The Royals’ greatest moments of championship seasons

3 04 2016

My Royals-fan sons and I exchanged some emails heading into Opening Day, spurred by two excellent pieces on the Royals:

  • A New York Times interactive package that tracked down the people (mostly Met fans) in a photo reacting to Eric Hosmer’s slide into home with the tying run in Game Five of last year’s World Series, with audio clips recalling their reactions to the play. Making the piece especially enjoyable for Royal fans was the fact that the two non-Met fans interviewed were George and Leslie Brett. I highly recommend reading and listening to it (unless you’re a Met fan).
  • Rany Jazayerli‘s post on the best five moments of the 2014-15 Royals. This is the detailed, emotional conclusion of an excessively long series (I think it was about the 150 best moments or something like that). I recommend it for Royal fans, but no one else would read it all. We all did, though.

(If you missed my World Series posts last year, I am a lifelong Yankee fan who took my sons to Royals games in the 1980s when they were young. I failed to make Yankee fans of them, but they all grew up to be passionate Royal fans. While my loyalties remain with the Yankees, I developed a strong secondary fondness for the Royals and enjoyed the past two Octobers along with my sons, especially last year’s World Series victory. We went to Game Two together in 2014.)

Each of the boys weighed in by email, after reading the two pieces, on their own favorite 2014-15 moments. With their permission, I am using their emails here, adding some links and videos. I’ve done a little editing to use full names on first references and such, and adding some context in parentheses for non-Royal fans who don’t recall them all as vividly as we do, though I tried to keep that to a minimum. I doubt you’re going to read this if you don’t get most of the context.

Mike’s favorite 2014-15 Royal moments

This section comes from my oldest son Mike, whom I promised in 1985 to take to the World Series the next time the Royals made it:

My personal top 5 is:

5. Hosmer scoring (the World Series Game 5 tying run that prompted the Times story).

4. Omar Infante home run (Game Two in 2014, the game the four of us attended together).

3. Lorenzo Cain scoring from first on a single (scoring the winning run in Game Six, clinching the 2015 American League Championship Series over Toronto).

2. Wade Davis striking out Wilmer Flores (final out of the 2015 World Series).

1. Salvy’s walk-off (Salvador Pérez winning the 2014 wild-card game in the 12th inning, the Royals’ first post-season win in 29 years)

Tom’s favorite 2014-15 Royal moments

Tom Buttry

Tom Buttry

Tom had just turned 3 when the Royals won the 1985 World Series, but went to lots of Royals games with me the next six years, before we moved away, and became a lifelong fan. Tom made lots more choices than Mike:

Honorable mentions, in roughly chronological order (I didn’t embed videos of the honorable mentions, but the links below take you to videos):

The first time we tied the A’s in the 2014 wild-card game, the parade of stolen bases against Oakland, the second time we tied the A’s, Mike Moustakas’ and Eric Hosmer’s home runs in Anaheim, Jarrod Dyson gunning down an Anaheim baserunner, Billy Butler stealing a base, Alcides Escobar hitting a traditional home run to my delighted surprise, Wade Davis mowing down the heart of the Orioles’ lineup in the bottom of the eighth, Alex Gordon and Moose hitting homers in extra innings against the Orioles, Cain’s amazing catches in Baltimore, Escobar’s double against Baltimore, Salvy’s double against Hunter Strickland, Kelvin Herrera getting an at-bat in the World Series, Yordano Ventura destroying the Giants in Game six, Hosmer’s game-icing home run in Houston, Johnny Cueto destroying the Astros in Game five, the comeback on David Price, the lineup destroying R.A. Dickey, Cueto mauling the Mets in Game 2, running Jacob deGrom from Game 2, buying a round for a bar full of people (only doesn’t make the list because it didn’t directly involve a Royals player).

And here are Tom’s 15 most memorable Royal moments of 2014-15:

15. Moose’s railing catch (if we’re stripping plays of their context, this play is one of the top two, but the series was already fairly well in hand, so it appears at the end of the list).

14. Kendrys Morales’ ground ball getting past Carlos Correa. This should probably be higher, but I was still in the afterglow of the wedding and not quite back into full-on baseball mode.  The comeback against the Astros is one of the two most remarkable team-wide feats the Royals pulled off in a single game, and this was definitely the payoff moment.

13. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer (Esky. Magic.)

12. Gordon’s triple (this is a tough one… the what-ifs and having our hopes crushed on the next play can’t be totally removed, but while the play was happening, I was elated.  If we had pulled it off last year, this moment would combine with the winning play to create the no-doubt greatest moment in Royals history, surpassing Game 6 in 1985.)

11. Wade Davis allowing the tying and winning runs to get into scoring position, just to see what it’s like. I’ll admit that for a moment I thought it was possible that Wade Davis was mortal.  That an hour’s rest was too much even for him.  Then he struck out Ben Revere and got Josh Donaldson to ground out and all was right with the world. (In our email exchange, Joe shared a Kansas City Star story by Rustin Dodd about Wade’s “escape” in that game.)

10. Christian Colón tying the game against Oakland, the third time we tied that game and got the winning run on base. (Included in the video with No. 9.)

9. Hosmer’s triple. One could argue this was the moment the identity of the team was defined.  We had already come back to tie the A’s twice, only to fall behind yet again, and again showed everyone that this team refuses to die.

8. Cain scoring from first. Stripped of context, this probably tied Moose’s catch as the most impressive single play with smart, aggressive base-running coupled with Cain’s amazing speed.  I don’t want to diminish the context, but the plays above it were either in the World Series, or the walk-off of the most exciting game in the history of baseball, so this is only #8.

7. Gordon’s home run. I remember actually being terrified of the Mets before Gordon tied the game.  Earlier in the game, they had managed to come back on us, despite Esky Magic.  We had made the dumb mistake that put the other team ahead.  Gordo’s homer reminded me that we’re the Royals and we’re the team that comes back to win, not someone else.

6. The final out: Great, amazing moment when it became official, but we all knew Davis wasn’t blowing a five-run lead … which is an odd feeling after years of being a KC sports fan.

5. The top of the 12th: Colón go-ahead, Cain clearing the bases. In my memory, these plays are really linked. Colón put us three outs away, Cain put the game out of reach and started the celebration.

4. Daniel Murphy error/Moustakas go-ahead run. Combining multiple plays in the same half-inning again. Early in the game, I noticed that the bulk of the Mets’ fans around me couldn’t tell the difference between me saying MOOOOOSE! and their booing him — though the guys right next to me could tell and were friendly enough to find it funny.  So not only were these two plays together really important, I actually got to loudly celebrate without getting crap thrown at me.

3. Infante home run. Good call, Mike.  The company we were in gave this moment its importance.  The payoff moment of going to Royals’ and Chiefs’ games since together since we were children.

2. Hosmer’s dash. I agree with Dad, this was the championship moment.  As awesome as the actual final out was, this is the defining play of the Royals’ championship.

1. Salvy’s walk-off. I know logically the wild card game of the season they didn’t win shouldn’t be #1, but after a lifetime as a beaten-down KC sports fan, winning that game was honestly the most joy I ever felt as a sports fan. This is just an instance where the moment that really kicked off this run meant more than the climax.

Joe’s moments

Joe didn’t compile a list of great memories, but weighed in with three observations in separate emails. On a memory his brothers didn’t mention:

I feel like the 2014 Game Two go-ahead Billy Butler single makes the list for me. When they went to the pen I ran to the bathroom and watched the play from the entryway, then charged up the stairs to our seats high-fiving the entire way.

What I did not recall until I watched the inning again was that the Giants used five pitchers that inning. Big play in the game. Great base-running from Cain. Not the double or the homer, but the go-ahead run, a good play and a good memory.

Also, I had not listened to Reynolds’ commentary. Solid gold. Strickland throws two pitches (a foul and a strike to Salvi) and he says “I think they have figured out the problem with Strickland.” He then talks up his ability against right handlers.

Strickland’s next four pitches:

  • Wild pitch
  • Double in the gap
  • Ball
  • Homer in the bullpen.

Nailed it, Harold.

When Joe sent that, I looked for a YouTube clip of the broadcast of the inning. Couldn’t find it, but here’s the full game:

Joe also weighed in on two plays from the 2015 World Series:

And the scouting report told them to make Lucas Duda throw the ball and to make Murphy field it. Both spot on. I don’t know that the scouting report said either would be in such a big spot.

Joe’s reaction to Rany’s list of the top five moments:

I have always thought that Cain scoring from first should be up there. Rany had it close, but MLB network had a list of this years playoff that it didn’t make. (As I recall 40 clips). Probably not top 5, but 6 or 7.

My response:

If it’s top 5 plays, Cain’s dash makes the top 5 (and Wade’s strikeout of Flores doesn’t). But if you’re ranking moments, not plays, the championship moment has to be up there (I might have put Hos No. 1, because that was the championship). Either way, Cain’s dash was fabulous, pushed down the list only because there were so many great ones.

Update: Joe sent along a link from the Star’s Sam Mellinger, on the players recalling some of their favorite moments.

Dad’s moments

Mike, Tom, Joe and me, Game Two of the 2014 World Series, back in our old seats

Mike, Tom, Joe and me, Game Two of the 2014 World Series, back in our old seats

While I started the discussion by sharing the New York Times story, I didn’t weigh in nearly as much on the ranking of great Royal moments of the past two years. The best for me dealt with my sons more than they dealt with the Royals. And my joy focused on experiences that were too extended to call “moments”:

  1. Attending World Series Game Two in 2014 with the boys (all of whom are in their 30s now, so I should stop calling them “boys,” but, you know, I’m their dad), but I already wrote about that.
  2. Texting like crazy with the boys through all the other games, especially last year’s clincher.
  3. Enjoying Game Two and Game Four in 2015 vicariously through Mike, who went to Kauffman Stadium for one and Tom, who wore his Moustakas jersey in Citi Field for the other.
  4. Enjoying how the joy from the last two falls has endured, as in this email exchange months later as another season approaches. If the Royals have to wait another 29 years for post-season play or another 30 years for their third World Series crown, they will savor this the whole time. And I don’t think it will be that long (though I didn’t think so in 1985 either). Even if these Royals turn into a dynasty with multiple championships, these first two years will always be the most special.

To me, the moment of the last two seasons (outside the family context) was Hosmer’s dash home. As I said in our email string about the Met fans’ reactions:

I like how they all blame it on Duda, and he did make a bad throw, but Hosmer forced him to make a good throw. And a good throw wouldn’t have been enough. Catchers can’t block the plate any more, so it doesn’t just take a good throw, it takes a good throw, a good catch, a sweep tag of a guy who’s behind the catcher and hanging onto the ball when a guy’s sliding into your glove. Hos made it happen, and the Mets didn’t execute the first thing they needed to do to nail him, but even with a good throw, they don’t necessarily get the out.

I especially loved the contrast to last year, when the Royals didn’t force the Giants to make a play and stopped Gordon at third with the tying run. I don’t disagree with everyone who said it was probably the right call for third base coach Mike Jirschele to hold Gordon. But it also would have been the right call by the same reasoning for Hosmer to hold at third. Sometimes champions make a play by forcing the other team to make a play when they’re not expecting it. Sometimes surprise, hustle and pressure make a good player make a bad throw (or drop a good throw or miss a tag). If Hosmer’s hustle hadn’t erased the pain of losing with the tying run at third base, the what-if of holding Gordon would have taunted and haunted Royal fans forever. Now we can just laugh at the what-ifs of Hosmer’s dash for home. There’s no what-if, just what happened: Hosmer made a great play.

The boys covered the other Royals’ post-season moments well, but I had to remind them of the Pete Rose photobomb during the rain delay.

The Royals’ best 1985 moments

The boys covered 2014-15 well enough (except for the Pete Rose omission) that I decided to add some 1985 moments. I’ll confess I didn’t work as hard as Tom (or Rany) in analyzing each and deciding their order. But here are some special moments from the 1985 championship run.

Since the memories from 30-plus years ago aren’t as fresh, I’ll provide more detail and context than my sons did. First we’ll review some moments from the first 12-plus games of the post-season, then review Game Seven and Game Six’s fabulous ninth-inning comeback.

Before Game Six’s ninth inning

Frank White’s homer

Frank White’s fifth-inning, two-run homer (following a Brett single) gave the Royals a 4-0 lead with Bret Saberhagen on the mound in Game Three of the World Series. After losing the first two games of the Series in Kansas City, the Royals desperately needed this game. Lonnie Smith’s two-run double in the fourth gave the Yankees the lead, but White’s homer felt bigger. Back then the designated hitter was used in alternating years, rather than in American League parks, so Hal McRae had been reduced to a pinch-hitter the whole series, a huge disadvantage for the Royals. Manager Dick Howser used White, who had 22 regular-season homers, in McRae’s clean-up spot. When he gave the Royals a 4-0 lead, that felt insurmountable with Sabes pitching. And it was. The Royals won, 6-1, with Sabes going the distance, and the Series was suddenly competitive.

Buddy Biancalana


Buddy Biancalana put the Royals ahead early in Game Five of the World Series with a single off Bob Forsch. The Royals were trailing 3-1 in the Series and tied 1-1 after the first inning. Biancalana, whose hitting was so weak David Letterman lampooned him with a “Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter,” singled home Jim Sundberg and later scored on Willie Wilson’s triple. That 3-1 lead was all Danny Jackson needed, pitching a five-hit complete game and winning 6-1. The other key moment in that game was when Jackson got Tito Landrum to pop up to Brett in foul territory to end the third inning with the bases loaded.

Jim Sundberg’s triple

Jim Sundberg’s bases-loaded triple off Dave Stieb in the sixth inning of Game Seven of the American League Championship Series put the Royals in control. The Royals were leading 2-1, and Dick Howser had lost confidence in his closer, Dan Quisenberry.

For the second day in a row, Howser had outmaneuvered Toronto manager Bobby Cox, starting a righthander (Mark Gubicza in Game Six, Bret Saberhagen in Game Seven) so that Cox, who rigidly platooned his designated hitters, would start Al Oliver, who had punished Quiz in the ninth and 10th innings of Games Two and Four with two hits and three RBI, beating the Royals in both games. The Royals had no left-handed relievers in the post-season, but Howser used lefty starters Bud Black and Charlie Leibrandt out of the bullpen, prompting Cox to pinch-hit right-handed DH Cliff Johnson for Oliver.

Even with Oliver out of the game, the 2-1 lead didn’t feel comfortable. But Sundberg’s triple scored Hal McRae, Pat Sheridan and Steve Balboni. That 5-1 lead suddenly felt safe. And it became 6-1 after Frank White singled in Sundberg. Quiz entered the ninth inning with a 6-1 lead and two men on base, and Oliver not available to hit. Quiz induced groundouts from Damaso Garcia (that one scored a run) and Lloyd Moseby, and the Royals were headed to the World Series.

Charlie Leibrandt

Charlie Leibrandt’s five perfect innings to start Game Six were a pretty amazing string of moments. He had lost a heart-breaker in Game Two (I was in the stands, chanting “Char-lie!” as we waited for a final strike that never came). To start Game Six so strong meant a lot, even if Danny Cox was matching Leibrandt scoreless inning for scoreless inning.

The perfection didn’t last. Leibrandt gave up two singles in the sixth inning, but induced a double-play ground ball from Ozzie Smith to get out of the inning. After a perfect seventh, Leibrandt finally gave up a run in the eighth and left the game, trailing 1-0. We’ll have more on Game Six later, but Leibrandt’s stellar start deserves mention here.

George Brett

Every time Brett came to the plate in Game Three vs. the Blue Jays was a special moment. He kept the Royals in the American League Championship Series. They started the series with two losses, so they needed to win this game. Brett hit a solo homer in the first inning and scored the Royals’ second run in the fourth, doubling and then scoring on a Frank White sacrifice fly.

The Royals fell behind 5-2 when Toronto chased Bret Saberhagen from the game in the fifth inning. A Sundberg homer in the bottom of the fifth closed the gap to 5-3, but Cox stayed with starter Doyle Alexander. After Willie Wilson opened the sixth inning with a single, Cox inexplicably stuck with Alexander. Brett homered again, tying the game. Brett also scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth. He singled, moved to second on a bunt and scored on a Steve Balboni single.

Brett was 4-for-4 with two homers, 11 total bases, four runs scored and three RBI. He scored or drove in five of six runs in a 6-5 victory that kept the Royals in the series. If it wasn’t the best post-season game any player had in Royals’ history, it’s a contender.

In Game Six, Brett faced Alexander in the fifth inning, tied 2-2 with no one on. Again, Cox left Alexander in the game and again Brett took him deep. Alexander was a good pitcher, who won 194 regular-season games. Two years later, the Tigers traded a young prospect named John Smoltz to Atlanta to pick up the veteran Alexander for the stretch run. He went 9-0 for the Tigers, but again melted down in the post-season. He was 0-5 for his career in the post-season, but no one owned him like Brett did.

Game Seven

Three Game-Seven moments from the 1985 World Series deserve mention here:

Darryl Motley’s second-inning homer with Steve Balboni on base gave the Royals a 2-0 lead, and, with Saberhagen pitching, you thought that might be enough (and it was).

Whitey Herzog and Joaquín Andújar got ejected in the fifth inning, as the Royals were taking command, running up their lead to 11-0 before the inning ended. The Cardinals played the worst Game Seven in history, still fussing about the ninth-inning call the night before.

With an 11-0 lead still with two outs in the ninth inning, Brett halted play briefly to confer with Saberhagen. The Royals’ longtime star told the young pitching star that he’d better turn toward third base after the final out. And moments later, Brett and Bret embraced after Motley squeezed the final out on a fly ball to right.

Ninth inning, Game Six

This was a string of magical moments, each linked to the others. It started, of course, with one bit of luck. But champions take advantage of breaks, and the Royals relentlessly took advantage of two breaks in their amazing ninth-inning comeback. I’ll replay the moments in order:

Bad call

Motley was announced as a pinch-hitter for Pat Sheridan, opening the inning against left-handed reliever Ken Dayley, who pitched the eighth after seven strong innings from starter Danny Cox. Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog countered with right-hander Todd Worrell, a rookie who had emerged late in the season as the Cardinals’ closer. Howser then sent in Jorge Orta, a left-handed platoon DH during the regular season, to pinch-hit for Motlety. Orta singled to first baseman Jack Clark, beating out the throw to Worrell covering first. Well, he didn’t actually beat it out. Umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. But bad calls are part of baseball. As I noted in a post last year, the call didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. The plays that followed — good plays by the Royals, bad plays by the Cardinals — moved that tying run around the base paths, with the winning run moving along behind.

Bonesy

The next hitter was Balboni, a feast-or-famine hitter who homered a Royals record (still) 36 times in the regular season, but struck out a league-leading 166 times. Bonesy popped up in front of the Royals’ dugout. Clark misjudged the ball, and Bonesy got another chance. The power hitter sent a single between third base and shortstop to advance Orta to second base. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion, representing the winning run, pinch-ran for the lumbering Balboni.

Blown bunt

This next moment wasn’t so good, but it continues the narrative and puts the man who scored the winning run on base: Jim Sundberg went up to bunt, which would have put the tying run on third and the winning run in scoring position. But Worrell fielded the bunt quickly and fired to third, where umpire Jim McKean finally called Orta out on another close play.

Hal McRae

I don’t know whether Howser was planning to let Biancalana hit and try a squeeze bunt to bring home the tying run if Sundberg’s bunt had succeeded. Or maybe he would have pinch hit Dane Iorg, knowing the Cardinals would walk him to keep an inning-ending double play in order. But I can’t imagine Howser would have sent one of the Royals’ most dangerous hitters ever, Hal McRae, up to take an intentional walk, not even late in Mac’s career. With runners at first and second and one out, the man who led the league in RBI just three years earlier was the logical pinch hitter. But Porter allowed a passed ball on a 1-0 count, accomplishing what Sundberg’s bunt didn’t, and Mac got the intentional walk anyway, loading the bases.

John Wathan, a catcher but the holder of the all-time record for stolen bases by a catcher (36 in 1982), went in to pinch run for McRae. That would give the Royals more speed to break up a double play at second (but Mac was pretty good at breaking up double plays). Oddly, Howser didn’t pinch hit for his slow catcher who represented the winning run. Sundberg, who was 34, had not stolen a base all season. He stole only 20 in 16 seasons. But he stayed at second base, representing the winning run.

If you’re keeping track, the Royals by this time have used three pinch hitters (only one of whom actually swung the bat) and two pinch runners. With one more pinch hitter to come.

Dane Iorg

Iorg, whose brother Garth was on the Blue Jays team the Royals beat to reach the World Series, was a former Cardinal who joined the Royals in 1984. In 10 major league seasons, he never played full-time, topping 100 games just twice, peaking at 105 games with the 1980 Cardinals.

Iorg hit just .148, 4-for-29, as a pinch hitter for the Royals in ’85, just .223 in 64 games for the full season. He wasn’t Howser’s go-to pinch hitter. Or anyone’s. For his career, he was just .245 as a pinch hitter.

But he was one of the best post-season hitters ever. He got nine hits in 17 at-bats for the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. He didn’t play at all in the National League Championship Series, but he platooned at DH in the World Series, sizzling against the Brewers’ right-handed pitchers.

In fact, in his three previous post-season series, Iorg had never hit below .500. He was 1-for-2 for the Royals against the Tigers in 1984 and against the Blue Jays in ’85. His only previous plate appearance in the ’85 World Series was a pinch-hit fly-ball out to end Game One.

Howser needed someone to pinch hit for Quisenberry, so Iorg grabbed a bat. And on a 1-0 pitch, he lined a single to right field, bringing Concepcion home easily to score the tying run, with Sundberg sliding in safely just ahead of the tag for the winner. And in four career post-season series, Iorg always hit .500 or better.

For all of Brett’s many heroics over the years, Iorg and Sundberg together delivered the greatest moment in Royals’ history. Until 2015. Now I put Iorg/Sundberg dead even with Eric Hosmer, each moment with a Royal belly-sliding into home plate.

And a 1980 moment

As a Yankee fan and blogger, I hesitate to add this, but since we included some moments from an American League championship year, I’ll include one from 1980, the other year the Royals made the World Series but lost:

And one from 1976

This is a Yankee blog, after all, so maybe we need to end with a Royals’ post-season moment before any of my sons were born:

Starting tomorrow, I’ll shift my attention back to the Yankees, starting a series on the best five Yankees ever at each position.

I hear the Royals and Mets play again tonight. Play ball!

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Comparing the 1985 and 2015 Kansas City Royals

9 11 2015

How do the 2015 World Series champions stack up with the 1985 Kansas City Royals?

During the World Series, I compared these Royals to the 1986 Red Sox, who also took a 2-0 Series lead but eventually lost to the Mets in seven games. The Royals won most comparisons to the ’86 Red Sox. Then, after Game Four, I compared this year’s Mets to the 1985 Royals, who fell behind St. Louis 3-1 before roaring back to win. Royals won that comparison, too.

The Royals will win this one as well, but which Royals?

I didn’t do the other comparisons in identical ways, and I won’t do this one either. The first comparison was based on some research because I truly didn’t know (and had a travel day and some insomnia induced by drugs used in my stem-cell harvest to give me a little time for that research). The second comparison was shorter (but still long), based on less research. Each of those started with a position-by-position comparison, but my son Mike covered that well in yesterday’s guest post.

This comparison will be based mostly on memory, supplemented by quick research.

Superstars: ’85


Advantage ’85 (for now). This year’s team doesn’t have a superstar of George Brett‘s caliber. Brett had one of the best years of his Hall of Fame career, leading the league in slugging and OPS and finishing second (to Don Mattingly) in the MVP award. Brett won the award in 1980 and is still the only Royal to win it.

Returning to ’85, Brett was the MVP of the Royals’ comeback win over the Blue Jays in the ’85 ALCS and hit .370 in the World Series with just 1 RBI because the Cardinals (like most of the American League) refused to pitch to Brett with men on base (he drew four World Series walks).

No one on the ’15 Royals will finish second or even very high in this season’s MVP race. But as the current players blossom (and if the best stick around), I expect Royals’ fans 30 years from now to include at least one of this year’s players in their best-Royal-ever debates. But Brett wins all those debates now and for at least the next decade. It would take a run of multiple MVP awards for one of the current Royals to catch Brett faster than that.

Depth of quality: ’15

The 2015 Royals blow ’85 away with the depth of their greatness. Brett will be the only ’85 Royal ever to make the Hall of Fame. I’ll write later about the chances of these Royals to reach the Hall of Fame. Just within the seasons in question, maybe six or seven of the ’15 Royals had better seasons than whoever was the second-best position player for the ’85 Royals. The quality depth of this team is illustrated in the next comparison.

Batting lineup: ’15

Comparing the Game One World Series lineup for the ’15 Royals to the Game Seven ALCS lineup for the ’85 Royals (since they couldn’t use DH’s in the World Series):

  1.  Alcides Escobar had a great post-season and somehow worked in the leadoff spot, despite a low on-base percentage (.293). But Lonnie Smith of ’85 gets the advantage, with more runs and stolen bases (despite playing only 120 games for the Royals) and getting a .321 OBP. ’85 wins.
  2. Hard to compare their regular-season performances, since Willie Wilson played the whole year for the Royals and Ben Zobrist was a late-July trade. But Wilson’s 21 regular season triples and 43 stolen bases give him the advantage, plus he hit better in the World Series. ’85 wins.
  3. Lorenzo Cain had a good season and post-season, but George Brett wins most comparisons, including this one. ’85 wins.
  4. Eric Hosmer is at the top of his game (or rising). Hal McRae was on the decline. ’15 wins.
  5. Kendrys Morales drove in 106 regular-season runs, including 46 RBI with two outs, and added four homers and 10 RBI in the post-season. Pat Sheridan, the ALCS Game Seven starter, platooned with Darryl Motley, and together they didn’t approach Morales’ offensive production. ’15 wins.
  6. Steve Balboni had his best season in ’85 with 36 homers and 88 RBI, but he also led the league with 166 strikeouts. Mike Moustakas gets the edge on better overall hitting and better post-season hitting. ’15 wins.
  7. Salvador Pérez is a feared hitter in the 7 spot, better in every offensive aspect than Jim Sundberg, except for drawing walks. ’15 wins.
  8. Frank White moved up to the clean-up slot for the World Series, because he had more power than the right fielders and catcher and didn’t strike out as much as Bonesy. He wouldn’t even be close in this matchup at clean-up, and he’s only close at No. 8 because an injury limited Alex Gordon to 104 regular-season games. Gordon had better season offensive averages across the board and a game-tying ninth-inning homer in the World Series. ’15 wins.
  9. Even with Buddy Biancalana‘s strong World Series performance, Álex Ríos was a far superior hitter, though this wasn’t his best season. Here’s a comparison: That Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter that David Letterman had fun with the year Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s career hits record stopped at 113 hits in Buddy’s six-year career. Ríos has had 11 seasons with more hits than Biancalana’s whole career. ’15 wins.

The batting lineup comparison really illustrates the strength of the ’15 Royals. The ’85 Royals win the top of the order (where the ’15 Royals were solid), but the ’15 Royals were just relentless and far superior 4-9. “Keep the line moving” was not just a slogan. It was the offense that resulted in all the comebacks.

The ’85 Royals had a huge offensive weakness (Biancalana), a platoon combos that was average at best (Motley/Sheridan), a declining DH (McRae) and a feast-or-famine player (Balboni). The ’15 Royals didn’t have anyone as dangerous as Brett, but were dangerous whoever was hitting.

Starting pitching: ’85


This isn’t even close, either in context of the full season or the World Series. The ’15 Royals didn’t have that year’s Cy Young Award winner and the ’15 Series MVP didn’t come from the pitching staff. Bret Saberhagen won both and went on to the best pitching career of any Royal starter ever.

Add a Danny Jackson complete-game win and two strong outings (but no wins) from Charlie Leibrandt, and this was a dominant starting rotation. Bud Black pitched well, losing in his only start. Mark Gubicza, won more games in the regular season than any of this year’s Royals, 14, added a key Game Six win in the ALCS over Toronto and didn’t even pitch in the World Series. He could have been a Game One starter for the 2015 Royals.

Johnny Cueto‘s Game Three gem was the only win by a ’15 starting pitcher (and he was inconsistent during the regular and post-season). No other Royal starter pitched in the seventh inning. The ’85 Royals pitched three complete games (Sabes twice and Jackson once). And Charlie Leibrandt took a scoreless game into the eighth inning before losing the lead in Game Six and came within a strike of a 2-0 shutout in Game Two before losing in the ninth, 4-2. Jackson also pitched seven innings of two-run ball in a Game One loss. With the exception of Game Four, when Black gave up three runs in five innings, every ’85 start was better than the non-Cueto starts of ’15.

I’m not saying the ’15 Royals didn’t have good starting pitching. They kept teams in the game and pitched the six strong innings (sometimes five) that the Royals needed. But the comparison of starting pitchers was not even close.

Bullpen: ’15


Here’s how good the ’15 Royals’ bullpen was: The ’85 Royals had a guy who outpitched three Hall of Fame relievers in their overlapping primes. And the ’15 bullpen was even better.

Dan Quisenberry‘s dominance as a closer from 1980 to ’85 was one of the best stretches ever from any reliever in baseball history. In fact, Hall of Fame relievers Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage were in their primes for some or all of that stretch and Quiz was the very best of that time. And I’m not counting Dennis Eckersley, who hadn’t moved to the bullpen yet.

But Quiz was nearly at the end of his run, and Manager Dick Howser was losing confidence in his bullpen ace against left-handers. He didn’t turn to Quiz in the ninth inning of Game Two because left-handed hitter Andy Van Slyke was on the Cardinals’ bench and Howser had lost confidence in Quiz against left-handers. As I recounted earlier, Howser outmanaged Bobby Cox in ALCS Games Six and Seven, starting right-handers Gubicza and Saberhagen, then relieving with left-handed starters (the ’85 Royals had no left-handed relievers), so that Cox would pinch-hit his right-handed DH Cliff Johnson, removing left-handed Al Oliver from the games, so he couldn’t bat late against Quiz.

Ned Yost had full confidence in his bullpen in any situation. Wade Davis hasn’t had a full season as closer yet, but his two seasons and post-seasons in the eighth inning role before moving to closer late this season were as dominant as Quiz at his best.

Greg Holland was a dominant closer last year and good this year before an injury ended his season (he had Tommy John surgery). And without him, this bullpen continued to close out games strong, with Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and Ryan Madson pitching strong. And Game Four starter Chris Young split time between starting and relieving, and won the 14-inning Game One marathon.

Even with Quiz, the bullpen comparison isn’t close, and the ’85 bullpen was otherwise forgettable: Joe Beckwith was the only other regular-season reliever other than Quiz who even pitched in the World Series. I already mentioned how the lack of a left-hander forced Howser to use starters in relief in the ALCS..

I haven’t done the research to prove that the ’15 Royals had the best bullpen ever. I fondly remember many bullpens with Mariano Rivera in the closer role and even the season he set up for John Wetteland. But I doubt any other bullpen was as dominant in a World Series. The Mets outscored the Royals 18-12 in the first seven innings, but the Royals prevailed 9-0 in the eighth and ninth innings and 6-0 in extra innings.

Offense has to do the coming back, but bullpens make comebacks possible, and the ’15 Royals’ bullpen didn’t allow comebacks.

Comebacks: even

Both Royal teams refused to die (sometimes you use a cliché because it just applies better than an original phrase). The Blue Jays and Cardinals both had the ’85 Royals down 2-0 and 3-1, and they just kept coming back. The Astros, Blue Jays and Mets all had the ’15 Royals down by multiple runs in multiple games, and they just kept coming back. Need a run in the ninth to keep Game One going? Gordon obliges. Need two in the ninth to keep Game Five going? Cain and Hosmer deliver. Think you have the Series wrapped up? Watch out for Balboni and Dane Iorg.

Call this a push: Two of the best comeback teams ever.

Power: ’15

Brett and Balboni gave the ’85 Royals two guys how hit more than 30 homers playing their home games in a big ballpark, and their team had more homers, 154-139. But the ’15 Royals slugged better (.412 to .401) and drove in more runs, (689 to 657). In the post-season, the ’15 Royals had 17 homers in 16 games, compared to nine in 14 games for ’85. Slight power advantage for ’15.

Defense: ’15

White may have been better than any 2015 Royal defensively. But I think six of the current Royals are better than the second-best ’85 defender. Sundberg was past his Gold Glove prime. Brett won his only Gold Glove that year and Wilson won only one, before moving from left field to center. I think Perez, Gordon, Hosmer (already multiple Gold Glove winners), Escobar, Cain and Moustakas were all better defenders in ’15 than anyone but White in ’85. Since Sundberg won his Gold Gloves for the Rangers, I think the ’15 version will surpass ’85 in career Gold Gloves for the Royals this year, with many more in their future. Clear edge for ’15.

Speed: ’15

I think Escobar and Cain were probably as fast as Wilson and Smith, but the ’15 team doesn’t steal bases as much (perhaps because Ned Yost bunts too much). I loved Mike’s line yesterday about Jorge Orta‘s speed from home to first. But I have to give the edge to ’15 here for multiple reasons:

  • Cain’s race home from first on a single to win the ALCS.
  • Escobar’s lead-off inside-the-park homer to get the World Series rolling.
  • The ’85 team didn’t have a pinch-runner as good as Jarrod Dyson.
  • Hosmer’s ninth-inning dash home on a ground ball to send Game Five of the World Series into extra innings.

The ’85 team might have a slight edge on actual speed, but the ’15 team used base-running more to win the World Series.

Memorable moments: ’15

Each of these World Series will be remembered and savored by Royal fans until death or dementia. For ’85 fans, the memory of the ninth-inning comeback in Game Six is the memory fans will always cherish. (I’m not counting memories of opponents, such as the ugly Game Seven meltdowns of the Cardinal pitchers and manager.)

We remember the celebration, too: Brett heading to the mound with two outs in the ninth inning of an 11-0 blowout to tell young Saberhagen that he’d better run toward third base after the last out, then Brett embracing Bret after Motley squeezed the final out.

As vivid as the Game Six comeback remains, the ’15 Royals provided more moments (in the World Series alone) with potential to last as long in Kansas City memories:

  • Gordon’s game-tying ninth-inning homer to send Game One into extra innings.
  • Hosmer’s 14-inning sacrifice fly to end that game.
  • The eighth-inning comeback, two-inning save and game-ending double play to win Game Four.
  • Hosmer’s dash home to tie Game Five.
  • Maybe the five-run 11th inning to win Game Five had too many highlights for any of them to stand out as iconically.

Of course, ’15 has a huge advantage over ’85 where memories are concerned. Those memories are all fresh and we don’t know which will endure. But I can’t imagine memories of Gordon’s homer or Hosmer’s dash home fading.

Managing: ’15

Mike covered this well. Both are excellent managers, but sometimes frustrating (what manager isn’t frustrating?). I give Yost the edge here for bringing his team back from last year’s Game Seven heartbreak to a dominant regular season and an 11-5 post-season against tough competition.

Front office: ’15

I agree with Mike that Dayton Moore‘s achievement in putting this team together through player development, trades and free agent signings has been masterful. John Schuerholz was good, but not this good.

Context: ’15

The ’85 championship capped a decade of disappointments and improvements: three ALCS losses to the Yankees in the 1970s, then finally beating the Yankees in 1980 only to lose to the Phillies in the World Series, then post-season sweeps by the A’s in ’81 and Tigers in ’84 before the championship season in ’85.

We don’t know the context of the ’15 championship. If the Royals return to years of mediocrity (which I doubt), I’ll amend this someday. But back-to-back World Series (and losing in seven games) are achievements the Royals of the 1970s and ’80s didn’t match. I give ’15 the edge here.

Overview

The ’85 team was great and fun to watch. But I have to say this year’s team is even better. I hope we don’t have to wait until 2045 to make this a three-way comparison.

Goggles: Who wins?

Final comparison: I don’t know whether this reflects toughness or preparation, but the 1985 Royals didn’t need (toughness) or use (prep) goggles to protect their eyes from champagne:

Bottom line: Both teams celebrated. They share a spot in Royals’ fans’ hearts, and this is only a fun argument. Whichever team you favor, you love the other.

Sam Mellinger’s comparison

Sam Mellinger also compared the 1985 and 2015 Royals for the Kansas City Star.





Mike Buttry compares the 2015 and 1985 Kansas City Royals

8 11 2015
Mike Buttry and Susie Burke at Kauffman Stadium for Game Two

Mike Buttry and Susie Burke at Kauffman Stadium for Game Two

This continues my family’s posts on the Kansas City Royals and their 2015 World Series victory. Because I had a busy week last week and wouldn’t have time to share all my observations on this year’s Royals as quickly as I wanted to, I invited my sons to write guest posts.

I told them I was working on a comparison of the 1985 and 2015  Royals. I will publish that shortly. I wasn’t planning on including a position-by-position breakdown, since I did that in comparing the 2015 Royals with the 1986 Red Sox (both got 2-0 leads on the Mets) and the 1985 Royals with the 2015 Mets (both fell behind 3-1 in World Series).

Mike, who watched Game Two this year in Kauffman Stadium (we watched Game Two there last year with his brothers), took the position-by-position approach to a comparison, so that’s today’s guest post (with editing links, visuals, editing and occasional commentary in italics from Dad):

Manager: Dick Howser vs. Ned Yost

Both had great runs, but I’d go with Howser because of how he played Bobby Cox in the ALCS. He won games for them. He might have lost Game Two of the ’85 World Series by leaving Charlie Leibrandt in too long.

Ned is fun to kick around but he really did almost cost them Game 6 against Toronto and the Wild Card game last year. Ned has to get a lot of credit for:

  1. The stuff you can’t see on the field. He has to be central to this team’s resilience and ability to show up to play every day.
  2. Making changes to the way he managed in the playoffs (e.g. Davis for two innings, he was tremendous in Game 7 last year).

Dad comments: I may address managing in my own comparison of the teams. Both were outstanding, and I echo Mike’s analysis here. For details on how Howser outmanaged Cox, click the Bobby Cox link above, where I explained in detail.   Read the rest of this entry »





A bad call didn’t ‘rob’ the Cardinals of the 1985 World Series

27 10 2015

replayI generally write about matters of media accuracy on my journalism blog, The Buttry Diary (occasionally picking on the New York Times). But I’m addressing this matter in my baseball blog because it’s as much a matter of baseball legend as a failure of accuracy by the New York Times.

The Times published an otherwise good (and, I presume, accurate) story by Billy Witz about instant replay in baseball that includes this sentence, in which I have italicized the passage that is absolutely inaccurate (but I don’t expect the Times to correct it):

And so, it seems, baseball will never have to worry about controversies like Don Denkinger’s call at first base that robbed the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1985 World Series or Jim Joyce’s missed call at first that foiled Armando Galarraga’s perfect game in 2010.

Before I elaborate on the Don Denkinger call, I should note that I blogged on The Buttry Diary, including a call for instant replay, about the Jim Joyce missed call.

But, as the Kansas City Royals embark tonight on their second World Series since the Denkinger call, and since the Times was inaccurate on that point, I will focus here on Denkinger: Of course he missed the call at first base, calling pinch-hitter Jorge Orta safe, leading off the ninth inning of Game Six of the 1985 World Series, 30 years ago today. Bad call, no one’s arguing that, including Royals fans or Denkinger. Read the rest of this entry »





The Kansas City Royals’ amazing 9-game post-season winning streak

12 10 2014

Update: It’s an 11-game winning streak now. While I blogged about making it to the World Series, I won’t be updating this one further. But I’m glad no one has reason to think I jinxed the winning streak by writing about it.

 Time for another post on the Royals (maybe not the last of this post-season).

The Kansas City Royals are on an incredible nine-game, 29-year post-season winning streak. Let’s take a look at those games:

1985 World Series

Game Five

The Royals trailed 3-1 and Game 5 was supposed to be the Cardinals’ chance to celebrate their World Series championship on their home field. But this Royals team has also trailed 3-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series. It was a scrappy team that didn’t give up when it fell behind.

Danny Jackson, a 23-year-old lefthander who won 14 games for the Royals, faced off against 35-year-old Cardinal veteran Bob Forsch, who would win 163 career games for the Cardinals, but only nine that year.

Each pitcher gave up a run in the first. That was the last run Jackson would give up, and the last full inning Forsch would pitch. An RBI single by Buddy Biancalana and a two-run triple by Willie Wilson chased Forsch in the second inning. Jackson scattered five hits and three walks in pitching a complete game for the 6-1 victory. The Royals got a chance to play again back home in Kansas City.

Game 6

Ah, Game Six.

This game should not be remembered for a bad call, though it had a couple of them, neither of which had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

In the bottom of the 4th inning, Frank White got a one-out bunt single for the Royals. He then stole second, possibly on a busted hit-and-run play. The throw beat White easily, but Ozzie Smith tagged White high on his chest, after his foot was safely on the base. But White was called out. You can see it at about the 57-minute mark of the game video below. The replay clearly showed he was safe, and announcer Tim McCarver, a former Cardinal whose St. Louis favoritism always showed, noted casually that Smith had tagged White high, after his foot reached the bag. But Royals manager Dick Howser didn’t argue and TV showed only one replay. Pat Sheridan, who was at the plate, hit a groundball single to right field that almost certainly would have scored the speedy White, who stole 10 bases that year and 178 in his career (a guy who can bunt for a single can score from second on an outfield single). Tough luck. Bad calls are part of baseball. Play on.

Instead of being tied 1-1, the Royals trailed 1-0 when they came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning. Charlie Leibrandt of the Royals (the hard-luck loser of Game Two, which I watched) matched zeroes for seven innings with the Cardinals’ Danny Cox, an 18-game winner. The Cardinals scratched out a run in the eighth on a single and a walk, followed by Brian Harper’s RBI single, pinch-hitting for Cox. Lefthander Ken Dayley pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Cardinals.

The bottom of the ninth started innocently enough, with Jorge Orta hitting a ground ball to first baseman Jack Clark. Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell (more on him later) covered first base and the throw clearly beat Orta in a bang-bang play. But umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. Herzog, Worrell and Clark argued vehemently, but with no replay, they couldn’t change the call any more than Howser would have been able to change the fourth-inning call if he’d argued. The calls were examples of two of the most-blown calls in baseball: throw beats runner so he’s called out even though the tag was high and ball beats runner to the bag by an instant (or vice versa) and umpire misses it because it’s almost impossible to watch a ball hitting a glove and a foot hitting a bag at the same time when they are about eight feet apart.

A USA Today review of this year’s replays midway through the season showed that 318 calls had been reversed on review after being challenged by managers. So bad calls happened a lot before replay. Good teams played on and won games.

It’s also worth noting that, as bad calls go, this one was about as inconsequential as you can get on multiple accounts:

  • It was the lead-off hitter, rather than the potential third out. A potential third out means you should have gotten out of the inning. Whether the lead-off hitter gets on or out, you still need to get more outs to end the game.
  • The winning run scored with one out, so if you replay the inning without Orta’s bogus single, the Royals have still scored the tying run, with Lonnie Smith coming up. He hit .333 in the series.
  • The bad call was at first base, rather than at home plate, where it costs you a run, or at second base (as the bad call on White was), where it costs you a runner in scoring position. When you’re screwed on a bad call at first base, you have to give up an extra-base hit, a huge error or multiple little things (singles, walks, hit batters, errors, wild pitches, sacrifices, etc.) for the bad call to result in a run. And by the time those other things happen, the bad call is never the main reason the run scored.

And those little things that happened after the bad call were an amazing, exhilarating (for a Royals fan or neutral baseball fan) mix of good and bad plays by the Royals’ role players. The Royals had a stellar, if young, pitching staff that year, but no pitchers hit in the inning. Their offensive superstar, having one of his best seasons, was George Brett, who didn’t come to bat in the ninth inning. White, Smith and Wilson were all All-Stars in multiple seasons and none of them hit in the ninth either. Hal McRae was another multi-year All-Star, and perhaps the best designated hitter of the 1970s and ’80s, and he would come to the plate, but he drew an intentional walk, playing a minimal role. The only All-Star who would play an important role in the Royals’ ninth-inning comeback was a defensive star, Jim Sundberg, a six-time Gold Glover and three-time All-Star who hit only .245 for the 1985 Royals. And he botched his assignment in the ninth. As did some Cardinals All-Stars. Both managers tried different maneuvers, some that worked, some that didn’t.

Let’s go through that inning, play by scrappy play:

Orta was not scheduled to lead off the ninth. Sheridan, who platooned in right field with Darryl Motley, was the scheduled hitter. Sheridan, who hit lefthanded, had started against the righthanded Cox. So Howser sent the righthanded Motley in to hit against Dayley. But Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog countered with Worrell, a righthanded rookie.

The Cardinals had no single closer that year. Jeff Lahti saved 19 games and had an ERA under 2.00. He had already saved Game Two and warmed up in the ninth inning of Game Six, but never came in. Dayley had 11 saves and a 2.76 ERA and two saves against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Herzog had become enamored with Worrell, a late-August call-up who would still be eligible for (and win) Rookie of the Year in 1986. Worrell saved five games in September of 1985 and had saved Game One and pitched briefly in Game Five. So Herzog brought him in with an opportunity to be on the mound when the Cardinals won the World Series. Howser countered with Orta, a left-handed batter who had platooned at designated hitter with veteran McRae for much of the year. Orta got his only hit of the series on the bad call.

The next batter, Steve Balboni, had led the Royals with 36 homers, but he was also a likely strikeout candidate, leading the American League with 166 strikeouts. Worrell got Bonesy to loft a high pop foul over by the Royals’ dugout. Clark should have caught the ball, but misjudged it, then was distracted by Porter, who also came over to see if he had a play. The ball bounced harmlessly on the top step of the Royals’ dugout.

Both the Denkinger and Clark mistakes gave the Royals extra chances, but the Clark mistake, which was not scored an error, was more costly. Denkinger’s mistake put the potential tying run on first base. When Balboni used his second chance to send a ground-ball single to left, Clark’s error allowed the potential tying run to move into scoring position and put the winning run at first. Instead of bases empty and two outs, the two mistakes combined left the Royals with no outs and runners at first and second. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion pinch-ran for Bonesy.

McRae was on deck to pinch-hit for Sundberg, but Howser decided he wanted a bunt to advance the runners. McRae had only two sacrifice bunts all season. Sundberg had only four. Howser sent Sundberg up to bunt. I’m not a big fan of the sacrifice bunt. Outs are precious and I prefer to make the defense work for them. My preference would have been to take three shots at getting the tying run home from second. But Howser stayed with the bunt, even with two strikes. Sundberg laid down the bunt, but Worrell fired to third to force Orta. This time he was correctly called out.

Sundberg was not a fast runner. He had been thrown out stealing on his only two attempts in 1985 (no doubt on busted hit-and-run plays). For his career, he had 20 stolen bases and 621 runs in 16 seasons, less than 40 runs a year (and 38, in fact, in 1985). The Royals’ backup catcher, John Wathan, had three years earlier set the single-season stolen-base record for catchers, with 36, a record that still stands. I fully expected Howser to send Duke in to pinch run, but he didn’t. Yet.

The next scheduled batter was shortstop Biancalana, whose name and weak hitting had been mocked by David Letterman in his Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter (a take-off on the hit counters used to track Pete Rose’s chase of Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record). Biancalana, who split time with Concepcion during the season, reached the peak of his career in the 1985, getting most of the time at shortstop in the post-season, with 43 plate appearances to only one for Concepcion. His .278 World Series batting average was nothing special, but it was 90 points higher than his regular-season average.

Even with his meager batting average, Biancalana had only five sacrifice bunts during the 1985 season and only 15 in his major-league career. I don’t think Howser would have used him even for a squeeze play if Sundberg’s bunt had worked. Which makes the bunt even more puzzling: If it had succeeded, first base would have been open for the Cardinals to walk Hal McRae (maybe Howser would have pinch-hit someone else).

But McRae came up with the tying run on second, with 1,000-plus career RBI, 70 in a platoon role in 1985 and an RBI crown just three years earlier. From 1976 to 1985, baseball followed a ridiculous practice of alternating years with and without the DH in the World Series. Pitchers hit in the odd years, so McRae had come to the plate only twice in the World Series, grounding out with the bases loaded in Game Four and being hit by a pitch in Game One. As a Royals fan, I was ready for him to jump on the opportunity and bring Concepcion home.

But Porter and Worrell apparently got crossed up on a pitch. The ball got away from Porter and the runners advanced, giving Kansas City the same result as they had sought with Sundberg’s bunt: runners at second and third, one out. The umpire’s mistake had just put the potential tying run on first base. Porter’s passed ball put the winning run in scoring position and advanced the tying run to third. Again, a much bigger part of the inning than the bad call.

Herzog chose to walk McRae intentionally, which set up a possible series-clinching double play. McRae’s run wouldn’t matter, though loading the bases raised the risk of walking in the tying run. Still, Herzog preferred to take his chances with the next pinch-hitter.

The next scheduled hitter was Royals closer Dan Quisenberry, who had relieved in the eighth inning, after Leibrandt gave up the Cardinals’ only run. Dane Iorg came to the plate as the Royals’ fourth pinch-hitter of the inning, including Motley, who didn’t actually hit.

And now Wathan went in to pinch-run, but for McRae, instead of Sundberg. If the thinking in using Wathan to run for McRae was because he could break up the double play, that certainly overlooked McRae’s famous 1977 slide into Willie Randolph in a Yankees-Royals post-season showdown. But this McRae was eight years older, and maybe Howser thought Wathan could get down to second base faster. Fine, run for McRae. Lynn Jones and Greg Pryor also were available to pinch-run, both undoubtedly faster than Sundberg. Jones had a triple and a double in his three World Series at-bats and undoubtedly would have hit if Howser needed another pinch-hitter. Howser left his catcher at second base with the potential winning run.

At the plate, Iorg was familiar to the Cardinals. He had played for the Cardinals from 1977 until being sold to the Royals in May 1984. He’d never played more than 105 games in a season and never had more than 80 hits in a season. But he was a respected role player. He’d hit 9 for 17 in five games of the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals.

Iorg wasn’t a great pinch hitter, but he pinch-hit a lot, 69 hits in 282 career pinch-hit at-bats. In 1985, he was only 4 for 27 as a pinch-hitter for the Royals, a worse batting average than Biancalana, the guy he probably hit for most often, since pitchers never hit then in the American League. But he’d hit respectably as a spare outfielder, with a couple games each at DH and first base. With a .255 average, 60 hits and 30 RBI for the year, he was the logical pinch-hitter against a righthander.

Iorg won a special place in Royal lore forever with his single to rightfield against Worrell. Concepcion raced home easily with the tying run and third-base coach Mike Ferraro waved Sundberg home, too. Andy Van Slyke had a gun in right, and I thought he’d nail Sundberg at the plate. But he got a good jump from second, chugged home hard and slid home head-first, ahead of Porter’s tag.

In just five plate appearances, 11 Royals were scheduled to hit, announced as pinch-hitters, actually hit or pinch-ran in the ninth inning. The bad call was not as important to the outcome of the inning as the two legitimate singles Worrell gave up, the pop foul Clark misplayed or Porter’s passed ball. But the Cardinals and their fans whined loud and long about the call, exaggerating it in baseball legend way beyond its importance to the outcome of the game or the series.

The call most certainly didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. However big the bad call was to Game Six, the Cardinals had a chance to come back. The Big Red Machine was devastated by a Game Six loss a decade earlier, when Bernie Carbo’s three-run pinch-hit homer tied the game for the Boston Red Sox and Carlton Fisk’s extra-inning homer stayed fair to win it. And the Reds regrouped to win the next night.

Watch the ninth inning here:

Watch all of Game Six here:

Game Seven

The Cardinals were set up perfectly for Game Seven. Herzog had his choice of 21-game winners. John Tudor had held the Royals to one run in Game One and shut them out in Game Four. Tudor was 21-8 in the regular season, with a 1.93 ERA and a league-high 10 shutouts. He’d have won the Cy Young Award, if not for the historic season Dwight Gooden had for the Mets. Joaquín Andújar was 21-12 in the regular season, his second consecutive 20-win season, but had not been effective in the post-season. He had lost to the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen in Game Three. Though Tudor would be pitching on short rest, Herzog went with his ace, who was on a roll.

Game Seven should have been, and appeared likely to be, a pitching duel for the ages. Saberhagen also was a 20-game winner and would win the A.L. Cy Young Award (Ron Guidry probably should have won, but Sabes had a great year and was the exciting 21-year-old breakthrough star). Saberhagen had given up just one run on six hits and a walk in the Royals’ Game Three win in St. Louis, getting the Royals back into the series after two losses in Kansas City. His wife gave birth to their first child, a son named Drew, the night of Game Six.

The umpires’ clockwise World Series rotation moved Denkinger behind home plate.

Through the first inning and a half, both pitchers looked sharp, Tudor just giving up a single to Brett, Saberhagen giving up a single to Clark. Balboni walked in the bottom of the second. Then Motley, whose only involvement in Game Six was to be announced as a pinch-hitter, blasted a homer to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, Tudor began to unravel. He walked Smith, gave up another single to Brett, then gave up a double steal. After Frank White walked, the bases were loaded. Then Tudor walked Sundberg to give up the third run. In the regular season, Herzog might have given Tudor time to work through his wildness, but with Saberhagen looking dominant, he had to use a quick hook. He brought in Bill Campbell, and Tudor took his frustration out on an electric fan in the clubhouse, cutting his finger. Campbell gave up a single to Balboni and the Royals led 5-0. Biancalana got the only intentional walk of his career, bringing up Saberhagen with the bases loaded and two outs. Sabes struck out swinging, about the only thing that went wrong for the Royals.

Saberhagen put two more zeroes up on the scoreboard and Lahti came in to replace Campbell after Sundberg singled leading off the fifth. After singles to Balboni and Motley, the Royals led 6-0 and Saberhagen was batting. He tried to advance the runners with a bunt, but Clark threw to Ozzie Smith to force out Motley. Lonnie Smith followed with a double, scoring Balboni and Saberhagen. Then Wilson drove Smith home and the Royals led 9-0.

Ricky Horton replaced Lahti and gave up a single to Brett, his fourth hit of the game already. After Horton threw two balls to White, Herzog turned to Andújar. I was puzzled by the move at the time, but I guess he thought he couldn’t keep burning through his bullpen in the fifth inning. He needed his best remaining pitcher, someone to stop the bleeding for a few innings, just in case the Cardinals could mount some sort of offense against Saberhagen.

It didn’t quite work out that way. After fouling off several Andújar pitches, White singled home a run. The Royals led 10-0. If it were a softball game, they would have won by the 10-run rule. But the Cardinals had to keep playing.

Denkinger called ball three on a pitch that was clearly inside, with Sundberg checking his swing. Andújar angrily charged toward the umpire to protest. Herzog charged out of the dugout to take the lead in the argument, while teammates restrained Andújar. Pretty quickly, Herzog turned the argument to the night before. He had seen enough and dropped f-bombs in an obvious intentional move to get thrown out of the game. Even after leaving the field, Herzog returned to continue the argument. Surprisingly, Andújar was not ejected for his initial reaction to the call.

When order was finally restored, Andújar threw ball four, also inside, and again immediately reacted angrily. His Wikipedia entry says Denkinger “misread a gesture by Andújar” to Porter. But that’s BS. The video shows Andújar reacting immediately to the call, the same way he did after ball three. He was furious, perhaps more at Herzog than Denkinger, and didn’t have any intention of sticking around any longer in this blowout. Teammates and coaches restrained him and it took about three of them to pull him off the field.

Forsch came in to pitch, and his wild pitch allowed Brett to score the 11th run. Finally Forsch and Dayley shut down the Royals’ offense, but the Cardinals could muster only five singles off Saberhagen. Van Slyke was the only Cardinal to reach second base, when he and Terry Pendleton singled back-to-back in the seventh.

With two out and an 11-0 lead in the ninth, Brett came over to the mound to talk to his pitcher. He wasn’t talking strategy or trying to settle the young pitcher down. He instructed Sabes to come his way after the final out. Brett wanted to be the first to embrace the winning pitcher. And he was. The Kansas City Times front page with that photo hangs in my office wall this month, until the Royals’ season ends.

You gotta love it

Here’s a short video of Saberhagen’s pitching and the celebration:

Watch all of Game Seven here (Jim Sundberg’s at-bat in the fifth inning starts at the 1:37:55 mark):

1986-2013

The 29 years between post-season games were mostly miserable for Royals fans. Saberhagen had another Cy Young season in 1989 and Brett won another batting title in 1990. The Royals were good and still exciting in the Bo Jackson years, but then wasted good years by Kevin Appier and Mike Sweeney. David Cone, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltrán and Zack Greinke teased Royals fans with their talent before moving to better teams. Wathan and McRae (and a lot of others) took their turns as managers, without success. McRae’s son, Brian, played five years for the Royals.

Baseball expanded the playoffs, from two teams in each league to four and then five. But the Royals were never good enough to make the cut. Twenty-eight seasons passed without a post-season game. Then came …

2014

OK, I won’t go into as much detail on the 2014 games, because anyone who’s made it this far has fresh memories of all the games. Just a quick comment on each:

Wild-card game

I feared I would bitterly blame Ned Yost for losing the one-game wild-card playoff with the A’s for wasting too many outs on bunts (when his base runners were perfectly capable of stealing their way into scoring position). But the Royals prevailed. My oldest son, Mike, flew down from the Twin Cities to watch the game in person. My youngest son, Tom, wrote a guest post on what it meant to finally watch the Royals play and win a post-season game.

The A’s led this game 2-1 after one inning and the Royals came back to take the lead. The A’s led 7-3 after six innings and the Royals came back with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie. The A’s led 8-7 after the top of the 12th. And the Royals got two runs in the bottom of the 12th to win, with a Salvador Pérez base hit bringing home the winner.

I wonder how many teams have come from behind three different times in a post-season, including in the ninth and extra innings. As incredible as this post-season run has been, that might have been the best game. Mike says it’s the best game he’s ever attended, and I took him to a lot of good ones.

For Kansas City fans, which my sons are (I’m a Chiefs fan and cheer for the Royals if they’re not playing the Yankees), this was the first post-season win in any pro sport since 1994.

Angels series

Game one

Because the Royals are the wild-card team, both of their American League playoff series this year have started on the road. Game One of the Division Series in Anaheim was a well-pitched game, with starters Jason Vargas of the Royals and Jered Weaver of the Angels each giving up a run in the third and fifth innings and the bullpens pitching scoreless ball until Mike Moustakas, batting ninth in the Royals’ lineup, started his incredible post-season run with his 11th-inning homer.

Game Two

Starters Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and Yordano Ventura of the Royals were even better in this game, each giving up just one run. Game Two also went to extra innings, tied 1-1. Eric Hosmer delivered another extra-inning homer, following a Lorenzo Cain single. Pérez continued his extra-inning success with an RBI single and the Royals won, 4-1.

Game Three

This game was, on a smaller scale and with no ejections, a counterpart to Game Seven in 1985: an easy win following a nail-biter. The Royals led Game Three 3-1 after one inning, 5-1 after three and 7-2 after four. They cruised to an easy 8-3 win in front of the home fans. Hosmer and Moustakas homered again and Alex Gordon had a three-run double. Cain made back-to-back amazing catches.

2104 A.L. Championship Series

Game One

OK, it was back to extra innings: Both starters, James Shields for the Royals and Chris Tillman for the Orioles, were ineffective and neither made it to the sixth inning. The Royals blew a 4-0 lead and a 5-1 lead. But again the bullpens were strong, each pitching scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings to go to the 10th with a 5-5 tie.

Gordon opened the 10th with a homer, the third different Royal to homer in extra innings this post-season. After a walk to Perez, Moustakas added his second extra-inning homer. Closer Greg Holland, who’s been stellar this post-season, finally allowed a run, but still nailed down an 8-6 win. (Like Saberhagen in 1985, Holland and Cain have welcomed new babies during the 2014 post-season.)

Game Two

The Game Two win took only nine innings, but it took the full nine. The teams were tied 4-4 going into the ninth. Moustakas had homered in the fourth, so I was miffed that Yost had him bunting after Omar Infante led off with a single (Terrance Gore pinch-ran; as in 1985, pinch-runners have played a role for the Royals). Moustakas successfully advanced the runner, though. Then Alcides Escobar doubled Gore home. Lorenzo Cain, who’s made brilliant plays in the outfield throughout the playoffs, added an RBI single. Holland nailed down the win and the Royals go home with a 2-0 lead in the series.

Tom has made it to both Baltimore games. Tom, Mike and their brother, Joe, and I have been texting like crazy during this incredible run (just the last six games; none of us had mobile phones in 1985, of course).

What’s next?

Of course, the Blue Jays and Cardinals each had two-game leads in 1985, so any Royals fan knows it’s not over. But I like the Royals’ chances. This scrappy team reminds me of the 1985 Royals. Each had lots of heroes, rather than just riding the back of a dominant player. And, whatever happens, this nine-game winning streak has been a delight: four extra-inning wins, two ninth-inning wins and a ton of memories for two generations of deserving fans.

Source note: Statistics and some game details for this post came from Baseball-Reference.com.