'Incredible' Salvy, Royals eye repeat of 2014-15 run

KC downs A's as 10th anniversary reunion of AL pennant-winning club inspires '24 squad

May 18th, 2024

KANSAS CITY -- Seated in white chairs on the infield grass on Friday evening, former members of the Royals’ 2014 American League championship team all turned toward the Crown Vision scoreboard to watch highlights from the electrifying run that brought October baseball back to Kansas City for the first time in nearly three decades.

The Royals are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of that pennant-winning team this weekend, and familiar faces were all introduced on the field for the pregame ceremony Friday: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and many more.

Except for one. He was in the outfield warming up, getting ready to play in his 1,438th career game and 1,228th behind the plate.

When the Royals played his 2014 Wild Card Game walk-off hit, stopped playing catch for a moment to wave his cap to the crowd chanting “SALVY.”

“Gave me chills,” starter Cole Ragans said after throwing seven scoreless innings in the Royals’ 6-2 win over the A’s. “He’s incredible. It’s a 10-year reunion, and he’s still playing. It goes to show how good of a player he always has been.”

Perez is the Royals, and he’s been there with them through it all, from a rebuild to a World Series title to another rebuild.

“And he’s not just hanging on,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “He’s a premier player in the league.”

Back in 2014, Perez was one of the young, homegrown players. In 2024, he’s the leader who wears a “C” on his chest. He’s 34 now, with more bruises from behind the plate than he can count, but he’s been one of the best players in baseball to begin the year, slashing .335/.403/.557 with eight homers.

None of his former teammates in town this weekend were surprised by what Perez has done thus far.

“It’s mind-blowing to really see what he’s accomplished and how much better he’s gotten,” Hosmer said. “I truly do believe that he is one of the most underrated players in our game today. I hate that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves because we all know the player he is, and I think everyone knows the person he is as well.”

Perhaps feeling a jolt of energy from his former teammates in the building or, more likely, just working as hard as he can to help his team win, Perez was on base four times in the Royals’ win, going 3-for-3 with a walk and run scored.

Perez’s infield single in the first inning -- down the third-base line, because of course that’s where a big hit against the A’s needed to be placed -- was the reason the Royals held a 1-0 lead for the majority of Friday’s game. Even though he “doesn’t have much” speed, he said, he beat out the throw to get the run across.

It looked like it was all they would need, as Ragans mowed down the A’s lineup, finishing his seven innings with just two hits allowed, two walks and seven strikeouts.

Then the offense broke out for a five-run sixth inning, highlighted by homers from Michael Massey and Maikel Garcia. That frame started with a walk to Perez.

“I feel like as a whole, we’ve done really well about bouncing back,” Ragans said. “And he’s the centerpiece of it. Flush it, screw it, forget it. It’s time to move on. We’re early in the season, and it’s time to move on. You can’t dwell on losses. He’s incredible. That’s why he’s our leader.”

The Royals (27-19) are a very different team from last year’s 106-loss club. Perez can sense how things are starting to turn, and by extension, his teammates sense Perez’s faith in them and the organization.

“We want to do the same thing they did in 2014 and ‘15,” Garcia said. “Salvy is a big part of that. We’re motivated.”

“We feed off his energy, and the better we play, the more he has,” Quatraro said. “The way he handled himself last year, the consistency of the attitude and the energy, the way things went right from the get-go, he couldn’t have been more professional about it. And I certainly appreciated that. But we’ve talked about wanting to get him back to where those guys were in ‘14 and ‘15, and there’s a lot to be said for that.”

Perez has been the constant from 2014 to now. And it doesn’t look like he’ll be joining his former teammates up in the suite at these reunions any time soon.

“I don’t want to be around those guys too much,” Perez said with a laugh. “They’re all retired. I don’t want to retire yet.”