Focus key for Tribe's Perez
Young southpaw emerging as unsung hero in ALDS
NEW YORK -- His mind was on the mitt.Forget about the crowd. Forget about the goosebumps. Forget about the energy. Just look to the mitt. If you want to know how Indians left-hander Rafael Perez was able to set down each of the 12 Yankees batters he faced over four innings of relief work in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, well, that's how. "I was able to concentrate on the mitt of Victor [Martinez]," Perez said through an interpreter. "I knew that I had to do it to be able to get the outs." Yes, because to get caught up in all the outside factors -- most notably an electric Jacobs Field audience and a potent New York lineup -- would expose Perez to the dangers of making a big game bigger. Then again, Perez's focus in tense moments has been his specialty in his ridiculous rookie season. None of what he's done in his first foray into the world of October baseball has surprised his manager or his teammates. "If you asked me three months ago, I would say he's surprised me," Eric Wedge said. "It's important [for young players] to understand it's still baseball. You've just got to go out and play your game and control what you can control, and he's done a good job at that." Opposing batters have been under Perez's control all year. Called up for good to the Majors on May 29, Perez made 44 appearances out of the 'pen and established himself as perhaps the most dominant left-handed reliever in the American League. Perez's 1.78 ERA ranked third among AL relievers, and his .219 opponents average against ranked sixth. His first-batter average of .049 was the lowest in the AL. "He's just been tough as nails for us," Tribe ace C.C. Sabathia said. The regular-season dominance, which allowed Perez to form a solid setup tandem with right-hander Rafael Betancourt, was certainly nice and all. But projecting how a 25-year-old, in his first extended exposure to the big leagues, will perform in the postseason spotlight is never easy. What is easy to predict, however, is Perez's ability to shrug off all that surrounds him. "He never gets too excited," Martinez said. "He just pitches his game." And against the Yanks, it's been game on.
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Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.