04/11/2002 01:35 am ET
Perez, Cardinals make it all the way back
Dramatic homer sinks Brewers in 11
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Eduardo Perez has been a hero like this before. He's even been the hero in a game like this before. But it's safe to say he's never savored it like this before. And while his team's comeback on Thursday was unlikely, Perez's personal comeback might have been even more so.
Perez launched a solo home run off of Luis Vizcaino with one out in the 11th inning Wednesday night to give the Cardinals a 6-5 come-from-behind win over the Brewers. St. Louis rallied from a 5-0 third-inning hole and a 5-4 deficit with two outs in the ninth.
The blast also marked the completion of Perez's re-emergence as a big league ballplayer -- a journey nearly 16 months in the making.
After playing a small but valuable role on the 2000 NL Central Division champion Cardinals, Perez's contract was sold that December to Hanshin of the Japanese Central League. He endured one of his worst years as a professional, hitting .222 before undergoing knee surgery.
The son of Hall-of-Famer Tony Perez signed a minor-league deal with St. Louis in February of this year, and seemed a long shot to make the team as one of seven players battling for two positions. Perez's job wasn't secure until the last weekend of the spring, when it essentially came down to Perez and Mike Coolbaugh for the last position-player roster spot. He scuffled through the season's first week, going hitless in four games.
"This is huge," Perez said with a smile. "Especially with the road I took to get back here. The hard work. It lets you know that it pays off."
Almost nine years ago, as a rookie with the California Angels, Perez had a similar highlight. In just his fifth Major League game, he put the final touch on a comeback against the Minnesota Twins when he homered off of Rick Aguilera with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. But that Angels team was well below .500 in late July. Besides, Perez had spent barely two years in the minors before making the Angels. This Cardinals team expects to contend for a World Series championship.
To do that, you need contributions in games like this from guys like Perez.
"It's a hellacious comeback," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "That only happens if the offense keeps playing and bullpen pitches lights out. It's gonna be a fun game to reflect on because we had a lot of heroes. It tells you the character of our team."
And in particular, the character of Perez, who even in his moment of glory, was quick to talk up his teammates.
"This is a credit to our bullpen," he said, alluding to the eight shutout innings hurled by St. Louis relievers in the game. "They picked Andy up, picked our momentum up."
Perez himself needed a bit of a pickup. He had been 0-for-5 on the year before this game, pinch-hitting three times and getting one start at first base. He flied out and grounded out in his first two plate appearances after entering the game in a double switch in the sixth inning. He certainly wasn't thinking home run when Vizcaino left a slider up a little too high.
"The 2-2 pitch, I choked up and I was just trying to put it in play," said the outfielder-slash-first baseman-slash-third baseman.
"Vizcaino, everything he was throwing was nasty," La Russa said. "He made one mistake. It's a cruel game. Made one mistake and Eduardo hit it. Everything else was from mid-thigh down with movement. He really pitched outstanding, just made one mistake and we capitalized."
Perhaps the game was cruel to Vizcaino on Thursday night, but it's been cruel to Perez plenty of times before. He deserved this one, and he certainly appreciated it.
Matthew Leach covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.