The unlikely star of the Indians' Game 1 World Series victory

Mike Oz

CLEVELAND — This is the night everyone learned the name Roberto Perez.

If you didn’t know it before Game 1 of the World Series, you probably weren’t alone. He’s the backup catcher who was thrust into a starting role midseason. He’s a 27-year-old who hit .183 this year and is mostly known for his defense behind the plate. He’s the guy hitting in the nine-hole.

Heck, even the name Roberto Perez is right out of the central casting for the second-string catcher turned unlikely star of the World Series.

That’s just who Perez was on Tuesday night in the Indians’ 6-0 Game 1 win over the Chicago Cubs. There was Perez, crouched behind the plate, catching another stellar start from ace Corey Kluber. Then hitting a solo homer in the fourth inning that put the Indians ahead 3-0. And launching a three-run blast in the eighth, the dagger that put the Cubs in a 1-0 series hole.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a night like that,” Perez said afterward, his game face still on like he’d go another nine innings with the Cubs if his team needed. “It was huge.”

Huge? No. It was historic. It turned a no-name backup catcher into the star of the story 20 years from now when Indians fans say, “You remember Game 1 of the 2016 Series?”

Roberto Perez hitting one of his two Game 1 homers. (Getty Images)
Roberto Perez hitting one of his two Game 1 homers. (Getty Images)

Let’s look at all the lines Perez can now add to his résumé:

• He’s the first player to hit two homers in his first World Series game since Troy Glaus in 2002, and the first Indians player to ever do it.

• He’s the first player in MLB history to ever hit two World Series homers as the ninth hitter in the order.

• The only other catchers to hit two homers in a World Series game? Yogi Berra, Gene Tenace, Johnny Bench and Gary Carter, three of whom are Hall of Famers.

• Only two other Indians — Manny Ramirez in 1995 and 1998 and Jim Thome in 1998 and 1999 — had hit two homers in a postseason game. The big difference? Perez hit three homers total in the regular season.

“What he did at the plate tonight,” Francona said, “my goodness. That was exciting to watch. Everybody was happy for him. You can see the way everybody reacted to it.”

The Indians picked Perez in the 33rd round of the 2008 draft out of Puerto Rico. Even in the minors, he hit only .237 over eight seasons. But with Indians catcher Yan Gomes hurt the past two seasons, the Indians have needed to call on Perez more.

When their trade for Jonathan Lucroy got vetoed in July, Perez became the de facto option behind the plate. It didn’t matter what his batting average was. The Indians needed him calling games and framing pitches. Hitting a homer — like he also did in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox — is just an added bonus.

“For me,” Perez says, “it means a lot. I’ve come a long ways. I’m just playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

If you’re just tuning into the postseason and wondering how the heck the Indians, a team without any household names in its lineup, got here, then you saw a lot of it in Game 1. It’s a lot of, “Who the heck is that guy?” followed by, “Oh, that guy is good.”

It’s not two homers every time, but it’s someone like Jose Ramirez getting three hits after going 1 for 17 in the American League Championship Series. Ramirez, with his wild yellow hair, had the biggest smile in the Indians clubhouse after Game 1.

That’s easy when you jump out of a slump the way he did. His first hit wasn’t the greatest — a weak nubber in the infield the Cubs couldn’t field — but it brought home the Indians’ first run and served to further rattle Cubs starter Jon Lester.

Lester gave up a single to Francisco Lindor, then back-to-back walks before Ramirez’s unspectacularly effective hit just died in the infield. If he had hit it a little bit harder, there’s a good chance it’s the third out of the inning. Instead, it served to frustrate Lester and the Cubs.

When Ramirez got on first base he had another big smile, because it doesn’t matter that he barely hit the thing 30 feet, it went down as an RBI single anyway.

“I’m always happy when I get a good hit like that,” he laughed after the game.

Jose Ramirez rebounded from a 1-for-17 ALCS performance with three hits. (Getty Images)
Jose Ramirez rebounded from a 1-for-17 ALCS performance with three hits. (Getty Images)

Perez and Ramirez combined for five of the Indians’ 10 hits. Three of the others belonged to Lindor, who isn’t quite a “Who’s that guy?” anymore. He’s been the breakout star of the postseason, the 22-year-old who has carried the offense through each playoff series.

He’s been so good that getting three hits in his first World Series game wasn’t even spectacular. It was just another great night. So as he stood in front of his locker, answering every single question tossed his way, Lindor seemed more like a proud team leader than anything else.

“It’s someone different every single time,” Lindor said. “Like we saw last series. It’s unreal.”

When talking about Perez specifically, Lindor was beaming.

“Goosebumps,” he said. “He gets me going because I see how hard he works, day in and day out. Every time one of our players steps to the plate, I feel like they can do it.”

He stopped speaking for a second. Behind him, Perez and Kluber were on TV, recounting their parts of the Game 1 win. What Lindor said flashed right before his eyes. Different guys every night.

“I believe in my team,” Lindor said. “I’m glad I’m with the Tribe right now.”

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!