was just a weird atmosphere,” Matheny said. “It was a weird tempo. That’s something that Jackson’s going to work on. It wasn’t the outing he was looking for. But just keeping that pace going, keep your defense engaged, and it keeps a pace to set even for your offense when they come in. Everything was just ‘blah’ at the beginning. It didn’t feel right.
“It was so atypical of everything we’ve done this season, where it’s energy and contagious where you can feel it and sense it. It hit us right between the eyes that this isn’t us. Let’s figure something out here.”
They began to figure it out in the third inning with RBIs from Whit Merrifield, Perez and Adalberto Mondesi. Hunter Dozier tacked on a run in the fourth with his 12th homer of the season.
Down 7-4 to begin the sixth, consecutive singles from Isbel (who was 3-for-4 on Tuesday), Merrifield and Lopez (who combined to go 6-for-10 at the top of the lineup) plated another run. That put two on for Perez, who turned on an inside fastball from reliever Yusmeiro Petit.
“Seriously, I don’t try to do too much,” Perez said. “When I get too big, when I put myself in too much pressure, like, ‘We need a homer here,’ I don’t think things go that way. I just get to the home plate and try to do my job. Try to bring Whit in. He was on third. That’s my responsibility, my job to bring him in.”
Perez is trying to do his job; everyone else expects him to ace it. That fastball landed in front of the Royals Hall of Fame a projected 420 feet away, per Statcast.
“We never say that it’s over,” Perez said. “That’s what I love about my team. We’re going to compete until the last out. It doesn’t matter what the score is in the first inning, there are still more.”
The Royals are 66-78 this season and in fourth place in the American League Central. They have 18 games left in the season and will spend October watching from home. But their 37th comeback win of the season sparked hope about 2022 and beyond. The pitching will have to improve to avoid these early deficits, but part of Matheny’s mission this season has been to develop a winning culture.
Coming back from a six-run hole is one way to start.
“I think it’s something we’re going to keep in mind for next year,” Perez said. “The pitchers learn. They need experience, and that’s how they’re going to get better. We still have 18 [games] left, so we need to play hard and see what happens. And come into Spring Training next year with the mentality that we want to be in the playoffs.”