Royals catcher Salvador Perez lay on his back on the dirt beside home plate, his left thumb pointed up as he locked eyes with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Perez’s helmet had fallen off and his pants had become stained. The top button of his powder blue jersey had come undone and the gold chain he wears around his neck had sidled in and out of place.
The only part about this third-inning scene in the Royals’ 8-2 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon that was not out of place was Perez’s trademark grin. Everything else leading up to it resembled chaos.
Picture this: A 6-foot-4, 28-year-old galloping home from second base on a two-out single arced by Lucas Duda into center field. Add on the 240 pounds of muscle and girth typical of this longtime Royals catcher.
Now imagine Perez wheeling around third base, starting a feet-first slide inches before he reaches home plate while Cardinals center fielder Harrison Bader unfurls a perfect throw to Molina. On any other day, Molina, the eight-time Gold Glove winner, would have tagged him out with ease.
But on Sunday, Perez pulled a move Molina told him was reminiscent of the Cubs’ Javier Baez.
“It was just beautiful to watch,” manager Ned Yost said.
Perez slid wide of the plate. He stopped his momentum by bearing down on his left knee. As Molina reached back to tag, Perez pulled up his left hand but touched the back edge of the plate with his right hand. Molina tried in vain to tag Perez on the chin. Home plate umpire Adam Hamari called Perez safe as his body finally rolled to a stop on the dirt.
The Cardinals challenged the play, but umpires in New York determined after 2 minutes, 3 seconds that the call stood.
On a gutsy slide, Perez had given the Royals and starting pitcher Jakob Junis a 2-1 lead the bullpen would ultimately blow as the Cardinals completed a three-game sweep of the I-70 Series.
Perez hasn’t experienced many moments like Sunday’s this season. He’s only batting .232 with a team-leading 55 RBIs in 95 games. There was a stretch of 20 games from July 10-Aug. 3 in which he locked in at the plate, batting .305 with eight home runs and collecting 21 RBIs. The heat-up coincided with his sixth straight All-Star selection, something at the time he said motivated him.
Otherwise, Perez has scuffled. Before knocking two hits in this series finale, he had gone 4 for 26 in his previous seven games.
Sunday presented a respite.
According to MLB’s Statcast system, Perez ran at a speed of 25.8 feet per second, which is slower than the MLB average of 27 feet per second but faster than Perez’s 2018 average by 0.9 feet. It took him about 7 1/2 seconds to score from second base.
“If I was faster, I would have made it to home plate with no slide, easy,” Perez said.