Royals catcher Salvador Perez had a terrible game at the plate and he’s been mired in a months-long slump, but it was his RBI single down the left-field line with two outs in the 12th inning Tuesday that delivered a 9-8 victory in the AL Wild Card Game.
Perez’s heroics also capped a stellar night for the club’s young hitters, whose inconsistency throughout the season seemingly threatened to keep the Royals from ending a 29-year postseason hiatus.
Instead, those young batters helped the Royals into the AL Division Series against the Angels.
“He struggled, but he continued to battle,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “He had no quit in him, and that’s what we need throughout the rest of these playoffs — guys to fight and fight for each other.”
Simply making the playoffs, of course, marks a significant step for the franchise and perhaps holds the promise of brighter days ahead.
The stirring win only makes the return to October baseball that much sweeter.
The Royals’ still-young, still-talented core group on offense also provided a glimmer of hope for the future.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas each contributed against Jon Lester, an established postseason ace who entered the game with a sparkling 2.11 ERA in 76 2/3 innings.
None of those players will be 30 years old when the 2015 season begins. Neither will Perez.
Escobar and Cain each had two hits, Hosmer reached safely three times and Moustakas lit the fuse on the Royals’ third-inning rally with a leadoff single against Lester.
Collectively, the quartet scored five runs and added three RBIs in their postseason debut versus Lester, helping make it arguably the worst playoff start of his career. He coughed up six runs in 7 1/3 innings, the most he’s allowed in 14 playoff appearances.
“He’s a great pitcher and we’ve always had our challenges with him, but our guys just battled and grinded out at-bats,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “We had really as good of at-bats as we’ve had in a while tonight.”
Hosmer’s 12th-inning triple off the top of the wall in left-center ignited a rally from down 8-7, which eventually was capped by Perez’s walkoff hit.
“My approach was battle for the season right here,” Hosmer said. “Whatever you can do, just get on base and, like we kept saying in the dugout, just keep the line moving.”
It’s the kind of performance that spurs offseason growth now that the Royals have tasted what’s possible.
Obviously, the Royals will lose some key roster pieces next season.
Ace James Shields almost certainly will pitch elsewhere next season, designated hitter Billy Butler’s future remains uncertain and there’s a chance either closer Greg Holland or setup man Wade Davis gets traded during the offseason.
Still, the Royals’ young core of players proved they could contend in 2013.
That same group showed they could stand the heat of September baseball and, while coming up short in the AL Central division chase, wouldn’t wilt under the pressure of playoff contention.
Surely, they still want more.
Combined with a stable of young pitchers, headlined by left-hander Danny Duffy and flamethrower Yordano Ventura along with the seemingly unflappable rookie first-round pick, Brandon Finnegan, it’s not crazy to think it won’t take another 29 years for the Royals to electrify the city.