Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian: Power of imagination stokes surging Royals

Ned Yost on Salvador Perez's grand slam: 'He went into battle mode'

Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost discussed Salvador Perez's first career grand slam, which lifted KC to a 6-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on June 21, 2017 at Kauffman Stadium.
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Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost discussed Salvador Perez's first career grand slam, which lifted KC to a 6-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on June 21, 2017 at Kauffman Stadium.

Along about the moment Sal Perez fouled off the seventh offering in a nine-pitch duel in the eighth inning on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium, the scan button in his mind came to a pause.

With the bases loaded and no outs and the Royals trailing Boston 4-2, for perhaps five seconds Perez considered the fact he had not hit a grand slam since making his major-league debut in 2011.

Why it occurred to him just then is a matter of conjecture.

Before he hit a a go-ahead grand slam in the Royals' 6-4 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, Salvador Perez had one thing on his mind: He had never hit a major league grand slam.

Maybe the idea surfaced because he’d squandered the previous pitch against Red Sox reliever Robby Scott, a ripe fastball right down the middle. Maybe he figured he was due.

However, whyever, whatever in the world, the power of suggestion evidently lingered two pitches later.

Perez smacked a 412-foot home run to provide the exhilarating winning margin in a 6-4 victory as the Royals continued to rehabilitate their season.

Welcome to the revitalized version of the 2017 Royals, who suddenly apparently need merely envision something to make it a reality in the wake of their grim 10-20 start.

“Unbelievable, huh?” said Perez, who was talking about his grand slam but could just as well have been talking about the reversal of fortune.

With their ninth victory in 11 games, the Royals are 25-16 since inducing widespread panic in the first month of the season … even as manager Ned Yost proclaimed the simple recipe that they could navigate their way back by winning one series at a time.

Now, they’ve won five of their last six series, the exception being a 2-2 draw with the team with the best record in baseball, Houston, and their 13-6 record in June is the best in the American League.

Perhaps most intriguing in the big picture is how they’ve fared against the best teams in the league.

The Royals now own winning records against the leader in the AL East (2-1 against the Red Sox), AL Central (5-4 against Cleveland) and AL West (4-3 against Houston).

Those records may or may not ultimately be as telling of their season as the 1-7 mark against Minnesota and 2-5 record against the White Sox, but they suggest they can play with anyone after it appeared they couldn’t hang with anyone.

Appropriately enough, one signature of the revival has been the reintroduction of the comeback, in this case their 20th of the season.

This victory came both a day after they had been clobbered 8-3 by the Red Sox and after an afternoon spent falling behind 4-2 as the Royals, owner of the fewest errors in baseball, improbably committed two in one inning.

So it looked bleak heading into the eighth inning after the Royals left the bases loaded in the seventh and went up against a salty bullpen that had kept the Red Sox 29-0 after seven innings.

Once again, though, the Royals tilted all logic.

Never mind that they entered the game with the fewest walks in Major League Baseball.

Their first three batters walked to set up Perez, whose last grand slam was with the Class AAA Omaha Stormchasers.

“So (now) I can say I’ve got one grand slam,” he said.

On his first career grand slam, Salvador Perez got some help from fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers.

The home run was Perez’s 15th of the season, and it also spoke to another dimension of this team’s resurgence.

Led by Mike Moustakas’ 20 home runs, the Royals have 86 this season and are on pace to break the club record (168 in 1987) even as Moustakas is on trajectory to break Steve Balboni’s cute little team record of 36 set in 1985.

But to really understand what a radical development this is, consider that the 2014 World Series team hit 95 homers.

All season.

This team might have that amount by the All-Star Break.

And it changes the complexion of what’s possible to know it still has the “keep the line moving” elements that allowed them to score their first two runs Wednesday on a ground-out and a sacrifice fly but can seize four runs in one swing of the bat, too.

“It does feel good knowing that you’re never out of a game, you can get back in a game with one swing, you can win games a number of ways,” Yost said. “Speed is one way, and we’ve done that in the past.

“And you know we don’t have as much speed as we used to have, but we have at least doubled our power production.”

As he spoke, Yost reflected on the deficit of that in much of the recent past.

“Power develops,” he remembered saying a few years ago, specifically citing Perez, Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.

So that seems to have come to pass … much like Perez’s seeming premonition on Wednesday, a semi-phenomenon that reminds of the power of imagination when it comes to this team that won’t let you put it any box.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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