San Francisco Giants

After tragic news, Perez makes key contribution in Giants’ win

SAN FRANCISCO -- Outfielder Juan Perez was drafted by the Giants in 2008. At the time, the Giants had a pitching prospect in their organization from the Dominican Republic named Raul Burgos.

"He used to tell me about his brother," Perez said. "Every night, ‘My brother’s good, he’s going to be special.’

"I didn’t really pay attention to it."

Perez started to pay attention when the little brother reached the United States, as part of the St. Louis Cardinals organization. By the time the two played on the same winter ball team in the Dominican Republic in 2011, the younger outfielder was rocketing up lists of the top prospects in baseball.

He was Oscar Taveras, the talented and exciting Cardinals outfielder who reportedly died along with his girlfriend in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Sunday at the age of 22.

Reports of the accident began surfacing during the early innings of Game 5 of the World Series at AT&T Park. As the news filtered through the stadium, Perez caught word while in a training room behind the Giants’ dugout. Perez, also from the Dominican Republic, had grown close in recent years to Taveras and his family.

"I just heard one of the guys say he passed away in a car accident," Perez said. "I went and asked him again to make sure, ran up here (to the clubhouse) and checked my phone, and checked again."

Messages from friends and family, Perez said, confirmed the tragedy. At the time, with the Giants leading the Royals, Perez had just begun his routine for preparing to enter the game later as a defensive replacement.

"It took me probably three innings to get over it," Perez said. "It was getting close for me to go in the game, and I took everything away and focused on the game."

But teammates could see Perez was upset. Perez said infielder Joaquin Arias came up to him and told him to "Stay strong." Outfielder Gregor Blanco also approached Perez.

"I just saw that he was really sad and talking about it," Blanco said. "So I was just like, ‘OK, I know this is devastating for everybody, for you especially. But at the same time, we should think about the game right now.

"‘I know it’s not easy, man. After the game we will talk about it, and we should pray for his family. But right now, let’s focus on winning the game.’"

Perez entered Sunday’s game in the sixth inning as a pinch runner for Travis Ishikawa. In the eighth inning he came up with runners on first and second against Royals right-hander Wade Davis, a reliever who did not allow a home run the entire regular season while compiling a 1.00 ERA.

Perez crushed Davis’ full-count fastball to straightaway center field and missed a home run by inches, as the ball bounced near the top of the wall and back onto the field. Both runners scored on the double, and Perez took third on the relay throw to the plate.

"When I got to third, I took a peek to the sky thinking, ‘That’s for you,’" Perez said.

"It was the biggest at-bat of his career," said Blanco. "I’m so proud of him."

Taveras made his major-league debut for the Cardinals on May 31 against the Giants and hit a home run in his second at-bat, against Yusmeiro Petit. He homered again off Jean Machi in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, which the Cardinals won, 5-4, on Oct. 12.

His death two weeks later left the baseball community shocked and saddened. Players and teams took to social media Sunday evening to share their condolences, while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig released a statement saying the league was "in mourning."

"I heard about it in the fourth (inning) and just had a sinking feeling in my gut," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "My first thought was, ‘This game’s not that important.’"

Perez recalled chatting during the NLCS with Taveras, for whom he’d been "so excited" when Taveras was called up to the majors in May.

"You think about how he made the last out, too, in the (NLCS), and you never know what can happen, man," Perez said. "Life, it’s crazy. I don’t know. I can’t explain it."

He fielded the questions about Taveras, though, waves and waves of them, his eyes slightly red but his voice firm, until finally he indicated he couldn’t answer any more.

"He was a humble person, happy, always smiling, great ballplayer," Perez said. "He had a lot of talent."

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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