Perez caps doubleheader split with walk-off blast
The Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays got wildly different yet equally effective pitching performances in splitting their day-night doubleheader on Saturday.
In the opener, starter Steven Matz held the Royals without a hit into the sixth inning, and Jonathan Davis and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered to give the Blue Jays a 5-1 victory. In the nightcap, the Royals followed veteran Ervin Santana's spot start with four relief pitchers before Salvador Perez's two-out, walk-off homer gave them a 3-2 win.
Greg Holland (2-1) was the last of the relievers in Game 2 for Kansas City, working around an error in the seventh inning to keep the game tied 2-all. Joel Payamps (0-1) then retired Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi in the bottom half before Perez sent a pitch splashing into the left-field fountains to earn the doubleheader split.
"He never ceases to amaze us with what he does," Royals manager Mike Matheny said. "I think he was tired of waiting around for someone to get on base,"
Or maybe he was just ready to go home after Friday's rainout forced them to play a doubleheader.
The afternoon began with Matz (3-0) allowing just a pair of walks before Nicky Lopez's blooper with one out in the sixth inning. He gave up Benintendi's two-out double later in the inning for the only other blemish on an otherwise excellent outing — six innings, five strikeouts and just five balls that left the infield.
"It's fun to get in a groove early in the season, especially when you have a lineup like this," said Matz, who struggled with injuries throughout his six seasons with the Mets. "Get a little better every time out. That's the goal going forward."
Other than a shaky first, the Royals' Mike Minor matched Matz pitch for pitch most of the way.
Minor (1-1) retired his first two batters before Guerrero and Randal Grichuk hit back-to-back singles and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. drilled a two-run double off the wall. That was all the runs until Davis hit his first homer, a drive off the left-field foul pole leading off the fifth. Guerrero tagged his second homer of the series leading off the sixth.
"Always looking for the first one," Davis said, "and now I can breath a little bit."
Even if Matz didn't allow a hit all game, his sterling start wouldn't have been an official no-hitter because teams or pitchers must play at least nine innings to qualify. The decision to shorten doubleheader games to seven innings apiece for the 2021 season means Matz and the Blue Jays would have needed at least two extra innings for it to count.
The only no-hitter in Blue Jays history is Dave Stieb's 3-0 win over the Indians on Sept. 2, 1990.
"We ran into a good start today. Matz was throwing the ball well," Matheny said. "He had good late movement — you could tell the guys weren't seeing the late movement. Really baring in, using the back door."
The second game was tied 2-all in the fourth inning, turning it into a chess match between bullpens. The Blue Jays' finally cracked when Payamps, their fourth reliever after spot-starter Tommy Milone, served up Perez's game-ending homer.
"We knew we had well-rested arms in the bullpen ready for leverage," Matheny said. "I thought everybody did a nice job coming through. That's a tough one. All of them did a fantastic job of keeping us right there with a good offense."
WALK THIS WAY
Royals 1B Carlos Santana drew his 1,000th walk leading off the seventh inning of the opener, joining Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera as the only active players in the club.
"Happy. Happy and blessed," Santana said. "It's another point in my career."
THE OTHER SANTANA
Well-traveled Ervin Santana made his first big league appearance since April 24, 2019, with the White Sox at Baltimore, and he made his first start for Kansas City since Sept. 25, 2013 — the 2,761 days between games are the fourth-longest in franchise history. Santana also became the fourth-oldest starter in club history at 38 years, 126 days.
Blue Jays: OF George Springer (quadriceps and oblique) is doing some light running and will begin taking batting practice, but manager Charlie Montoyo said there is still no timeframe for his return.
The Royals traded OF Nick Heath to the Diamondbacks for minor league RHP Eduardo Herrera. Heath had been designated for assignment earlier in the week. The 21-year-old Herrera has yet to pitch above Class A as a professional.