CLEVELAND -- There is a rhythm to how Cleveland Indians catcher Roberto Perez presents signs to his pitcher, just as there seems to be about everything he does behind the plate, everything nicely timed. He asks a trainer to smear his cheeks with eye black before every game, always when he returns to the dugout after warming up the pitcher, just before first pitch. At the end of each half-inning he works behind the plate, Perez takes a planned detour, intercepting the pitcher as he walks off the mound, to encourage or congratulate with a tap on the chest.
When he squats to give a sign before every pitch, there is a momentary pause, a small beat of calm and control, both for the pitcher and for Perez to consider what will come next. In the seventh inning of Game 1 of the World Series, the Indians led 3-0, but the Cubs had the bases loaded, and the count was three balls and one strike on veteran catcher David Ross.
Andrew Miller stood on the mound waiting for the sign, in as dire a situation as he has faced in the postseason, and Perez knew what he wanted to do.
A 33rd-round pick who spent six years in the minor leagues before he made his major league debut, Perez already had had a dramatic impact on this game, as he has in a postseason that will likely alter the trajectory of his career. Perez had hit a home run against Jon Lester in the fourth inning to pad the Indians' lead to 3-0, but his greatest skill is in the way he catches each pitch and presents it for the plate umpire's consideration. Time and again in the early innings, he had deftly corralled Corey Kluber's sharply veering two-seam fastball -- for a catcher, this could've been as awkward as roping a calf -- and held his glove at the corner of the strike zone, almost motionless. And time and again, umpire Larry Vanover called strikes.
After the American League Championship Series, a longtime scout spoke with awe about Perez's ability to catch pitches, noting he had gotten strike calls on every single borderline pitch. "Every single one," the scout said again, with emphasis, and Chris Gimenez, a veteran catcher who is part of the 40-man roster, nodded when asked about this in the Indians' clubhouse after Game 1.
"It's unbelievable -- it really is," Gimenez said. "He reminds me so much of the Molina brothers. It's ridiculous. I had a chance to play with Jose and Bengie was one of my coaches in Texas, so I've had a chance to, luckily enough, be around some pretty good Molina brothers."