Salvador Perez is being hailed a hero in Kansas City…
The 24-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball catcher singled home the winning run with two outs in the 12th inning, capping two late comebacks that gave his Kansas City Royals a thrilling 9-8 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the American League wild-card game.
“This will go down as the craziest game I’ve ever played,” said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, who sparked the final Royals rally with a one-out triple. “This team showed a lot of character. No one believed in us before the game. No one believed in us before the season.”
It was a back-and-forth epic that lasted 4 hours, 45 minutes, with the A’s losing their seventh straight winner-take-all playoff game since 2000.
Making their first postseason appearance since winning the 1985 World Series, the Royals will now open their best-of-five Division Series on the road Thursday night against the AL West champion Los Angeles Angels.
After falling behind by four runs, the Royals raced back with their speed on the bases — they led the majors with 153 steals this season. Kansas City swiped seven in this one to tie a postseason record previously shared by the 1907 Chicago Cubs and 1975 Cincinnati Reds, according to STATS.
The biggest one came in the 12th.
Hosmer scored the tying run on a high chopper to third by rookie Christian Colon, who reached safely on the infield single and then stole second with two outs.
Perez, who was 0 for 5 after squandering two late chances to drive in key runs, reached out and pulled a hard one-hopper past diving third baseman Josh Donaldson. Colon scored easily, and the Royals rushed out of the dugout for a mad celebration.
Sitting upstairs in a suite, Royals Hall of Famer George Brett put his hands on his head in near disbelief at the frenzied and jubilant scene that was unfolding below.
“It was unbelievable,” Perez said.
The A’s raced out to a 7-3 lead by the sixth inning, but the Royals countered with three runs in the eighth. Nori Aoki‘s sacrifice fly off Sean Doolittle in the ninth forced extra innings.
Kansas City squandered chances in the next couple of innings, as midnight came and went on the East Coast and the tension continued to build. Rookie left-hander Brandon Finnegan, just drafted in June, pitched two scoreless innings but walked Josh Reddick to start in the 12th.
Pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo delivered an RBI single off Jason Frasor to put the A’s ahead 8-7, but Hosmer hit a drive high off the left-center wall against Dan Otero for a leadoff triple in the bottom half, and Colon drove him in with a bouncer that barely traveled 50 feet.
That set the stage for Perez, who lined a pitch from Jason Hammel down the third-base line.