The ninth home run of the Royals’ postseason came on a 90-mph fastball that sat in the heart of the strike zone.
It was the kind of pitch you don’t want to throw Salvador Perez. Especially with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning. It was the kind of pitch that gets drilled into the camera bay in left field on a cool night in Kansas City. The kind of pitch that leads to Perez standing in front of his locker late on Friday, replaying his solo homer in a 5-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
“Eat good,” Perez said, flexing his right bicep. “Work out.”
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This was not supposed to be the playoff formula for this team, the contact-heavy, strikeout-hating Royals playing long ball in another postseason run. One year ago, the Royals crushed 11 homers during a 15-game playoff run that culminated in Kansas City’s first World Series appearance in 29 years. That was supposed to be the outlier, of course, an October surprise for a team that tends to conquer opponents with a thousand cuts — not one big blast.
But here it was again on Friday, the Royals muscling up as they fended off the Blue Jays and took a 1-0 lead in the series. Perez cranked his third homer of the postseason against Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada in the bottom of the fourth, stretching the Royals’ lead to 3-0. With the solo shot, Perez tied Kendrys Morales for the team lead in homers this postseason.
As Perez dug in, he understood the scouting report on Toronto starter Marco Estrada, who likes to be aggressive and get ahead in the count. Estrada reached back and threw a fastball. Perez timed the offering and unleashed a mighty hack. The baseball landed in a camera bay in left-center field, bouncing up against a Sonic sign as the roars echoed across Kauffman Stadium.
“He’s aggressive. He like to get ahead in the count,” Perez said. “I’m aggressive, too. He threw me a fastball. I think it was a little in the middle, and I hit it pretty good.”
Two days earlier, of course, Morales had capped a Game 5 victory over the Houston Astros with a three-run homer. The five-game series had been marked by power from both sides; Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain each hit a single homer during the two games in Houston.
The recent production bodes well for the rest of this ALCS. During the regular season, the Royals ranked 24th in the majors in homers, hitting 139 in 162 games. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, led all teams in clout, crushing 232 homers and scoring a major-league-best 891 runs.
That was the regular season. In six games in these playoffs, the Royals have drilled nine home runs. The Blue Jays have hit eight.
“I feel like the lineup, one through nine, anybody can put the ball in the seats if need be,” Cain said. “But we definitely understand that’s not our entire game.”
Case in point: In the bottom of the eighth, Hosmer came to the plate with two on and roped an RBI double off the top of the wall in right field. It was inches away from Kansas City’s 10th home run, and as Hosmer stood at second base after a double, he twirled his finger around and looked back toward the Royals’ dugout.
“I actually thought it hit the black board out there and came back,” Hosmer said.
Hosmer’s eyes deceived him. And that was fine. The Royals would add two key insurance runs, and more importantly: They were now three wins from a return to the World Series.