CLEVELAND -- He was granted a huge opportunity this season and Roberto Perez has capitalized on it, especially in October.
Perez on Tuesday night became the first Cleveland Indians player to homer twice in a World Series contest as he belted a pair in a 6-0 Game 1 victory over the Cubs in front of 38,091 at Progressive Field. Perez homered off Jon Lester and Hector Rondon, the latter putting the finishing touches on an impressive all-around Indians performance. He also became only the fifth catcher in major league history to homer twice in a World Series game.
“I told him every time, ‘You want to make a name? This is where you do it.’ ” shortstop Francisco Lindor said. “And he’s stepping up huge. I told him -- ‘I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you.’
“I almost cried when he hit the home run.”
An excellent pitch framer who threw out 13 of 26 stolen-base attempts in the regular season, Perez’s overall offensive production in 2016 wasn’t very impressive. He finished the regular season hitting .183 with three homers -- a figure he has already matched in the postseason (he also homered against Boston in the American League Division Series).
But most of Perez’s struggles came after he returned early from a broken right thumb out of necessity. When Yan Gomes was placed on the disabled list on July 17 with a separated right shoulder, Perez was only 24 plate appearances into his rehab assignment.
His performance showed as he produced a .367 OPS in his first 75 plate appearances back. But down the stretch, Perez’s bat perked up and he had a .763 OPS in his final 94 plate appearances.
“His numbers are a little misleading,” reliever Andrew Miller said. “He had to be there behind the plate for us and maybe wasn’t ready at the plate. It’s not easy to do that.
“He certainly swung the bat pretty well down the stretch -- he had good at-bats, he works the count and he showed today he can do damage.”
Perez’s first homer came at a critical point as the Indians let a chance slip away an inning earlier to extend their two-run lead. With one out in the fourth, Perez turned around a 92-mph fastball from Lester, hammering it just over the top of the 19-foot high wall in left field for a solo homer. The ball exited Perez’s bat at 113 mph, according to MLB.com.
The second drive arrived in the eighth inning and put the game out of reach. With Cleveland ahead 3-0, Perez took advantage of a two-out rally and caught hold of a hanging 2-2 slider from Rondon, who had just entered the game, driving it 382 feet for a three-run shot.
“What he did at the plate tonight, my goodness, that was exciting to watch,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It gave us a cushion early. And then late, come spread it out. In the seventh or eighth, that wasn’t looking like a 6-0 game. So it’s nice any time. Everybody was happy for him. You could see the way everybody reacted.”
With his second homer, Perez joined elite catching company --- Yogi Berra, Gene Tenace, Johnny Bench and Gary Carter are the only other backstops to homer twice in a World Series game. His four RBIs matched the previous club record set by Sandy Alomar Jr. (Game 5, 1997) and Elmer Smith (Game 5, 1920). He also is the only player in World Series history to homer twice out of the ninth spot in the order in the same game.
Not bad when you consider Perez has caught all 80 postseason innings for a pitching staff that has a produced a 1.58 ERA through its first nine games and is three victories shy of a World Series title.
“I’m just playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Perez said. “I’m not trying to do too much at the plate. I’m just trying to control my emotions. First World Series experience, and just trying to go out there and compete and try to get good ABs up there, and try to get on base and make something happen. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”