Chris Perez learns and bounces back from Opening Day failure

ChrisPerezIndians
CLEVELAND: Chris Perez acted like a rookie.

Perez, the Indians’ closer, was way too excited and kind of feeling as if he were facing the biggest situation on the mound he’d ever encountered.
But Perez, a first time All-Star last season, has been around the major leagues long enough to know that although Opening Day is always a big deal, he’s certainly pitched in bigger situations.

So after he blew a three-run lead and the save that led to the Tribe’s 16-inning Opening Day loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, he promptly got over it and went back to being his normal, fun-loving self.

“I wasn’t worried after what happened on Opening Day because it helped knowing I’d been there before, having blown my first [save] opportunity in Double-A,” Perez said. “I know it’s just Double-A, but it’s still experience you can go back to. After I blew that save, I reeled off 34 in a row, so I’ve been there. I’ve blown it, had my back against the wall and recovered.”

In fact, Perez, 26, and the Tribe bullpen are a big reason the Indians are in first place going into a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox that starts tonight at U.S. Cellular Field.

Since the Opening Day disaster, Perez (0-0, 4.00 ERA) has been perfect. He’s saved each of his seven opportunities since, tying him for first among American League closers. Perez has held the opposition to one run in 8 innings and opponents are hitting .161 against him in his past nine games.

“It starts from the top, the closer, and trickles down,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “If your top guy is doing good, then the rest of the guys just seem to fall into line. For Chris, he was right back out there right away and it didn’t even take him two outings to recover.”

Last year, in his first full season as the Tribe’s closer, Perez converted 36-of-40 save opportunities to rank fourth in the American League in saves and save percentage (90 percent). He saved 16 consecutive games from May 1 through July 15 and already ranks fifth in club history with 67 saves.

In spring training, Perez talked about how good he felt, better than he had all the previous season while dealing with a nagging arm injury.

Then he suffered a strained left oblique that kept him from making his first spring outing until right at the end of camp on March 29.

So when he blew his first save opportunity of 2012 in front of a Progressive Field crowd of 43,190, there were whispers that perhaps he was still hurt.

Maybe Perez was rushed back too soon. Maybe he should have gone on a minor-league rehab outing first to make sure he wasn’t rusty. Maybe his mechanics were out of whack from sitting out so long.

The worst part for Perez wasn’t the blown save. He knows he’s not going to be perfect all season. The worst part was what happened afterward, the game dragging on through seven extra innings before Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia hit a three-run homer that helped to end the longest Opening Day game in big-league history.

“I don’t know what it was that day, I just wasn’t myself,” Perez said. “It was my first inning of the year and the first two guys hit rockets right back at me. You start thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to try to trick ’em today.’ Instead of just trusting your stuff and saying, ‘I have good stuff, I’ll just come back and get ’em.’ ”

The time before the Indians joined Perez in the locker room gave him plenty of time to stew over his mistakes. Plenty of time to dress, shower and leave before the media arrived in front of his locker, wanting to recount the details of how and why he’d blown it.

Instead, Perez was patiently waiting for everyone, wanting to be there for his teammates and stand up to the media to take responsibility for the mess he’d left.

“It was a three-run lead but I still let everything just kind of speed up on me,” Perez said. “I just never recovered in time. Suddenly, two guys are on and [Blue Jays slugger Jose] Bautista’s coming up. That’s not how you want to start your first outing.”

Although Perez handled himself with class afterward, he had the need to seek out Acta.

“He’s got such good makeup for that job, the very next day he was over it,” Acta said. “But he still apologized to me a couple days later. Not because he didn’t get the job done, but because he wasn’t able to slow things down. He felt like he acted like a rookie because he was so excited that night.”

Perez knows now that finding a way to harness his excitement is part of his job as a closer.

“The closer’s job is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately? role,” he said. “Even Mariano Rivera, if he goes out there and blows four in a row, people are going to start calling for his job. I might have bought a couple blown saves with what I’ve done in the past, but at the end of the day, you can’t let the team tank because you can’t get three outs. I knew I had to figure out what I did wrong and fix it immediately.”


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(ohio.com)
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