Sam Mellinger

Salvador Perez was in more pain than you could see during the ALDS

Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez hunched over after being hit by a pitch during Game 4 of the ALDS.
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez hunched over after being hit by a pitch during Game 4 of the ALDS. skeyser@kcstar.com

The most accurate description of how Salvador Perez felt while playing much of the Royals’ last playoff series is too graphic for this newspaper or any website you’d visit around polite company.

The worst came the night after Game 1. He thinks it was something he ate, though he can’t be sure. Whatever it was, his body reacted wickedly. He lost track of how many times he threw up, and the diarrhea was worse. His stomach turned so much and he had to run to the toilet so often that he could not fall asleep until 7 in the morning.

Game 2 of the American League Division Series was the next afternoon. Perez was due at the ballpark at 11. When he was late, someone from the team called to check on him. When he walked into the clubhouse he looked a little like a ghost, even as he remained determined to catch a playoff game on four hours’ sleep while sick with diarrhea.

“Pale,” said Pedro Grifol, the Royals’ catching coach. “Yeah, very pale. He walked in, and you knew he was in pain. He was down, he was pale, he had some pain right in here at the top of his stomach.”

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Throughout the Royals’ clubhouse and organization, Perez is known for his constant energy and unrelenting toughness. There is a joke among some that Perez will agree to sit out a game once a limb falls off, but the sight of him early that afternoon was gruesome enough the coaches considered a contingency lineup.

Drew Butera, the Royals’ backup catcher, first thought he might play when he noticed Perez skipped batting practice. He worried that Perez forgot it was an early game, and sent a staffer to call, which is when he heard about the sickness.

Edinson Volquez spotted Perez in the trainers’ room, taking some pills, and asked what was wrong. Perez did not answer. Eric Hosmer, one of Perez’s closer friends on the team, didn’t see the catcher until game time.

“It was terrible,” Perez said. “I don’t want to ever feel like that again.”

You might remember that Perez was terrific that day. He attacked a Scott Kazmir cutter in the second inning, producing the Royals’ first run with a homer into the left field bullpen. In the sixth inning, after Hosmer’s butt-out single brought the Royals within one, Perez’s bases loaded walk tied it.

He had one more hit in the eighth, and caught all nine innings — a full day for anyone, and an exhausting day for a man on four hours’ sleep who still felt queasy during a playoff game.

“You can always hear him, you see him, he has a lot of energy throughout the day,” Hosmer said. “And it’s every single day. Not certain days. So you knew something was weird. He looked like he needed energy.”

Perez had hoped to be feeling better by Game 3. They had the travel day on Saturday, but even with the extra time he played with the same shaky stomach on Sunday. The Royals lost — that was the Dallas Keuchel game — but Perez again played all nine innings, and drew another walk.

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Perez walked just 13 times in the regular season, and hadn’t taken walks in consecutive games since May 2014. This is baseball, so many around the team have been joking that the sickness screwed him up so badly it made him a patient hitter.

He finally felt better for Game 4, but not for long, because that turned out to be one of the roughest games in a career already full of rough games. A fastball crashed his ribs, and when a foul tip banged his face mask, he was foggy enough that when he squatted down to resume play, he fell back into Ron Kulpa, the home plate umpire.

Kulpa put his hands on Perez’s back to keep the catcher upright, then signaled to the Royals’ dugout to take a look.

“When the ball hit me, I felt dizzy a little bit, and I fell back,” Perez said. “I go back to home plate, I looked down, and I felt off, like, ‘Oh,’ so I go to the mound to talk to (pitcher Yordano) Ventura a little bit.”

Perez passed two concussion tests. He started and completed Game 5, and now, finally, after one of the roughest weeks of his professional career, said he feels over the sickness and that there were no lingering effects from the beating in Game 4.

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Perez never mentioned any of this during the ALDS. Neither did anyone else with the team. He only answered questions about it on Thursday. There was a casualness with which he spoke of it that symbolizes some of the charm he has with teammates and coaches.

Last year, he tweaked the patella tendon in his right knee and played the next day, even as backup Erik Kratz hit two home runs in his absence. This year, he talked his way into the lineup even after a foul tip left his hand so swollen he could barely make a fist.

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This has always been the gift and concern around Perez. He wants to play every day, and Yost has talked of giving him more days more often than he’s actually given days off. The conflict, of course, is that Perez is one of the Royals’ most important players. He has proven over and over again that he can play through pain.

Performing as he did during the ALDS, however, might be the best example yet.

“I can’t complain,” he said. “You know that. I love this game so much.”

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