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He has found the way to go
John Garrity
May 23, 1983
Last year Pascual Perez of Atlanta got lost. This season he hasn't lost
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May 23, 1983

He Has Found The Way To Go

Last year Pascual Perez of Atlanta got lost. This season he hasn't lost

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Buenos d�as," says the man in the commercial, one gold tooth gleaming in his smile. "I am Pascual Perez. [This is from the English subtitles; the soundtrack is in Spanish.] I work very hard to earn this baseball cap, but you don't have to. You just go to Krystal to get a Braves cap like mine...for only two-fifty. Plus, get a schedule so you can come to all the games." He grins. "Personally, I suggest you get a map, too."

That's an odd recommendation considering that if Perez had carried a map with him last Aug. 19, he wouldn't be making commercials for a fast-food chain today. That was the day when Perez, a righthanded pitcher from the Dominican Republic, missed a crucial start because, while driving to the stadium in a rented car, he got lost on Atlanta's perimeter freeway system and circled the city three times before running out of gas. Perez,' teammates, mired in a 2-19 slump, found the mishap so hilarious that they laughed their way into a 13-2 winning streak and then went on to win the National League West, thereby making Perez' ride more familiar to Atlanta schoolchildren than Paul Revere's. Now he wears 1-285 on the back of his warmup jacket and smiles indulgently when he's called Perimeter Perez or Wrong-Way Pascual. "When I get lost, I make our luck better," says Perez. "Mine too. Now, every time I pitch in Atlanta, the people like me."

What's not to like? Perez won four crucial games during the Braves' drive to the '82 division title and at week's end had added five more victories this season to tie the team record for consecutive wins set by Buzz Capra in 1974. Following a no-decision last Thursday night in Houston, where he left the 1-1 game after six innings, Perez had a 1.64 ERA, second-lowest in the league. "He's pitching his butt off," says Rube Walker, one of Atlanta's two pitching coaches. "He's a power pitcher, but a power pitcher with control. They're hard to find."

The Braves uncovered Perez last year in Portland, pitching for Pittsburgh's Class AAA farm club. He had been 2-7 with the Pirates in 1981, and after a 4-9 start in Portland in '82, Perez was ready to quit and return to Santiago, where he's remembered as the pitcher who struck out 10 and beat Fernando Valenzuela 7-1 in the title game of the Caribbean League two years ago. Instead, he agreed to go to Atlanta in a trade that sent Pitcher Larry McWilliams to Pittsburgh. Perez won all five of his starts with the Braves' AAA team in Richmond and returned to the majors on July 26.

"He's the most aggressive pitcher we have." says the Braves' other pitching coach, former Cardinal star Bob Gibson. That's high praise from the glowering Gibson, but Perez' intensity is sometimes taken for hot-dogging. In Pittsburgh, he used to "shoot" his strikeout victims with an imaginary gun and then blow away the imaginary smoke. Perez no longer does that, but when he makes the third out of an inning by covering first base, he spikes the ball and sprints for the dugout like Pete Rose. "He's definitely one of the best righthanders in baseball now," says Houston Outfielder Omar Moreno, who played with Perez in Pittsburgh. "It's just that sometimes he gets too cocky."

"Some players may think he's showing them up," says Atlanta's venerable knuckleballer, Phil Niekro, "but it's harmless. That's just how he gets his adrenaline flowing." Others suspect the 26-year-old Perez, who's 6'2" but weighs only 162 pounds, assumes a belligerent pose to discourage hitters with bullying instincts. In 1981, after dusting off the Cubs' Bill Buckner, Perez answered Buckner's walk toward the mound by throwing down his glove and raising his fists. Buckner backed off. "Everybody thinks because I'm a skinny guy they can come at me," says Perez.

The same year Perez plunked two Dodgers with pitches during a game at Three Rivers Stadium. That prompted a stream of oral abuse from the visitors' dugout, particularly from Reggie Smith. After getting the third out, Perez gestured at the 6', 195-pound Smith—in any language, Perez' signals translated to "let's go behind the stands"—and ran toward the Pirate dugout. Both benches emptied, not onto the field, as is customary, but into the cramped tunnels behind the dugouts. Again, there was no actual bloodshed. "Everybody mad at me because they think I try to hit somebody, but I don't try to hit nobody," says Perez. "The coaches tell me, 'Don't be afraid sometimes to pitch inside,' so I do it."

Nothing about Perez" off-the-mound demeanor suggests a macho disposition, unless you count the dozen or so gold necklaces, chains and religious medals he wears around his neck. He has a shy smile and a quiet voice and likes to spend his time on the road, playing video games. He throws more than fastballs with his elegant, whiplash delivery and is as likely to offer a changeup as a heater on a 3-0 count. "Sometimes I challenge somebody," he says, "sometimes I don't."

If Perez' reputation as an oddball is exaggerated—"He's not a joker in the clubhouse; he doesn't fool around," says Niekro—his fractured English sometimes makes him funnier than he intends. After a recent victory, he was asked by reporters how many games he thought he could win this year. "[Manager] Joe Torre says I can win 15 games," said Perez.

"Think you can win more?" one reporter asked.

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