One final game meant one last bruise for Royals catcher Salvador Perez to endure during the 2014 season.
During the second inning Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium, Giants starter Tim Hudson drilled Perez with an 89 mph fastball in the left knee.
Perez, 24 — the Royals’ 6-foot-3, 250-pound, two-time All-Star catcher — crumpled in the batter’s box as manager Ned Yost and trainer Nick Kinney rushed to his side.
He popped up a few minutes later and made his way to first, where Yost and Kinney made him run several strides down the right-field line to prove he was good to go.
For those who pay close attention to the Royals, well before Kinney and Yost walked back to the dugout, there was never a doubt Perez was staying in the game.
“Salvy’s unbelievable behind the plate, and he likes to play every single day and every single game,” said shortstop Alcides Escobar, whose locker is next to Perez’s. “He wants to catch and doesn’t want to DH.”
The Royals and Giants took the season as far as it could go before the Giants’ 3-2 game-seven victory.
Perez also took the season to the brink of physical and sensible limits.
He played a club-record 146 games behind the plate in the regular season and made a major-league record 158 starts overall at catcher, including the Royals’ 15-game postseason run.
“I was messing with him,” Royals ace James Shields said. “I think he’s 24 years old now, and I keep telling him, ‘I could catch 155 games if I was 24 years old.’ No, he’s incredible. The durability is unreal. It’s off the charts.”
With Alex Gordon on third and two outs in a one-run game, Perez popped out to Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval near the visitors’ dugout, ending the Royals’ season and a magical postseason run with the game-tying run 90 feet from home.
Perez, who has a history of knee injuries and has dealt with his share of concussions from balls off the facemask, tailed off at the plate as the season went along.
Still, Yost stuck with Perez — perhaps even to a fault.
With a club-friendly contract that has Perez locked up through 2017, he’s among the most valuable commodities in baseball and a central figure in the Royals’ hopes that 2014’s postseason run isn’t a flash in the pan.
“He’s the best in the game as far as I’m concerned,” Shields said. “Obviously, I haven’t had everyone catch me. The guy on the other side, (Buster) Posey, he’s pretty good himself, but (Perez) is one of the best in the game, and I’m glad I got to experience him catching me for the last couple years.”
If Shields doesn’t return next season, he’ll miss throwing to Perez.
“Hopefully, I don’t miss him at all,” Shields said.