GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians closer Chris Perez placed one foot on the chair in front of his locker, rested an arm on his knee and stared off, trying for the life of him to remember the first time he notched a save as a professional pitcher.
"Quad Cities," Perez said after a long pause. "It would've been July."
So far, so good.
It was July 10, 2006, and Perez was on the mound for the Class A Quad Cities River Bandits, facing the Dayton Dragons. A 16-mph wind was blowing out to right field at Fifth Third Field in Dayton, Ohio, and Perez -- a Cardinals farmhand at the time -- was asked to work the 10th and final frame.
Did any of that ring a bell?
"I don't remember that at all," Perez said with a laugh. "I do remember the stadium. They've got a big dragon out there that shoots out flames. It was pretty cool."
Having a short memory is an important trait for any closer, so perhaps it is fitting that Perez does not recall all the details of that brief appearance. He got three outs and, in the end, that is all that really matters. In the years since, Perez has solidified himself as one of baseball's top young stoppers.
Closing out games in the big leagues was always Perez's dream, too.
Well, at least it has been his dream ever since he realized he was not going to cut it as a starter at the University of Miami. When he figured out he was not going to be the ace of the Hurricanes' staff, or even a member of the rotation, Perez decided there was only one thing left for him to do.
"I wanted to be the best guy out of the bullpen," he said. "That's the closer."
Perez is coming off a spectacular season as the Tribe's ninth-inning man, giving him a firm hold on the same role this year. Last summer, all the 6-foot-4 righty did was fashion a 1.71 ERA (second lowest among American League relievers) while saving 23 of the Indians' 69 victories.
Perez also struck out 61 hitters in 63 innings and held batters to a .182 average. From June 28 through the end of the year, the righty posted a 0.53 ERA. With runners on base, he limited hitters to a .133 batting average.
Perez made manager Manny Acta's life a little easier in the process.
"It's a nice thing to have as a manager," Acta said. "Chris Perez gives us that sense of security. He's our security blanket back there."
Perez certainly looks the part, sporting a beard and long brown hair that darts out from under his cap to give him an intimidating presence on the mound. He also allows himself to have fun along the way -- plenty of evidence can be found in that regard by following his Twitter account (@ChrisPerez54).
His overwhelming success of late in the ninth inning has earned Perez the nickname "Pure Rage" and that -- the adrenaline rush that comes with taking the mound in the final frame -- is what has always made closing out games his ultimate goal.
Perez has always had a personality suited for working late innings. He knows that is a main reason why he was not going to make it as a starting pitcher.
"I'm not one to hold back stuff on my pitches," Perez said. "The way I throw, the way my arm is, I throw 100 percent every time. I did that as a starter, too, and the fifth inning would come around and I'd be dead. I never learned how to pace myself.
"There's nothing like coming in in a close game after your team has battled back, or held on to a lead the whole game, and you come in and it's just on you. If you have a good day, you win. If you have a bad day, it's on you and you lose."
Perez has certainly experienced the latter.
In 2008 as a rookie, Perez suffered a handful of blown saves for the Cardinals when St. Louis was in the hunt for a playoff spot. Two came in back-to-back outings in September and Perez cringes at the memory of the postgame walk to the clubhouse.
"It's hard. It's on you," Perez said. "You have to walk in the room and see 24 other veterans who are busting their butts. You come in and one swing and it's done. It is tough, but I learned how to get over that."
Early in his career, it was not so easy.
Perez said he would worry too much about trying not to blow a save rather than concentrating on attacking the hitter. Or, Perez would look ahead to see who was due up in the opposing lineup, taking himself out of the game mentally before he even took the mound.
Perez said the biggest difference he experienced last season with the Indians, who acquired him in a trade with St. Louis in 2009, was on the mental front. He stopped caring about who was in the batter's box. He stopped worrying about what he did -- good or bad -- in his previous appearance.
Perez began taking the mound with supreme confidence. And it worked.
"As a closer you have to have that self confidence," Perez said. "You have to have that confidence of, 'I don't care what the situation is, I know I can get out of it. I know I can strike out these next three guys if I need to.' I know I can do that. That's what I believe.
"So whatever the situation is, I always believe I can strike my way out of it. Sometimes I don't, but most of the time I do."
Perez is even working on a new weapon.
He already featured a hard fastball and a strong slider, but now Perez is using this spring to add a changeup to the mix. When it works correctly, the pitch has a sinking action. He began toying with it while playing catch last year and he tested it out in a few late-season games.
Other than the new pitch, Perez said his goal for this season is simple.
"I'm going to try to get ahead of the hitters," he said. "When I do? I'll just do my thing."