Kansas City Royals manager Mike Matheny grew up in Ohio, followed the Cincinnati Reds and admired their Hall of Fame catcher, Johnny Bench.
A major-league catcher for 13 years himself, Matheny knows he’s watching a special season from his own catcher, Salvador Perez, who is tied with Bench for the most home runs in a season by a catcher with 45.
Perez could break the record Sunday when the Royals (67-81) host the Seattle Mariners (79-69) in the final game of their three-game series.
The Mariners will send Logan Gilbert (5-5, 4.97 ERA) to the mound to face the Royals’ Jackson Kowar (0-3, 11.50) in a clash of rookie right-handers.
Perez went 1-for-5 with four strikeouts on Saturday, but the Royals hardly needed him as they defeated the Mariners 8-1. Perez drove in one run, on a single. Seattle won the first game of the three-game set on Friday, 6-2.
Matheny said every kid who grew up in southern Ohio idolized Bench, especially if they played catcher, as he did.
“I wore No. 5 from the time I was 7 until I went to college,” Matheny said Friday. “Just like you’re not going to find many kids who are catchers in Kansas City who aren’t wearing No. 13 (for Perez), every kid in Ohio wore No. 5.”
Matheny said the comparison is fair.
“You can argue that (Bench) was the greatest in the history of the game at that position,” he said. “To say that you’re doing something along the lines of what he was able to do, that’s really special. Johnny was able to do it for a long time (17 years).
“I’m impressed with Salvy in so many different ways. He’s also a student of the game. He knows that if your name is thrown out there with Johnny Bench, it’s a big deal.”
In 147 games this season, Perez has 45 home runs, an MLB-leading 113 RBIs and a career-high 25 walks. He is hitting .275 with an OPS of .862. He even has a stolen base.
In Bench’s 45-homer season of 1970, he hit .293 and had an OPS of .932. He had 148 RBIs in 158 games. He also walked 54 times and stole five bases.
More than 50 years later, Bench remains the only catcher to lead either league in home runs. Entering Sunday’s action, Perez is one behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays, who has 46.
It will be up to Gilbert to try to contain Perez and the rest of the Royals as the Mariners see their playoff hopes dwindle. On Sept. 10, they were one game out of the wild card in the American League. After a 2-5 mark in their past seven games, they are four games out.
Gilbert has lost three straight decisions since winning five straight earlier in the year. He seems to have righted things in his past two starts, allowing four earned runs in 15 1/3 innings. He didn’t figure in the decision in any of them.
“That’s just the competing side of it and trying to turn into whatever that side of me is,” Gilbert said after striking out nine in six innings Sept. 13 against the Boston Red Sox. “I think that gets the best out of me. When I’m on the mound, I want to be aggressive, I want to compete and get after it.”
–Field Level Media