'Our captain for a reason:' Salvy saves the day with improbable HR

April 9th, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ross Stripling’s 2-2 splitter to was going to land well below the zone. In any other situation, it would be a ball.

Instead, the Royals’ captain swung. He connected. And he skied it over the left-center-field wall for a game-tying three-run homer in the eighth inning of the Royals’ eventual 6-5 win over the Giants on Saturday at Oracle Park.

The pitch Perez hit out was 0.91 feet above the ground, the lowest pitch he’s homered off in his career. How he got it out of the park is beyond reason. Or perhaps there doesn’t need to be a reason.

“He’s done it his whole career,” Royals interim manager Paul Hoover said. “For him to come through again for his team is who he is.”

“He’s our captain for a reason,” added , who scored the winning run on a wild pitch in the ninth inning.

It took the Royals 153 games in 2022 to come back from a four-run deficit to win a game. They did it in the ninth game this season. It was not hard to see the impact of locking down that win in the clubhouse after Saturday’s game, with music bumping and the team mobbing Perez when he walked in.

“We’re a young team,” said Perez, who, at 32 years old, is the Royals’ oldest position player. “And getting wins like this is going to help us get the confidence we need to keep winning.”

On Saturday, the Giants built a four-run lead off Royals starter in the fourth inning, and while home runs from and brought the deficit to three by the seventh inning, the Royals were running out of time to come back.

With two outs in the eighth, Edward Olivares and MJ Melendez hit back-to-back singles to bring up Perez, who hit his first home run of the season in Friday’s win. Five pitches later, Perez was watching the splitter land in the bleachers.

“He basically golfed that thing,” Giants catcher Blake Sabol said. “It was just an impressive swing, and he’s done it for a long time.”

The pendulum swung the Giants’ way in the eighth, though, when they loaded the bases with no outs against reliever . The Royals right-hander abandoned his fastball completely for the next three batters.

“I needed to go to my swing-and-miss stuff and get out of it,” Clarke said. “Tried to use their aggressiveness against them.”

Clarke struck out Thairo Estrada on three consecutive breaking balls. He got Brandon Crawford to swing and miss on a slider. And Sabol whiffed on another slider to end the inning.

Clarke -- usually one of the more reserved relievers in the Royals’ ‘pen -- let out a roar as he walked off the mound. The Royals dugout took notice.

“When he came off the field, it definitely hyped us up,” Eaton said. “Gets everybody going.”

Perez had gotten the big hit in the eighth, but the Royals barely needed a hit to take the lead in the ninth. Eaton pinch-ran after Vinnie Pasquantino roped a leadoff double in the ninth, then went to third on Hunter Dozier’s groundout.

Eaton took a large lead off third base as Giants closer Camilo Doval faced Royals center fielder Kyle Isbel, so when a 100 mph cutter got past Sabol, Eaton took off for home. The ball ricocheted off the backboard behind home plate, making for a close play. But Eaton slid home safely.

“They’d been telling me for a few innings that I’d possibly be going in to pinch-run, so I was just doing whatever I could to get loose and get ready,” Eaton said. “Not playing for a few days, those are opportunities I’m looking for.

“[Acting third base coach José Alguacil] was telling me the whole time, ‘Get out as far as you can, I’ll be in your ear the whole time to tell you if he’s coming.’ So I got out as far as I could, saw the ball go by, and went.”

Lefty Aroldis Chapman notched his first save as a Royal in the ninth for Kansas City to complete the comeback. The energy was palpable in the dugout and in the clubhouse as the Royals clinched their first series of the year.

“Just the momentum builder, for guys to believe, for them to not quit and keep fighting,” Hoover said. “Especially for a young group -- that’s a big win when you might have counted us down and out. There was a lot of excitement in the clubhouse postgame. A lot of fun.”