CLEVELAND – The Indians began American League play in 1901. The 5-4 win Thursday night was their 88th playoff game.
Catcher Roberto Perez did something no one in team history had accomplished.
Not Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez or Albert Belle.
Perez became the first Cleveland player to homer in his first postseason at-bat, sending Rick Porcello’s 3-2 pitch an estimated 365 feet to right field in the third inning.
“It was awesome tonight, first playoff experience,” Perez said. “I wasn’t trying to do too much at the plate. I was controlling my emotions.
“It was a huge win for us.”
The blast started a three-homer inning – Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor followed – that gave the Indians the lead for good as they won Game 1 of the best-of-5 American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox.
“We ride the waves and that was a pretty high one,” Kipnis said of the decisive inning. “It started with Roberto, a great at-bat.”
Perez’s big night began before the homer.
He caught a perfect one-hop relay throw from Lindor in the first inning and made a quick sweep tag, getting Brock Holt on the calf. Home plate umpire Brian Knight’s safe call was overturned by replay when manager Terry Francona challenged.
The Indians and mercurial right-handed starter Trevor Bauer were out of the inning trailing 1-0, rather than down 2-0 with a runner on second.
Perez, 27, making a solid defensive play is normal. What he did at the plate qualifies as extraordinary.
He missed 2 1/2 months after suffering a broken right thumb and ligament damage making a tag April 30. He started the season 0-for-16 before his first hit July 24 and finished the season hitting .183 (28-for-153). He had three homers, and has 11 in 422 regular-season at-bats in his career.
He hit .123 at home this year with a homer and six RBIs.
With Progressive Field rocking Thursday night, the No. 9 hitter went 2-for-3 with a homer, single and two runs scored. He also helped Bauer through 4 2/3 innings, Andrew Miller (season-high 40 pitches) through two and closer Cody Allen the final five outs.
"The work he does behind the plate is unreal, how he controls the game, when he goes out to the mound and tells the pitcher what to do, he tells the pitcher, 'Follow me, I've got you' and the pitcher actually does it," Lindor said. "It's fun to watch. He gives me goosebumps whenever he goes up to someone and tells them what to do."
Clearly feeling it, the 220-pound Perez, who runs like a catcher, used his legs to score a much-needed insurance run that made it 5-3 in the fifth.
He hit a 320-foot single that one-hopped the left-field wall, then tagged on a deep fly by Carlos Santana. He made it easily into second -- easily but not gracefully. The throw was off-line but Perez’s slide was more of a stuck. Both knees hit the dirt and he lurched onto the bag.
“I’m not sure if it was a slide or a car accident,” Francona said.
Perez scored standing up on a single by Kipnis.
“In one-run games, 90 feet are going to be pivotal moments,” Boston manager John Farrell said. “With Perez tagging up, a heads-up play on his part.”
“He played a real good game,” Francona said. “He swung the bat. His baserunning. And that’s the things we have to do to win.”
Perez’s homer quickly matched that of Andrew Benintendi, Boston’s rookie No. 9 hitter. Perez evened the score 2 and set the tone for the huge inning.
The only other time the Indians went deep three times in an inning in the postseason was in a win over the New York Yankees in the 1998 ALCS. Ramirez, Thome and Mark Whiten did the honors.
The Indians lost that series, but Perez made sure they got off to the right start in this one.
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