The floor around his locker was smeared with shaving cream, the remnants of a wild postgame celebration that began with a flash mob of teammates crushing him at home plate and continued in the Angel Stadium clubhouse.
Who knows where Carlos Perez’s career will take him from here, or where it will end up, but say this for the 24-year-old rookie catcher from Venezuela: He sure knows how to make an entrance.
One day after being called up from triple A, Perez, in his first big league game, lined a home run over the left-field wall to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, lifting the Angels to a dramatic 5-4 walk-off victory over the Seattle Mariners and snapping a four-game losing streak.
There have been only four walk-off homers hit by players in their major league debut. The last to do it? Miguel Cabrera for the Florida Marlins against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 20, 2003.
No one is expecting Perez to develop into a two-time most valuable player and triple crown slugger, but with performances like Tuesday’s — Perez also singled in the second and handled pitcher Garrett Richards with aplomb — he could displace starter Chris Iannetta, whose .094 average is the reason Perez is here.
“I don’t have words to explain how exciting this is,” Perez said. “It was a great experience. My first game, and to end like that? That is something I will never, ever forget. That’s for my family.”
Perez’s father and two brothers — who are all named Carlos but go by their middle names back home — watched the game from Valencia, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic, where Perez’s younger brother is a catcher in the Chicago White Sox organization.
“They’re all very excited,” Perez said. “I’ve waited a long time for this opportunity.”
Perez, acquired with pitcher Nick Tropeano from the Houston Astros for catcher Hank Conger in November, was known more for his defense in seven-plus years in the minor leagues.
With sound footwork, a smooth glove-to-hand transfer and a strong and accurate arm, Perez threw out 226 of 637 would-be base-stealers from 2008-2014, a 35% success rate that compares favorably to the major league average of 27%.
But his bat may have been the biggest factor in his promotion. After hitting .329 with four home runs, 11 doubles and 24 runs batted in in 41 games for Caracas in the Venezuelan winter league, Perez hit .418 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 17 games at triple-A Salt Lake.
With Iannetta struggling and backup Drew Butera hitting .190, the Angels designated Butera for assignment Monday and called up the 6-foot, 210-pound Perez.
“Winter league was a big confidence boost for me,” he said. “Last year, I would take a pitch more often. This year, I’m more aggressive . . . trying to hit it hard somewhere while trying to be selective, too. We’ll see if it continues here.”
It did. Perez crushed an 0-and-1 breaking ball from reliever Dominic Leone for his game-winner.
“I wasn’t looking for a specific pitch,” Perez said. “I just wanted to be aggressive in that at-bat.”
As clutch as Perez’s homer was, Manager Mike Scioscia was just impressed with how Perez handled Richards, who features a 96-mph fastball with late cutting action and a sharp-breaking slider he likes to bury in the dirt for a put-away pitch.
Richards allowed a run and five hits in seven innings, struck out five and walked two. He had three wild pitches, but Perez blocked several other pitches in the dirt.
“Garrett is not an easy catch, and he did a great job behind the plate,” said Scioscia, a former catcher. “His whole demeanor was impressive. He was very calm. He had control of everything. He received the ball very well.
“He had good at-bats and got a hanging breaking ball and hit it out of the park. You couldn’t have scripted it any better for that kid.”
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