Royals catcher Salvador Perez stood several paces in front of the Nationals Park bullpen in left field on Tuesday night, waiting for Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale to emerge before the start of MLB’s All-Star game.
Perez has gone through this warmup routine three consecutive summers now. He and Sale have combined to form the American League’s starting battery since 2016. When that streak began, Perez was barely eight months removed from winning a World Series Championship. He was still riding the high of being named the World Series MVP in 2015.
He’s long since come down. In fact, Perez has fallen so far from that career milestone, he’s barely treading water at the plate this season, batting .221 with a .259 on-base percentage. He was the only player on the American League roster with an average below .245 and an OBP under .300.
But even as he struck out in two at-bats Tuesday night in the American League’s 8-6 win in 10 innings, there is perhaps some comfort to be taken in Perez’s attendance here. The Royals are struggling mightily, yet Perez earned a sixth straight All-Star nod in the face of it.
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Sure, the Royals’ obligatory representative could have been someone else. An argument can be made that Whit Merrifield, the most consistent batter the Royals have had this season, merited more consideration from his peers.
But it takes time to earn the kind of respect that begets nominations. And Perez, who joined George Brett as the only other Royals player to make at least five starts in an All-Star game, established himself among baseball’s best catchers years ago.
Perez leads all catchers who’ve logged at least 500 innings this season with a defensive runs above average measurement of 8.3, according to a Fangraphs stat that evaluates a player’s defensive value. He’s the only catcher in MLB with no errors. He has thrown out 12 of the 28 runners who have attempted to test his arm and steal a base and is tied for the American League lead with two pick-offs this season.
“I think he’s the best we have in the American League and one of the best in the big leagues,” said Mariners closer Edwin Diaz.
Although he did nothing with his bat to help the American League secure its sixth consecutive All-Star game victory, Perez caught five innings of one-run baseball for an American League pitching staff of Sale, Luis Severino, Blake Snell, Joe Jimenez and Jose Berrios. They combined to hold the National League to three hits and three walks and struck out seven.
After Indians catcher Yan Gomes replaced him in the sixth, Perez was in prime position to watch his peers set an All-Star game record by clubbing 10 home runs. He was Jean Segura’s cheerleader when the Mariners shortstop drilled a tie-breaking, three-run homer in the eighth inning to give the AL a 5-2 lead. He watched from the bench as the Reds’ Scooter Gennett tied the game back up with a three-run blast in the ninth.
And in the 10th, Perez raced out to be the first to greet the Astros’ Alex Bregman at the dugout steps moments after Bregman sent a lead-off homer into the left-field bullpen to give the AL a 6-5 lead.
“I had a great time,” Perez said. “We had fun, we won, which was important. And now off to the second half to keep working and keep getting better.”