Sal’s clutch hit gets fans in a tizzy — and inspires hope for more

What made Sal Perez's heroics so stunning was the rarity of it all for the Royals.

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals manager Ned Yost probably summed up the feelings of an entire fan base when he admitted that during Wednesday’s game he was pleading that someone — anyone — come through with a big hit in the clutch.

After all, the Royals were just 3 for 22 with runners in scoring position over the course of two games before Sal Perez stepped up to the plate with runners on first and third in the ninth inning.

We all know what happened next. Perez delivered a three-run homer, and the Royals pulled out a desperately needed 5-4 win over Tampa Bay.

What made Perez’s heroics so stunning was the rarity of it all for the Royals.

This is a team that has not come through in the clutch all season.

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Consider that the Royals became the last team in all of baseball to register a walk-off win when they beat the Angels to end the last homestand. It took them almost three months to pull off that feat.

Indeed, the Royals have been anything but late-inning warriors, at least offensively. In fact, almost all Royals games this season have been decided by the end of the seventh inning, one way or another.

Before Wednesday’s drama, the Royals were just 3-35 when trailing going into the eighth inning this season. And they were just 1-37 when trailing going into the ninth.

But the Royals also are 38-1 when leading after seven innings and 40-1 when leading going into the ninth.

There’s no huge secret behind the numbers. The truth is, the Royals are built on a pitching and defense, and Wade Davis and Greg Holland essentially are the best there is as a shutdown duo.

Offensively, the Royals are another story. Their overall ineptness is well documented — they get held to three runs or less basically in one out of every two games (44 of 90). And they are just 7-37 in those games.

Part of the explanation is that the Royals fade offensively as the game wears on. Overall, the Royals are hitting .264 with a .315 on-base percentage, which is more than respectable and fourth in the American League.

But after the sixth inning, the Royals hit just .239 with a .306 on-base percentage.

Baseball-reference.com takes it one step further with its "clutch" hitting stat, which refers to hitting in the seventh inning and beyond with a team ahead by one, tied, or with the tying run in the on-deck circle: In that stat, the Royals are hitting just .239 with a woeful .639 OPS. Only Tampa Bay and Texas are worse in that category.

All of this explains why Twitter and social media in general lit up Wednesday night after Perez’s incredible home run. To Royals fans, this felt like the sighting of Halley’s Comet.


And now, the Royals likely will need more such dramatics as they open a huge four-game set with Detroit at The K.

This is even more the case because of Jason Vargas’ appendectomy and the uncertainty of Alex Gordon’s injury (MRI on wrist today).

Short-handed, the Royals will have to steal a few more games like they did Wednesday night if they are to survive over the next few weeks.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.