The Cleveland Indians got a big night out of their backstop in the first game of the ALDS. Here’s how Roberto Perez impacted the game in all three phases.
The headline from a Cleveland Indians win over the Boston Red Sox in Game One of the American League Division Series was the unconventional bullpen usage by manager Terry Francona. In a move that harkened back to the old “fireman” days of the 1970s, the Tribe leaned heavily on its top relief arms to keep the top-scoring offense in baseball at bay and claim victory.
The performances of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen deserve all the attention they’ve gotten in the time since the final out was recorded, but they also overshadow a contribution that was every bit as critical to the win.
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Roberto Perez and the Cleveland catchers have been much maligned throughout the season due to the unit’s historically poor statistics at the plate. The Indians’ backstops were dead last in Major League Baseball in wins above average according to Baseball Reference, and it wasn’t particularly close.
But as we’ve seen time and again, the regular season means little once the playoffs begin, and unlikely heroes emerge from nowhere to make a difference. That was the case on Thursday night for Perez.
The play from the 27-year old that will garner the most attention was the 3-2 four-seam fastball from Boston starter Rick Porcello in the third inning that he deposited into the right field seats to give the Tribe a 2-1 lead, part of a 2-for-3 night at the plate.
“Early in the year, I kind of struggled,” Perez said after the game. “But, later in the year, at the end of the season, I was really feeling [like] myself. I was getting more comfortable at the plate. Tonight, I put the ball in play, trying to have good ABs and good things will happen. That was the key.”
The home run was nice, but it was two other plays Perez made that affected the game more subtly, but no less importantly.
In the top of the first, the Red Sox managed to string some hits together against Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer, and with two outs and runners on the corners, Hanley Ramirez roped a double into left-center field. Dustin Pedroia scored the game’s first run, and Brock Holt attempted to come all the way around from first.
The relay throw from Francisco Lindor wasn’t perfect, but Perez showed his athleticism and awareness to make a big play and, after a review of the play determined Holt to be out, limit the damage Boston did in what could have been a disastrous inning.
“I got a good jump and just couldn’t make it there in time,” Holt said of the play. “They did a good job of cutting that run down. I had a pretty good lane to slide around there. Just a bang-bang play. I got in and touched the plate, but he tagged my leg or my foot. It was a good play by him.”
That play may not be remembered forever, but in a game that was determined by just one run, its significance cannot be overstated. Neither can another heady play Perez made, this time on the basepaths, in the fifth inning.
After singling to lead off the inning, Perez was at first base when Carlos Santana lifted a fly ball into fairly deep left field. Red Sox rookie Andrew Benintendi could never have fathomed that the Indians’ backstop would attempt to advance on the play, and was caught flat-footed when Perez took off. Two pitches later, Jason Kipnis delivered an RBI single to give the Tribe a 5-3 lead.
“The ball kept carrying,” Perez said. “I’m known as a slow runner. The guy hesitated. He was probably too confident that I wouldn’t try to run. That was a huge play.”
Three plays in three different phases of the game that went a long way towards determining the outcome. Throw in the fact that Perez called a great game for his pitchers and you have one of the most complete, most unlikely performances in Cleveland’s postseason history.
The Indians’ catchers have been a decidedly weak link for the club all season long, but the game Perez played displayed just how valuable he can be during the playoff run. He certainly wasn’t the most likely hero for the Tribe, and may not be the most lauded for his efforts, but the team wouldn’t have a 1-0 lead in the series without him.