BALTIMORE -- Call Indians closer Chris Perez what you want. Brash. Outspoken. Controversial. But make sure to also call him what he is for Cleveland: an American League All-Star.
In a first half filled with plenty of drama off the field, Perez has been dominant on the mound. On Sunday, Perez's birthday, the closer was rewarded for his stellar performance this season, earning a spot on the American League All-Star team, along with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
"I really don't let the stuff outside the field affect me on the field," Perez said on Sunday at Camden Yards. "Sometimes, I use it for motivation, but it's not extra pressure."
This marks the second consecutive season in which Perez and Cabrera -- both two-time All-Stars -- will represent the Indians in the Midsummer Classic. Perez is the first Cleveland reliever to earn back-to-back honors since Jose Mesa in 1995-96, and Cabrera is the first Tribe shortstop to be named an All-Star in consecutive years since Omar Vizquel in 1998-99.
Making an All-Star team once is one thing. Getting the nod in consecutive years can often be an indication that a player is emerging as one of the game's top talents.
American League roster
|C||Mike Napoli, TEX|
|1B||Prince Fielder, DET|
|2B||Robinson Cano, NYY|
|3B||Adrian Beltre, TEX|
|SS||Derek Jeter, NYY|
|OF||Josh Hamilton, TEX|
|OF||Curtis Granderson, NYY|
|OF||Jose Bautista, TOR|
|DH||David Ortiz, BOS|
|RHP||Ryan Cook, OAK|
|LHP||Matt Harrison, TEX|
|RHP||Felix Hernandez, SEA|
|RHP||Jim Johnson, BAL|
|RHP||Joe Nathan, TEX|
|RHP||Chris Perez, CLE|
|LHP||David Price, TB|
|RHP||Fernando Rodney, TB|
|LHP||CC Sabathia, NYY|
|LHP||Chris Sale, CWS|
|RHP||Justin Verlander, DET|
|RHP||Jered Weaver, LAA|
|LHP||C.J. Wilson, LAA|
|C||Joe Mauer, MIN|
|C||Matt Wieters, BAL|
|SS||Elvis Andrus, TEX|
|SS||Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE|
|3B||Miguel Cabrera, DET|
|2B||Ian Kinsler, TEX|
|1B||Paul Konerko, CWS|
|OF||Adam Jones, BAL|
|OF||Mike Trout, LAA|
|OF||Mark Trumbo, LAA|
|DH||Billy Butler, KC|
|DH||Adam Dunn, CWS|
"That's a very good sign that they are establishing themselves as All-Stars," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "You can make the All-Star team one time and never go back again in your life. But going back to back, it's a good sign that it's probably not going to be the last time for either guy. I'm very happy for them."
This 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be held on July 10 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, and will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed.
Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com.
Perez, who logged one scoreless frame on Sunday in Baltimore, has been steady on the mound this season for the Indians, piling up 23 saves in 24 opportunities. Since Opening Day, when the right-hander gave up three runs in his lone blown save of the year, Perez has posted a 1.82 ERA, with 32 strikeouts and just five walks in 29 2/3 innings.
In save chances, Perez has a pristine 1.23 ERA -- with his only three earned runs allowed coming in that Opening Day game against the Blue Jays. Overall, the closer has fashioned a 2.67 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP and 32 strikeouts against seven walks in 30 1/3 innings this season.
Last season, when Perez made the AL All-Star team for the first time, he collected 36 saves in 64 games in his first full tour as the Tribe's stopper. A year ago, however, Perez dealt with a right forearm issue for much of the season. Right now, the closer feels like a completely different pitcher.
"I was like, 'How am I doing this?' It was Houdini acts," said Perez, referring to last season. "This year, I'm me again."
That includes off the field, where Perez has drawn attention for more than just his numbers.
The closer was fined by Major League Baseball for a postgame message posted on Twitter in the wake of a bench-clearing incident with the Royals on April 14. On May 19, following an outing in which he struck out three hitters on 10 pitches, Perez spoke out about Cleveland's low attendance, riling up some members of the team's fan base.
During his next appearance at home, though, Perez received a rousing standing ovation from the home crowd at Progressive Field as he ran in from the bullpen.
In a game against the Royals on May 28, Perez waved his hand in front of his face after striking out K.C. outfielder Jarrod Dyson. The action, which hardly pleased Dyson, came after the closer heard Dyson had some choice words for Perez leading into the series.
Just last week, the off-field issues flared up again when an article in the New York Times ran comments from Perez that criticized fans of the NFL's Cleveland Browns. That small rant, which picked up more steam than Perez expected, earned Perez a cameo in an editorial cartoon that ran on Thursday in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"Obviously, I wouldn't be saying as many things if I wasn't performing as well," Perez said. "But then, at the same time, I don't know if I'd be performing as well if I didn't say those things. I've kind of got that extra chip on my shoulder. The microscope is on me now. If I do mess up, I'm going to get the scrutiny."
Throughout everything, however, Perez's performance has remained steady.
"People keep saying how do you keep pitching with all this pressure?" Perez said. "There's no pressure from the outside. Pressure is when you're one or two outings way from getting sent down to the Minor Leagues or getting released. That's pressure. This is still a game. It's fun for me."
Acta brushed off Perez's antics on and off the field.
"You know what?" Acta said. "I don't think he's in the All-Star Game because of what he's done off the field or what he's said or anything. I think he's been pretty darn good. Right after the Opening Day game, has anybody been any better than him? He's been terrific."
Cabrera has been a leader for Cleveland, as well.
Last season, the 26-year-old Cabrera surprised with his breakout showing, earning a starting nod in the All-Star Game after Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter backed out, and later picking up a Silver Slugger Award at season's end. This year, the switch-hitting Cabrera has continued to develop into one of the game's top players at his position."
"Day in and day out, he's been as solid as you can ask a guy to be," Acta said. "Last year was huge for him, because he put himself out there for the whole world, all the baseball fans, to know how good he is. ... By doing what he's doing this year, he's letting people know that he's for real. He's an All-Star."
In 69 games for the Indians, Cabrera has hit .300 with 11 home runs, 19 doubles, 40 RBIs and 41 runs scored. Along the way, he has posted a .379 on-base percentage and collected 137 total bases, all while dazzling fans with his defensive acrobatics.
Cabrera hopes to keep doing so for years to come.
"I'm really excited," Cabrera said. "This is my second time. I'm feeling like I can give a little bit more. I think I've got to be better. I've got a little work to do. My career is just starting right now. I want to be an All-Star for a long time."
Perez let out a chuckle when reminded of the fact that this year's All-Star Game will take place in Kansas City.
Given his history with the Royals this season, the closer is ready for anything.
"I'm prepared for the boos," Perez said with a smile. "I'll just quote Reggie Jackson, 'They don't boo nobodies.'"