Royals catcher Sal Perez isn’t likely to ever forget his first All-Star Game.
Not just because Perez got a hit — a clean single down the right-field line — on the very first pitch he saw in the top of the eighth inning of the American League All-Stars’ 3-0 victory over the National League on Tuesday night at New York’s Citi Field.
No, the special, once-in-a-lifetime moment came half an inning later when Perez was behind the plate to catch the bottom of the eighth inning for legendary closer Mariano Rivera, who was making his final appearance in an All-Star Game.
Perez handled the emotional duties flawlessly and watched as Rivera set the National League down 1-2-3.
Actually, Perez likely smiled during the second out of the inning when his Royals teammate, left fielder Alex Gordon, also making his first All-Star appearance, snagged a hard line drive from St. Louis’ Allen Craig that began sailing over his head. It was the type of difficult play that Gordon has made so routinely over the past two years for the Royals and one of the principal reasons Gordon likely will capture his third straight Gold Glove this season.
Gordon also nearly contributed offensively. With two out in the top of the ninth and Detroit’s Prince Fielder on third, Gordon belted a 2-2 pitch from Pittsburgh’s Jason Grilli to the 408-foot sign in center field, where it was caught by Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen for the third out.
Perez, by the way, certainly contributed offensively, too. Big Sal, after his single was just fair and inside the first-base bag, eventually scored on a two-out double by Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis. That was the third and final run of the night.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who has had nothing but praise for the young Royals over the last few years, inserted all three Royals All-Stars to begin the seventh inning, including closer Greg Holland.
Holland, hitting 96 mph on the radar gun, got Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt on a grounder to deep third. Then Holland was within centimeters of getting the Mets’ David Wright on strikes. With the count 0-2, Holland threw a nasty splitter that Wright just ticked, and Perez was unable to hold on for the third strike.
Holland came back with a fastball and Wright was waiting. He singled sharply to Gordon in left. Leyland then opted for Toronto left-hander Brett Cecil to face a left-handed hitter, and Holland’s night was done.
Leyland certainly saw the value of using all three Royals in crunch time Tuesday night. He will see them again Friday night as the Tigers come to Kauffman Stadium for a three-game set. You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at email@example.com.