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