CLEVELAND -- From backup catcher at the start of the year to key all-around player on a World Series team, Cleveland Indians backstop Roberto Perez has come a long way during the 2016 season, and it is paying dividends at the perfect time.
In Tuesday’s 6-0 win over the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series at Progressive Field Tuesday night, Perez belted two home runs and drove in four runs in the Indians’ return to the Fall Classic for the first time in 19 years.
“I think he feels pretty good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think this time of year, every game means so much. You can take an 0-for, and you don’t see guys coming off the field. Wins are so important right now, and one swing can swing a game.”
Perez is known more for his defense, and while he has managed a patchwork pitching staff due to injuries over the second half of the season, he has been able to deliver big hits throughout the postseason.
And deliver Perez did in the fourth inning of Game 1. Down in the count, 0-1, after swinging at a first-pitch strike from Cubs starter Jon Lester, Perez smashed a belt-high fastball over the wall in left field for his second home run of the postseason.
Perez’s round-tripper gave the Indians a 3-0 lead over the Cubs.
The Indians doubled their lead over the Cubs to 6-0 when Perez belted a three-run home run into the bleachers in left field with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
With outfielders Brandon Guyer and Lonnie Chisenhall on after a walk and single respectively, Perez took a 2-2 pitch from former Indians farmhand Hector Rondon over the wall for his second home run of the game and third of the postseason.
“What he did at the plate, my goodness that was exciting to watch,” Francona said. “It gave us a cushion early, and then, late, spread it out. In the seventh or eighth inning, that wasn’t looking like a 6-0 game, so it’s nice anytime. Everybody was happy for him. You could see the way everybody reacted to it.”
In addition to having a record-breaking performance against the Cubs, Perez was on the receiving end of another from Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber.
Kluber’s eight strikeouts over the first three innings of Game 1 bested the previous record of Orlando Hernandez and Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson, each of whom registered seven strikeouts over the first three innings of a World Series game.
Also, the nine Ks set the Indians’ franchise record for the most punch-outs in a World Series game. The previous record of seven was set by Orel Hershiser in the 1995 World Series and equaled by fire-baller Jaret Wright during Game 7 of the 1997 Fall Classic.
“His confidence, I think that you can see it growing every game, every series with him, with the team,” Kluber said. “I think that it's all right there in confidence and feeling good about himself.
“You can see the difference just in the way he feels about himself right now. He's not out there searching or doing things like that. It's like you said, he's simplifying it, trying to have good at-bats and it's working.”