Last night, the Cleveland Indians faced off against the Minnesota Twins in the first game of a two-game series in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Series is a big deal to both Major League baseball, and to the people of Puerto Rico, who were devastated by Hurricane Maria just seven months ago.
The clear focus of last night’s baseball game was Francisco Lindor, the Indians burgeoning superstar. Lindor has quickly become one of the “faces of Major League Baseball,” and is clearly the “face of the Cleveland Indians.” Lindor, along with Minnesota’s Eddie Rosario, were featured prominently in much of MLB.com’s coverage, as well as Fox Sports, and deservedly so.
Lost in the shuffle of Francisco Lindor’s home run theatrics last night was Indians’ catcher Roberto Perez, who found himself on the bench for the first game of the series in his homeland.
There are a couple of things to note here. Yan Gomes is definitively the “first-string” catcher. Gomes has caught 10 of the Indians first fifteen games and has caught all of Corey Kluber’s starts this year. But “starter” for Gomes really is in name only. Perez has proven to be a superior defender in every stint behind the plate, and while his offense hasn’t been special, there isn’t a noticeable difference between Gomes and Perez behind the plate. While each brings something different to the table, Perez has never really been given a fair shake at starting long-term.
I realize much of this is opinion, and while there are numbers that support Perez both defensively and offensively, Gomes does bring his attributes as well.
But I only mention the battle for the starting role as a catcher as a bit of a courtesy, because last night really wasn’t about a starter and a back-up. Last night was about the Cleveland Indians playing in Puerto Rico for the first time during the regular season—or any season. This is the third official “series” played in Puerto Rico in the history of MLB. The Blue Jays and Rangers played a single game there on April 1, 2001, and the Marlins and Mets played three games there from June 28 through June 30 in 2010. Let’s not mince any words here, this is likely a one-time event for the Indians and its players.
If you were lucky enough to watch the games in the past, or the game last night, you could see in the eyes of every Puerto Rican in the stands how much these games mean to the people, who grow up idolizing both the game of baseball, and the players that go on to the United States, and reach the pinnacle of the sport. The stadium itself was named after Hiram Bitham, a former Major League player, and the first official Puerto Rican to play in the big leagues back in 1942.1
Former Major Leaguer Carlos Beltran threw out the first pitch in last night’s game, and Roberto Alomar, Sandy Alomar Jr., Bernie Williams and Ivan Rodriguez were all there, just to name a few of the former Puerto Rican stars that were part of this massive event to the Puerto Rican people.
So Roberto Perez was going to get the start for the Indians, right!
Back to where it all began …
It’s almost time to #RallyTogether in Puerto Rico!
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) April 17, 2018
Starting at catcher, Brazil’s very own Yan Gomes. Sure, Perez is getting the start on Wednesday Night, but Terry Francona couldn’t find it in his heart to give Perez two starts in the only two Major League games he’ll ever play…at home?
Why on Earth is Roberto Perez not starting two games in Puerto Rico?
— Joel Hammond (@joelhammond) April 17, 2018
I couldn’t have said it any better myself.
How in the hell did Terry Francona look at this game and say, “I’m going with Gomes.” Okay, I get it, Yan Gomes truly is Corey Kluber’s “personal catcher,” if there was ever such a thing. He was his primary catcher in 2017, and as I mentioned before, had caught all of Kluber’s 2018 starts.
Maybe Kluber JUST DEMANDS that Gomes is his catcher, but I doubt it. While I didn’t see the interview, apparently Francona mentioned something about all the games counting and some other rubbish that went along with it. Of course they do Terry, but on what planet does Yan Gomes give you a better chance at winning than Roberto Perez?
Re: Perez not catching thing
This is where Terry should have told his players that Roberto was catching, or Yan and/or Kluber should have said, hey Roberto should catch.
Looks worse after seeing Lindor HR and reaction; Perez should have had as many chances at such a moment. https://t.co/ft7KnFKPsC
— Joel Hammond (@joelhammond) April 18, 2018
Whatever the reason given regarding Gomes starting over Perez, there are just bigger moments, aren’t there? Shouldn’t Francona, the “leader of men”, that is constantly thrown around social media, been able to sit everyone down in the locker room and said, “Boys, I’m giving the ball to Roberto over the next two games. It’s his moment.” Is there really anyone in that locker room that says no? Do you really think Kluber throws a fit? Hell, where was Gomes saying, “let’s give him the ball coach.”
Day-after-day-after-day, you hear about how special this locker room is. They’re now veterans of a World Series together. Oh, and by the way, who was the catcher during that run?
Past that, last year, Gomes wasn’t the only catcher to catch Kluber. As a matter of fact, Roberto Perez caught Kluber three separate occasions. The first came on June 1, as Kluber came off the DL after his rough start to the 2017 season. Kluber went six innings, struck out 10, and got the win. He also caught Kluber in back-to-back games on September 17, and September 24. Kluber went seven innings in both, striking out nine in the first game, and ten in the second. So in Perez’s three starts, Kluber went 20 total innings, striking out 29, while walking only three. He didn’t give up an earned run.
You know…all games count.
I’m positive this will never be a big deal in the Indians’ clubhouse, at least not publicly. And we’ll never know the real story behind this, so we can only assume to know it. Who knows, maybe a few people will read this story, and start asking the same questions that a few of us are already asking, and it will force someone’s hand into asking Francona, or anyone really, why Perez didn’t start last night.
And you know…Perez has been known for a big moment or two, just like that Lindor kid.
But whatever the reason, short of injury2, and whoever is at fault for not allowing Perez as many moments as he could get…shame on you. He deserved more.
I can’t wait to see Perez debut tonight, one game later than he should have.
To close things out…here’s Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda with his ode to Puerto Rico…in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
- Props to Hipster Tito who shared the story of his grandfather, a former minor league player for the Chicago Cubs:
Fun fact I haven’t shared publicly before:
My grandfather was a pitcher in the Cubs system until he served in WWII. He came back from the war and gave up baseball to start a family.
His catcher? Chico Hernández.
His teammate? A fellow pitcher by the name of… Hiram Bithorn. pic.twitter.com/glD1n8CLxh
— (@HipsterTito) April 18, 2018
- and he’s starting tonight, so I doubt that [↩]