KANSAS CITY, MO. — In December 2012, Royals General Manager Dayton Moore traded for James Shields, Wade Davis and, he believed, a more intangible benefit. Moore envisioned Shields and Davis allowing the Royals to compete for a playoff spot, and he thought the trade would improve a raft of prospects arriving in the major leagues.
“If we want our young players — Lorenzo Cain [is] part of that — to become the talent we’re dreaming them to be, they better start playing meaningful games,” Moore said Wednesday before Game 7 of the World Series, recalling his mindset. “When you’re losing in July and August, the only thing you think about is, ‘Where am I going to be next year?’ If you’re going to become a great player, you got to focus on every single day what you need to do to get better. Win for the team, and eventually your talent will begin to reach its ceiling. That’s what you’ve seen with our young players. They’re different today than they were a month ago.”
The Royals’ playoff run has benefited no player more than Cain, the 28-year-old center fielder who had been perhaps Kansas City’s best player in the postseason. In the playoffs, which included his ALCS MVP award, Cain had hit .339/.397/.423 and played defense an elite level. He went 7 for 22 with three walks in the first six games of the World Series. Cain may not have been on a list of stars at the start of October. He will be on opening day 2015.
“Everyone is getting to see what type of player he is,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
Cain made his major league debut in 2010 for the Brewers, who traded him that winter in a package that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. Cain remained a raw talent — he didn’t play baseball until age 15, at which point he wore a glove on the wrong hand. His background prevented a smooth progression. But Cain has arrived now as one of baseball’s best center fielders and base-stealing threats.
The Giants made a significant adjustment for Game 7, replacing Travis Ishikawa with Juan Perez as their starting left fielder, sacrificing a strong left-handed bat for a capable defensive player in anticipation of a low-scoring game in which every run will be crucial.
Perez had served as a defensive replacement for five of the series’ first six games, starting only in Game 4 against Royals left-hander Jason Vargas. Ishikawa provides a more potent offensive threat and sent to the Giants to the World Series with a walk-off home run in Game 5 of the NLCS.
But he is a career first baseman — he stands in left field, but he’s no outfielder. While struggling to chase down hits to the gaps and corner, Ishikawa went 3 for 13 in the first six games with no extra-base hits.
Perez has appeared in every game, often replacing Ishikawa when the Giants take the lead in the middle or late innings. In 107 plate appearances in the regular season, Perez hit .170 with a putrid .494 OPS. But in the World Series he is 3 for 9 and smashed a two-run double off the center field wall against untouchable reliever Wade Davis in Game 5.
“He steps in last night and gets another hit,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said. “I just thought about it and said, ‘You know what? We’re going to put our best defense out there. He can do some things with the bat, whether a base hit, get a bunt down for you, gives you speed.”
Both catchers in Game 7 — Kansas City’s Salvador Perez and San Francisco’s Buster Posey — started every game of the postseason behind the plate for their respective teams, a huge workload at the game’s most demanding defensive position. Posey, 27, is protected from overuse during the season by getting some time at first base. He started 109 games as a catcher, but started 30 at first and twice as a designated hitter.
Perez, 24, doesn’t have that protection. He made 143 starts behind the plate in the regular season, most in Royals’ history, and added 15 more starts in the postseason. He served as a designated hitter four times but didn’t play elsewhere in the field.
“For our pitching staff, that’s where his vast importance comes,” Kansas City Manager Ned Yost said. “. . . He’s worked really hard to develop a relationship with these guys, and his main focus is to get them through the game any way that he can. And his attitude and his competitiveness, I guess is the right word for it, is a little bit contagious.”