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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Tom Buttry: Rooting for the Kansas City Royals in New York

7 11 2015
Citi Field last week from Tom's seat in New York

Citi Field last week from Tom’s seat in New York

We’re not done with posts about the Kansas City Royals. I have a few more posts coming myself, but I’ve been too busy to finish them. I asked my sons if they wanted to weigh in. Oldest son Mike will have a post coming tomorrow. Today’s guest post is from youngest son Tom (with editing, links and some visuals added by Dad): 

Tom Buttry

Tom Buttry

As Mike Moustakas drove in the game-winning run in the eighth inning of Game Four, I stood the upper deck of the left field corner in my Moustakas jersey at Citi Field, profoundly happy, but limiting my visible celebration to a brief fist pump and giving a fellow Royals fan two seats over a bit of dap. I had endured trash talk, getting roundly booed when I walked down through the stands to go the restroom, and had someone shout at me “Moustakas, make me a gyro!” But with the Wade Davis Experience looming for the Mets, I felt pretty good that I was bringing home a winner. And I wasn’t about to antagonize these folks into moving beyond their vocal, but good-natured ribbing.

Perhaps, I should take a step back, though. Since 2005, when my family moved away from the Midwest, the vast majority of the games I’ve caught of the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs have been when we’re the visitors. While I had been to opposing gyms as a high school sports fan, the close proximity of the schools and the large visiting student section always gave me strength in numbers. Being a fan of a Kansas City sports team on the East Coast can be a lonely experience.

The first time I truly went into opponent territory was on December 17, 2005, when my Dad and I went to the old Meadowlands to watch our Chiefs take on the New York Giants. It was a big game between two teams with strong playoff aspirations. I was feeling confident, though, because no one in our family had ever seen the Chiefs lose in person before.

As Dad and I walked into the upper reaches of Giants Stadium (we were in the second-to-last row by one of the end zones, but that may just be my memory exaggerating it), there was some trash talk, but nothing too bad. In the second quarter when the Giants took the lead on a long Tiki Barber touchdown run, there was some ribbing from the folks next to us, but nothing too bad. Then, early in the third quarter, Chiefs running back Larry Johnson broke off a long touchdown run of his own to tie the score, prompting my dad and me to give each other a high five.

At that point, the only guy behind us in the stadium gave us a true New York welcome with a loud thickly New York-accented, “Sit down, ya assholes!” Read the rest of this entry »





Were the 1986 Red Sox better than the 2015 Royals?

30 10 2015

My good friend Jim Brady’s Mets are having a better season than my favorite team, the Yankees. But my second-favorite team, the Royals, are having a better season (so far; it’s long from over) than Jim’s Mets.

As the Royals were surging to Wednesday night’s victory (with my son Mike in the crowd), I remembered that both the 1985 Royals and 1986 Mets won after trailing those World Series 2-0 (and the 1981 Yankees lost in six games after taking a 2-0 lead). I was thinking I’d note those facts in a semi-gracious Twitter message to Jim after the game. But then I saw Jim had noted one of those historic facts himself:

Well, it ain’t over, we agree on that. I quoted Yogi Berra, former Yankee legend and Mets manager, on that topic in a post just Wednesday.

I’m hoping for a sweep (son Tom, who will be in New York for Game Four, shares that hope). But I love the ebb and flow of a World Series. I’ll love a seven-game Series, too, especially if the Royals win.

But, in the trash-talking spirit of good friends sharing sports fun and the fact-checking practice of this blog, I couldn’t let Jim get away with that “better team” BS:

Jim dropped some nice names and I responded:

Red Sox fan Matt DeRienzo (Red Sox fans are still paying attention to baseball?), a mutual friend, weighed in:

I probably should have declared victory when Jim tried to compare the Red Sox’ star right fielder to a Royals pinch-runner and fifth outfielder:

But a drug being used for my stem-cell harvest woke me up in the middle of the night Wednesday. And I really wondered which team was better, the 1986 Red Sox or the 2015 Royals. Jim, Matt and I all were reacting from emotion, memory, loyalty and hope, not research. So I thought I’d see who really was better. I ended up doing way more research than I originally anticipated. And way more writing. (On another blog, I posted in the middle of the night about writing under the influence of drugs this week.)

I won’t bother with comparing the 1986 and 2015 Mets, but I welcome Jim to do that in a guest post, if he’d like. I doubt the comparison would boost his confidence. I don’t expect Jim to do a guest post (he’s a busy man and not using my drugs), so I’ll entertain offers from other Mets fans, baseball-research geeks or insomniacs who would like to do a guest post comparing the two Met teams. Update: Jim did respond on Twitter to this post. I shared some of those tweets in a follow-up post on friendly baseball arguments.

But I know a team that swept the Cubs in four games can win this World Series in six. Or seven. This is a good Mets team (reminds me a lot of last year’s Royals), and I’m not over-confident.

And if the Mets win, I’ll blame this whole post on the drugs.

Comparison by position

Position-by-position breakdowns are never the best way to compare baseball teams, but sportswriters and fans do that, so I’ll start here:

Catcher

Boston’s Rich Gedman was an All-Star twice, including the 1986 season. He never won a Gold Glove. The Royals’ Salvador Pérez is 25, a year younger than Gedman was in ’86. But Pérez has already had a better career in five years (just three full-time) than Gedman had in 13 years (just three of them playing more than 100 games). Pérez has three All-Star appearances, including this year, and two Gold Gloves. And he hit better this year than Gedman in ’86 in every significant offensive category.

Big advantage for the Royals.

First base

Jim really dropped Buckner‘s name here? (OK, I can see why a Mets fan would drop Buckner’s name a lot; it’s not like you’d want to claim Mookie Wilson drove in the winning run.) Well, Eric Hosmer did have a key error at first base in Game One, but it was on a tough hop, not an easy ground ball between the legs. And Hosmer atoned that night with the winning RBI in the 14th inning.

Buckner might have had a better career than Hosmer will. Billy Buck was a former batting champion who would retire with 2,715 hits. But Buckner never won a Gold Glove in 22 major league seasons. Hosmer should win his third this year. Red Sox fans’ continuing complaint about Game Six in ’86 is that manager John McNamara should have sent Dave Stapleton in to play defense for Buckner in the 9th inning. No one ever goes in as a defensive replacement for Hosmer. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales played only nine games at first this year.

Offensively, Hosmer had a better year in ’15 than Buckner in ’86, measured by runs, hits and batting average. They both hit 18 homers. Buckner had an edge in RBI that season, 102 to 93. But, as I noted Wednesday, Hosmer has more post-season RBI than George Brett. Hosmer drove in as many runs in the first two games of this World Series as Buckner drove in during the whole 1986 14-game post-season, four.

Clear win for the Royals at first base.

I will concede this point to Matt and Jim: The Red Sox had stronger depth at first base. Stapleton closed out all three Red Sox wins in 1986.

If you like (or can’t yet forgive) Buckner, and don’t want to wade through this analysis, scroll to the end for a couple of fun anecdotes.

Second base

Marty Barrett sizzled in the 1986 post-season, winning the ALCS MVP and getting 13 World Series hits, tying a record he still shares. He would have been the World Series MVP if Buckner had fielded that grounder. So I’ll give the Red Sox an edge here.

But Ben Zobrist is a two-time All-Star whose career has already surpassed Barrett’s (10 years each, but Zobrist is still going strong). Zobrist in ’15 and Barrett in ’86 were comparable. This is close, but I value post-season play highly, so Barrett wins.

Shortstop

We’ll blame Twitter’s 140-character limit for Jim’s and Matt’s failure to mention Spike Owen, who started all seven games for the Red Sox in ’86. Alcides Escobar is an All-Star this year (Owen never was in 13 seasons). Escobar was the ALCS MVP and is well on his way to being the World Series MVP. (Obligatory acknowledgment here that the Series is far from over.)

Third base 

OK, Jim, I gotta give you Wade Boggs, a Hall of Famer who led the league in ’86 in batting, on-base percentage and walks, on top of getting 207 hits. (Since this is a blog that’s usually about the Yankees, I’ll add that he wasn’t a World Series champion until 1996.)

But this isn’t as big a win as Jim probably thinks. Mike Moustakas hit more homers and drove in more runs this year than Boggs in ’86 (admittedly, Boggs was a leadoff hitter). In the first two games of this Series, Moose is hitting .444 and slugging .944 with two RBI. Boggs hit .290 and slugged .371 in the ’86 Series with three RBI in seven games. Moose also is a better fielder.

I give Boggs the nod here for his career and the great season he had in ’86, and because I’d really have to be trolling Jim and Matt here to argue that Moose is better than a Hall of Famer in his prime. But I think I’d rather have Moose in my lineup in October. And I say that with fond memories of Boggs riding a horse in October.

Left field

The Red Sox have another Hall of Famer here, Jim Rice, an All-Star for the eighth and final time in ’86. He hit 20 homers, drove in 110 and hit .324. Those numbers are all better than Alex Gordon‘s numbers for this season (13, 48, .271, but he was injured and played only 110 games). Rice was 33 in 1986, at the end of his prime. Gordon is 31, just two years younger and still in the prime of a career that includes three All-Star appearances so far.

Argue for Rice if you want, Matt and Jim, but Gordon wins this. He’s a four-time Gold Glove winner. Rice never won one, and this Series is certainly showing how important defense is. As strong as Rice’s advantage in the regular season was, Gordon is better in October. Rice got a respectable nine hits in the ’86 Series, but no homers and no RBI, hitting just two slots behind Barrett, who was on base 18 times in the seven games. Gordo has three RBI already in this Series. And I’m pretty sure Jim (and all Mets fans) remember his homer:

Center field

Dave Henderson is remembered for his game-winning homer in the 1986 ALCS, and he continued his hot hitting with 10 World Series hits and two more homers. He was a good player, better in the post-season than the regular season, but he was never a great player. He made one All-Star team in his 14-year career.

Lorenzo Cain, born in 1986, made his first All-Star game this year and will probably win his first Gold Glove (Henderson never did). Cain has emerged the past couple years as a great player, especially in October. Like Henderson, he propelled his team to the World Series with a great play to win the ALCS.

Here’s an illustration of why Cain is better in ’15 than Henderson in ’86: Henderson was known for his power, not his speed. Cain is known for his speed, not his power. He stole 56 bases the past two years, more than the 50 Henderson stole in his career. But in the 1986 regular season, Henderson hit 15 homers. Cain had 16 this year.

Clear advantage for the Royals.

Right field 

I’ll give the Red Sox the advantage here, but it’s closer than Jim thinks.

Dwight Evans had a solid offensive year in ’86 (26 homers, 97 RBI), but he was nearing the end of his prime at age 34. Álex Ríos is past his prime, also 34, and his prime was not as good as Evans’ (but he’s made two All-Star games, as many as Evans had in ’86; Evans made his third two years later).

But Ríos is hitting .308 this post-season, with 13 hits and three RBI in 13 games. Evans got 14 hits and three RBI in 14 post-season games in 1986.

The right field comparison is not just Evans vs. Ríos. Evans played every inning in the 1986 Series. But rookie Paulo Orlando replaces Ríos in right field regularly in the late innings, playing in nine of the Royals’ 13 post-season games. He’s added three more hits and another RBI, along with excellent fielding and base running (he’s also used as a pinch runner). So the Royals have gotten more offensive production from their right fielders this post-season than the Red Sox did in 1986.

Evans was a seven-time Gold Glove winner, so I’m not going to suggest that any Royal ever was as strong defensively in right field. But the Royals have played well in right. And I bet Orlando covers more ground.

Evans gets a slight clear advantage here based on his full season and my respect for his career. But in October, the Red Sox didn’t outplay the Royals in right field.

Jarrod Dyson, the player Jim compared to Evans, had two at-bats as designated hitter after pinch-running Tuesday night. He has not played an inning in right field in this World Series. Update: I initially called this a “slight” advantage here, but “clear” later on when I summarized the match-ups. I changed that in this section. For more discussion of Jim’s and my debate about Evans and Ríos, see my follow-up post.

Designated hitter

Speaking of DH, Don Baylor was one of the best ever at that role. He should be on anyone’s top-10 list of best DH’s ever, and he’s certainly on mine. (I have fond memories of watching him play for the Yankees, including two grand slams, one against the Royals.) In his 19-year career, Baylor had well more than double the career figures of Royals DH Kendrys Morales in nine years by any important measure.

But we’re talking ’86 vs. ’15, not career vs. career. Both were excellent DH’s in those years, but Morales beat Baylor in batting average (.290 to .238), on-base percentage (.362 to .344), slugging (.485 to .439), RBI (106-94), hits (165-139), doubles (41-24) and even triples (2-1). Baylor beat Morales in homers (31-22), runs (93-81) and walks (62-58). Morales was clearly the better hitter in the two seasons, and that’s about all DH’s do.

Well, not quite. They also run the bases. Baylor stole 285 bases for his career and 52 in one season when he was young. In the ’86-’15 comparison, Baylor stole three bases and Morales stole none. But Baylor was caught stealing five times and Morales never attempted a steal. Dyson or Orlando will pinch-run for Morales if he gets on base in a situation where the Royals need speed to deliver a run. The ’86 Baylor was a bigger liability than Morales on the base paths.

As clutch as Baylor was, Morales’ hitting with two outs and men on base has been amazing this year:

Here’s where the ’15 Morales blows away the ’86 Baylor: in the post-season, and that’s what this whole post is about anyway. Morales has four homers and 10 RBI this October (none in the World Series yet, and he’s just 1-for-7). Baylor had 1 homer and three RBI in the ’86 post-season.

I respect and like Baylor too much to call this a huge advantage for the Royals, but it’s a clear advantage.

Starting pitchers

I’ll introduce the World Series rotations, then I’ll compare:

  • Roger Clemens, 23 that season, was younger than any of the Royal starters this year. And better. He was the MVP with the best season of his career and one of the best ever by any pitcher. The big numbers: 24-4, 2.48 (both leading the league), 238 strikeouts. The Royals have never had a pitching season that good, even Bret Saberhagen‘s Cy Young seasons. I don’t think any current Royal pitcher will ever match Clemens’ ’86 season. And, of course, he had one of the best pitching careers in history (not going to detour into the performance-enhancing drugs here). More on Clemens later.
  • Bruce Hurst, 28, was a good pitcher for the season (13-8, 2.99, 167) and for his career (145-113, 3.92, 1,689). He was an All-Star in 1987 and finished fifth in the 1988 Cy Young voting. And he was on a roll in the ’86 post-season, going 3-0 in five starts, including 2-0 in three starts against the Mets, Games One, Five and Seven. If he hadn’t blown a 3-0 lead in Game Seven, he could have beaten out Barrett as the Series MVP. (More on Game Seven later, too.)
  • Oil Can Boyd (given name Dennis) had perhaps his best season in ’86 (16-10, 3.78, 129). But he had a mediocre 10-year career (78-77, 4.04, 799). He started Game Three and gave up six of the runs in a 7-1 loss. In the tweet early in this post, Matt remembered Oil Can fondly, and I do, too. But Matt will not recall that tweet fondly after reading this post. (Don’t delete it, Matt; I already screen-grabbed.)
  • Al Nipper, 27, Boston’s Game Four starter in ’86, didn’t have either as good a nickname or as good a career as Oil Can. He was 10-12, posting a losing record for a team that finished 29 games over .500. I checked to see if some sort of injury forced the Red Sox to pitch him in the World Series, but he got 26 starts during the season, one more than Hurst. He was the No. 4 starter. He just sucked, with a 5.38 ERA. He had a seven-year career, with a 46-50 record and a 4.52 ERA.

OK, let’s look at the Royals’ starting rotation. Of course, career numbers are all works in progress.

  • Edinson Vólquez, 32, the Royals’ Game One starter, was 13-9 this year, with a 3.55 ERA and 155 strikeouts. In an 11-year career, he’s been an All-Star once and is 79-68, 4.29, 1,090. He left Game One after six strong innings, tied 3-3. I addressed the ethics of media reports announcing the death of Vólquez’s father in a post on my journalism blog, The Buttry Diary.
  • Johnny Cueto, born in 1986, was an All-Star and 20-game winner last year, finishing second to Clayton Kershaw in the Cy Young vote. He won 19 games and finished fourth in 2012 (losing to R.A. Dickey, who amazingly isn’t part of the Mets’ powerful rotation three years later). Cueto was 11-13 this year (4-7 after the Royals got him from the Reds in a trade). As in the regular season, Cueto has been inconsistent in October. In Game Two against the Astros, Cueto settled down after a rocky start and left the game tied 4-4 after six innings. A run in the seventh inning delivered the win for the Royals. Cueto retired his final 19 batters in eliminating the Astros from the Division Series, 7-2. Then he gave up eight runs without getting an out in the third inning against the Blue Jays in Game Four of the ALCS. Then he pitched a two-hitter Wednesday night, the first World Series complete game by an American Leaguer since Jack Morris in 1991.
  • Yordano Ventura, 24, scheduled to start Game Three tonight, has 27 wins in his first two seasons as a Royal, going 13-8, 4.08 and 156 this year. He gave up only three hits in seven shutout innings last year as a rookie in Game Six to tie the World Series. He hasn’t won yet this post-season. He lost Game One to the Astros in the Division Series and would have lost Game Four, but a late-inning comeback bailed him out. He gave up six runs in two starts against the Blue Jays, but got no decisions. The Royals won both games.
  • Chris Young, 36, who won Game One Tuesday after taking over in the 12th inning, is still scheduled to start Game Four Saturday in New York. He had one of his best seasons this year. Young has battled various injuries in 11 seasons for five teams, including the Mets (for whom he was only 5-9 in two seasons). He’s been good when he could pitch, 76-58 for his career. He was an All-Star for the Padres in 2007, but this year was only his fourth season with double-digit wins. He was 11-6, 3.08, with 83 strikeouts in 18 starts and 16 relief appearance this year, his first season as a Royal and his only year with much bullpen work. He pitched well against the Astros in relief and in a start against the Blue Jays, with no decisions or saves.

Barring developments such as extra innings and injuries, I’d expect Vólquez, Cueto and Ventura to pitch Games 5-7 if needed. (Vólquez is expected to be return from his father’s funeral in time for Game Five.)

So here’s how the pitching rotations compare:

  • No one on the Royals matches or even approaches Clemens, either for career or for the regular season leading up to the World Series.
  • No one on the Royals was as bad a pitcher for the season or career as Nipper. I’m usually dismissive of WAR as a valuable stat, but I’ll use it here: Nipper’s ’86 WAR was -0.9 in ’86. The Red Sox’ Game Four starter wasn’t even a replacement-level pitcher (that’s the R in replacement). Young’s WAR this year was 2.5.
  • No Red Sox pitcher other than Clemens had Cueto’s potential to dominate a game. You can’t count on that domination, but he’s already delivered magnificently once in this Series, plus a deciding game earlier in the post-season.
  • Hurst’s and Boyd’s ’86 seasons were pretty similar to Vólquez’s and Ventura’s ’15 performances.
  • It’s too early to say whether a Royal will match Hurst’s two-win performance. But Young and Cueto certainly could.
  • The Red Sox had no one comparable to Young, either in mixing starting and relief during the regular season or in starting after a relief appearance in the World Series. He’s a far better pitcher than Nipper, and I’d take him over Boyd.
  • Speaking of Boyd: The Mets torched him for four runs in Game Three of the ’86 World Series, starting their comeback. McNamara stuck with him and he pitched five scoreless innings before giving up two more runs. The Mets won 7-1 and dominated the Series from there. Boyd is the reason that Jim has confidence in this year’s Mets, but I can’t fathom why Matt would cite him positively in a comparison with this year’s Royals. Usually your Game Three starter pitches in Game Seven. But a rain delay between Games Six and Seven allowed McNamara to pitch Hurst, his hot starter, on three days’ rest in Game Seven. Matt, you don’t win an argument by citing a guy your manager didn’t trust to pitch Game Seven. Whatever happens to Ventura Friday, Yost will have confidence in him for Game Seven. Boyd was 26 in 1986. And he never pitched as well again. Few things are as unpredictable in sports as the futures of young pitchers. By the time “Bull Durham” was released just two years later, it was already laughable for Nuke LaLoosh to call Oil Can one of the “great ones.”
  • Matt’s proud memory of Hurst also overlooks or forgets Game Seven. As heart-breaking as Game Six was for Red Sox fans, Boston staked Hurst to a 3-0 lead in the second inning. They were back in control of the Series. Hurst had a lead and an opportunity to become the 13th pitcher to win three games in a single World Series. After five shutout innings, the Mets tied the game against Hurst. That’s not an embarrassment or a bad game. He left the game in the same circumstance as Vólquez did Tuesday. One guy’s teammates won the game after he left, the other guy’s teammates lost it.
  • Finally, while recognizing Clemens’ greatness (the flaws, we think came later), he wasn’t as special in October. He was 12-8 for his career in the post-season: a good record, but not dominant. He did leave Game Six in ’86 as the apparent winner, leading 3-2 after seven innings. Playing in the National League park, McNamara pinch-hit for Clemens in the top of the eighth inning.
  • Clemens wins almost any comparison to the current Royals, but not this one: Cueto pitched a complete-game two-hitter in the World Series, just a shade better than a couple of Clemens gems for the Yankees. But better.

Summing up the matchup of starting pitchers, Clemens is a clear winner at the top of the rotation and Young is the clear winner in the four slot. At the second and third spots, both Royals are at least as good as Hurst and better than Boyd. I think starting pitching is probably a push, but I’ll be generous and give the Red Sox a microscopic edge based on Clemens.

One interesting fact about the 1986 Red Sox pitching staff: I haven’t mentioned Boston’s only starter that year who’s in the Hall of Fame: the Mets’ all-time best pitcher, Tom Seaver. Like many great players, Seaver tried to wring every last drop from his career. He started the season 2-6 for the White Sox, then was traded June 29 to the Red Sox for Steve Lyons. (More on Lyons later.)

He finished the season and his career 5-7 for the Red Sox, but an injury kept him from pitching in the post-season.

Bullpen

I was at Carl Yastrzemski‘s Hall of Fame induction ceremony (will have to blog about that someday) in 1989, three years after the ’86 World Series. The lawn outside the museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., a short drive from New England, was packed with Red Sox fans. Yaz gave a gracious speech, thanking his many coaches, managers and teammates he had played with. When he mentioned Bob Stanley‘s name, boos rippled through the crowd. Stanley’s wild pitch allowed Kevin Mitchell to score the tying run in Game Six in ’86 and moved Ray Knight into scoring position for the Buckner error.

Stanley had a respectable 13-year career for Boston, saving 132 regular-season games and Game Two in ’86. He deserved better from the Cooperstown crowd.

Calvin Schiraldi (who was a Met the previous year) had a worse World Series out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in ’86, getting the losses in the final two games (Yaz, who retired in 1983, didn’t drop Schiraldi’s name at Cooperstown). He gave up the tying run in the eighth to squander Clemens’ lead. For some reason, McNamara left him in not only to start the 10th inning with a 5-3 lead, but didn’t bring in Stanley until Schiraldi had given up a run and put the tying and winning runs on base on consecutive one-out singles.

Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera the past two years have been better than Schiraldi and Stanley ever were. And the Royals have better bullpen depth, too. This may be the best bullpen ever (and I’m literally writing those words wearing my Mariano Rivera jersey). Davis had a 1.00 ERA last year for the whole season, then improved it this year to 0.94. His career post-season ERA in 29 innings and 21 games is even better, 0.92. And his career World Series ERA in six innings over five games is 0.00. Herrera’s post-season ERA in 25 innings over 20 games is 1.44.

And the Royals have great bullpen depth, too, even after the injury to last year’s closer, Greg Holland, moved Davis from his eighth-inning role to closer.

The bullpen mismatch between the ’86 Red Sox and ’15 Royals was colossal, not just in the gap in quality, but in the importance to the Series (even though this Series is just two games old and one of them was a complete game).

Bench

I didn’t examine the game box scores in any detail, but on a quick glance at the ’86 Series summary, I don’t see any bench use by McNamara, except using Stapleton and pinch hitting for Owen and pitchers in the National League park (Mike Greenwell was 0-for-3 in four plate appearances, Stapleton and Tony Armas both 0-for-1).  Ed Romero, Owen’s backup, played in three games, going 0-for-1. So the only positive contribution from the Red Sox bench in ’86 was from Stapleton. And he was on the bench when it counted most. Armas was on the decline and Greenwell hadn’t played enough yet to qualify ’86 as his rookie season.

The Royals’ bench, on the other hand, is always in play. Orlando singled and moved to third in the 12th inning. Even though he was stranded, delaying the victory a couple of innings, Orlando had more offensive impact in that one game than the Red Sox’ bench in the whole ’86 series. Orlando scored two runs against Toronto and hit six triples and seven homers as a role player this season.

Dyson pinch-ran for Morales in Game One, but was stranded. He stayed in the game as DH and lined out to deep right-center in the 11th and flew out again in the 12th. He’s a dangerous pinch-runner: He averaged more than 30 steals the past four seasons without ever playing more than 120 games.

Orlando and Dyson surpass anyone the Red Sox had on their bench in ’86. I expect both to contribute to victories.

Manager

I think Royal Manager Ned Yost bunts too much and should have challenged the bad call at first base Wednesday night. (Replays showed Hosmer’s foot returning to first base before the runner arrived, and that play allowed the only Met run to score.) I’m not sure about Yost’s heavy use of defensive shifts. They clearly hurt Tuesday, but helped Wednesday.

But somehow Yost is a hell of a manager. He handles the pitching staff, the lineup and substitutions artfully. And his teams execute masterfully.

Yost is not remembered fondly in Milwaukee, where he had a losing record in six seasons. And he still doesn’t have a winning regular-season record for the Royals (468-469 in six seasons). But the last two seasons, especially in October, Yost has made the right moves. Or he makes the wrong moves work.

Just one example of Yost’s effective use of his pitching staff: Cueto is 5-1 at Kaufman Stadium, including the stellar post-season wins, since joining the Royals. So Yost pitched him in Game Two, meaning he won’t pitch on the road this Series. The first part of that worked spectacularly, and I like his chances at home in Game Six.

And Yost is just magical in his management of the bullpen.

My memories of details of McNamara’s managing in ’86 are less clear. McNamara was manager of the year, but I think Yost will probably win the award this year, so I don’t see an advantage there. Yost has led his team to two World Series in 12 years managing, and 1986 was the only time for McNamara. Like Yost, McNamara had a losing record as a manager (1,160-1,233).

The rain delay helped McNamara avoid using Oil Can a second time, but I don’t think he managed his pitching staff as well, especially the bullpen. And I’m pretty sure Royals fans won’t be cursing any Yost moves 29 years later, the way Red Sox fans respond if you ask why he didn’t send Stapleton in to close out Game Six at first base.

Position-by-position summary

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Absolute ass-kicking: Royals in the bullpen and shortstop
  • Clear advantage: Royals at catcher, first base, center field, DH, bench and manager; Red Sox at second base, third base, right field.
  • Slim advantage: Royals in left field; Red Sox at starting rotation

That’s nine advantages for the Royals, four for the Red Sox. And the Royals’ advantages are bigger.

Other measures

If you can remember a few hours ago when you started reading this, I admitted that position-by-position was not necessarily the best way to measure teams against each other. It’s not like basketball, with the shortstop pitching to the shortstop or anything like that. So here are some other ways to measure these teams (somewhat shorter, I promise):

Batting order

Both managers used set lineups, but the switching between league rules resulted in some changes so let’s compare AL lineups, then look at the pitchers:

  1. Boggs vs. Escobar. Esky led off the Series with an inside-the-park homer and has a triple, single three runs and three RBI in the first two games. He’s already matched Boggs’ run and RBI totals for the ’86 Series and, if the Series goes long enough, Escobar looks likely to beat Boggs’ nine hits (which included three doubles). Based on actual hitting in the Series, Escobar’s almost certain to win this on hitting and he’s much more dangerous once he gets on base. But Boggs, one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball history and certainly one of the top five leadoff hitters, did walk four times in the Series. Escobar walked 26 times all year, just once in the post-season. I think Escobar will end up with a better Series than Boggs. But for now, the Hall of Famer barely gets the edge here.
  2. The second basemen both batted second, so Barrett beats Zobrist again.
  3. Buckner hit .188 in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for Cain.
  4. Hosmer has four RBI already, including a game-winner. Rice didn’t drive in a run in the ’86 Series. Clear advantage for the Royals. Actually a huge advantage in the Series, but I knocked it down a notch out of respect for the better regular season and Hall of Fame career.
  5. DH vs. DH. Morales already beat Baylor slightly.
  6. I love Moose, and he might end up having a better Series. But Evans hit .308 with two homers and nine RBI in the ’86 Series. And he had a better regular season. Clear advantage for Boston.
  7. Gordon matched Gedman’s ’86 World Series totals for runs, homers and run production (1) in the ninth inning of Game One. Royals in a landslide.
  8. Henderson had a good ’86 World Series, but Pérez had a better regular season and is off to a good World Series start. Slight advantage for the Royals.
  9. Spike Owen (and pinch-hitters) vs. Ríos. Clear advantage for the Royals.
  10. Pitchers and pinch-hitters. As noted, the Red Sox pinch hitters went hitless (including one New York at-bat by Baylor, whom I didn’t mention in the bench analysis). The Red Sox pitchers also were hitless. The Royals can’t do worse, and they have good pinch hitters. And you can count on seeing Morales more than once in three New York games. (That Baylor pinch-hit just once in four New York games adds to the Yost advantage over McNamara.) Clear advantage for the Royals.

The lineup breakdown:

  • Royals: Huge advantage at 7. Clear advantages at 3, 4, 9 and pitcher. Slight advantage at 8
  • Red Sox: Clear advantage at 2. Slight advantages at 1 and 5.

Again, the Royals had more and bigger advantages. They hold their own at the top of the order and dominate 6-9.

Season record

The Royals ran away with their division, winning by 12 games with a 95-67 record. The Red Sox must have had a rainout they didn’t make up. They were 95-66, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. Dead even here.

Base running

This Royals’ advantage is almost as big as the bullpen blowout. Cain’s dash home from first on a single won the ALCS clincher over Toronto. Escobar’s inside-the-park homer started off the Royals’ World Series.

Fun speed fact No. 1: Both teams were caught stealing 34 times in the regular seasons we’re examining. The Royals stole 104 bases and the Red Sox just 41. Was Boston the worst base-stealing team ever to make a World Series?

Fun speed fact No. 2: The Royals legged out 42 triples in the regular season, twice as many as the Red Sox.

Fun speed fact No. 3: The Red Sox didn’t attempt a stolen base in the entire 1986 World Series (McNamara gets a little credit there for not sending them). The Royals have stolen four bases this post-season and been caught twice.

Team batting and pitching stats

The Red Sox scored 794 runs, hit 144 homers, batted .271, slugged .415, with a .346 on-base percentage. Those numbers were all better than the Royals (724, 139, .269, .412 .322).

Both teams’ pitchers actually gave up more homers (169 for Boston, 155 for KC) than their hitters slugged. Boston pitchers gave up 696 runs. Their team ERA was 3.93 and they struck out 1,033 batters. The Royals were better across the board: 641 runs, 3.73 ERA, 1,160 K’s.

Clearly the home ballparks account for the differences in both sets of stats.

Defense

The Buckner play aside, I don’t recall the Red Sox being bad at defense. But they had no Gold Glove winners in 1986. Two players on their team did combine for 10 career Gold Gloves:

  • Evans won eight Gold Gloves, but he won his last one in ’85.
  • I had forgotten that Wade Boggs won two Gold Gloves late in his career with the Yankees. That surprised me. He was a good fielder, staying at third base his whole career. His 107 games at DH were scattered over 12 seasons. But he wasn’t a great fielder.

And that’s all the Gold Gloves that the members of the 1986 Red Sox will ever win. The Royals, of course, are still playing, most of them quite young. And they already have three Gold Glove winners and eight total fielding trophies. If only two of the six contenders win this year, they will already match the career Gold Glove total of the ’86 Red Sox.:

  • Gordon, 31, has four Gold Gloves. If he doesn’t win his fifth this year, it will because of his time on the disabled list, not because his defense is declining.
  • Pérez, 25, already has two Gold Gloves and is a lock to win his third this year.
  • Hosmer, 26, has two and appears sure to get his third, too.
  • Escobar, 28, is a Gold Glove contender.
  • Cain, 29, got the attention and reputation that help win Gold Gloves with his sensational defense in the 2015 post-season.
  • Moutakas, 27, has been outstanding defensively in the post-season and also a contender for his first Gold Glove.

At six positions, the Royals have Gold Glove winners or contenders who could break through this year and win for several years to come. I don’t think all six would win. But I expect four and wouldn’t be surprised by more.

Right field and second base are strong, too, even though those players won’t contend for Gold Gloves. I wonder where the Royals stack up among the best defensive teams ever. I won’t do the research on that, but defense is another blowout for the ’15 Royals.

Context of their times

The Red Sox made the World Series in 1986 for the first time in 11 years. And they wouldn’t play in another for 18 more years. The Red Sox finished fifth in a seven-team division the years before and after their World Series run. As teams on a roll go, the Red Sox were no better than the 10th-best championship team of the 1980s. They reached one World Series that decade and lost it. These teams of the ’80s played in more World Series than the Red Sox and won at least one (counting appearances in the late ’70s or early ’90s if a team made a World Series in the ’80s):

  1. The Twins won World Series in ’87 and ’91.
  2. The Dodgers won World Series in ’81 and ’88.
  3. The A’s won the ’89 World Series and lost in ’88 and ’90.
  4. The Cardinals won the ’82 World Series and lost in ’85 and ’87.
  5. The Royals won the ’85 World Series and lost in ’80.
  6. The Phillies won in ’82 and lost in ’83.
  7. The Orioles won in ’83 and lost in ’79.

Two teams won their only World Series appearances of the ’80s:

  1. The Mets, of course, in ’86.
  2. The Tigers in ’84.

As  you might expect of a Yankee fan, I value championships highly. But I could entertain an argument that a Red Sox team that lost in seven games was more formidable than a one-time World Series winner if the loser had several other division titles and near misses.

But the Red Sox don’t prevail over either of these teams on that basis either. They won their division in ’88, too, and, since I counted 1990 for the A’s and ’91 for the Twins, let’s give the Red Sox ’90, too. But they were swept both years.

The Mets returned to the playoffs in 1988 as well, losing a seven-game series to the Dodgers. The Mets won 11 post-season games in the ’80s (four over the Red Sox, of course).

The Red Sox also don’t stack up to the Tigers of the ’80s. The playoffs were only best-of-five in 1984, so the Tigers didn’t have a chance to win as many games in their division-title years as the Red Sox did in their three post-season appearances.

But the Tigers swept the Royals in three games in 1984, then blew out the Padres in five in the World Series. Detroit won only one game against the Twins in the 1987 ALCS. But their 1980s post-season record was 8-5. The Red Sox post-season record in the ’80s was 7-13.

The Red Sox did have a better decade, I think, than the other four teams that lost their only World Series appearances of the ’80s: ’81 Yankees, ’82 Brewers, ’84 Padres and ’89 Giants.

Of course, we can’t do a full-decade analysis of the Royals, and counting records of early rounds of playoffs would be fair against other teams of this decade, but not against the ’86 Red Sox.

The Royals are not (yet) the best team of this decade. They certainly have not passed the Giants (three-time winners and likely the team of the decade) and Cardinals, who won a World Series and lost one. But Kansas City is closing fast on St. Louis: The Cardinals have been in 58 post-season games this decade and won 30, but the Royals have a much higher winning percentage, with a 20-8 record.

If the Royals win this World Series, they clearly move ahead of the Red Sox, who won in 2013 but haven’t played in another Series this decade, and the Rangers, who lost two World Series.

With a World Series win, the Royals are the third-best team of this unfolding decade and gaining on the Cardinals. With a loss, they’d be no worse than fourth.

Here are ways the Royals of this decade have already blown past the Red Sox of the ’80s (leaving out the extra early rounds of playoffs), with four years of the decade remaining:

  1. They’ve made it to a second World Series.
  2. They have a 13-6 record in World Series and LCS play, both more wins than Boston in the ’80s and a far better winning percentage.
  3. They didn’t blow a World Series that they were in position to win. When they lost, they fought back to win Game Six and fell just 90 feet short of tying Game Seven.

In the context of their times, the Royals are already ahead, with plenty of time to pull away this week and beyond.

Organizational strength

Both franchises built their World Series teams similarly, developing a core of homegrown talent from their farm systems, adding key free agents and making shrewd trades in the off-season and during their championship runs (Henderson, Zobrist and Cueto all joined their teams mid-season in their World Series years).

Admission to my sons: I was wrong about Zobrist. I minimized this trade as not being that big a deal at the time, when General Manager Dayton Moore traded for Zobrist in July. He’s been valuable down the stretch and in the post-season. Moore’s personnel moves created the wonderfully balanced team I’ve described at such length here.

But here’s the biggest organizational difference: The only two Latino players who played for the Red Sox in the ’86 World Series, Romero and Armas, came up with other teams. I don’t know why the Red Sox weren’t developing major league talent from Latin America in the ’80s (if you do, please fill me in). Even the Latino superstars of recent Boston history, Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, started with other teams.

Key players on this Royals team came through scouting, signing and developing players from the Caribbean and South America: Pérez from Venezuela, Ventura and Herrera from the Dominican Republic and Orlando from Brazil. I’d be surprised if the Royals’ diversity wasn’t also attractive to the Latino free agents they’ve signed: Vólquez from the Dominican Republic, Morales from Cuba, Ríos from Cuba, Omar Infante (who hit a big homer in last year’s World Series) and reliever Franklin Morales from Venezuela. Escobar, also from Venezuela, came to Kansas City from Milwaukee in a 2010 trade for Cy Young winner Zach Greinke.

That diversity from so many sources might be a factor as well (along with money) in whether the Royals can sign Cueto, a Domincan free agent.

Home-field advantage

Both the ’85 Royals and ’86 Mets fell behind 2-0 at home. They faced the tough task of going on the road and winning two games just to stay alive. But they also got to close out the Series at home. The ’15 Mets have  more remaining games at home than those teams, which is an advantage of sorts. But I’m not sure that it’s a bigger advantage than being up 2-0 and knowing that if you stumble on the road, you’re coming home with a chance to close.

Hall of Famers

Well, the Red Sox win this one. Boggs and Rice are already in Cooperstown. If voters ever forgive players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens will join them. Evans might be attractive to a Veterans Committee someday.

The Royals, of course, won’t have anyone eligible for the Hall of Fame for years, so we can only speculate. Gordon at 31 and Cueto at 29 have strong starts to their careers, nine and eight years in. I think Cueto has a better shot than Gordon, but both have to have more good years ahead of them than they’ve already played. Neither is halfway to Cooperstown, and I doubt either will make it.

Cain blossomed too late to have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

At first glance, you might think that Davis, 30, moved from promising starter to dominant reliever too late in his career to make it to Cooperstown. Dennis Eckersley was a better starter than Davis and for longer. But Eck’s in the Hall of Fame for his relief work. And Davis is two years younger than Eck was when he moved to the bullpen.

Pérez, Escobar, Hosmer, Moustakas and Herrera are all 28 or younger, with strong and promising starts to their careers. It’s too early to predict how their careers will unfold. I’d guess Pérez and Hosmer have the best shots at Cooperstown.

I’m confident one of these Royals will make it. I predict that two will, and more wouldn’t surprise me.

I remember in 1998, when the Yankees won 114 games and spurred best-ever talk, sport broadcasters and writers marveled that they were doing it without any certain Hall of Famers in their prime. Less than 20 years later, everyone knows what I was saying then: Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were certain Hall of Famers beginning their primes. We could look back on some of these Royals the same way.

All we can say about Hall of Famers on these Royals is that they are two behind the ’86 Red Sox, with potential to close that gap.

What have I missed?

Every way I can think to measure this, except people already in the Hall of Fame, the 2015 Royals are equal or superior to the 1986 Red Sox. Tell me, Jim and Matt (or any other Mets or Red Sox fans), where am I wrong? Can you make a better case for the Red Sox than those late-night tweets?

Steve Fehr: How can you compare?

I told Steve Fehr, a Royal fan and former colleague who prompted my post about Don Denkinger’s bad call, that I was working on this post. He had seen my Twitter exchange with Jim and emailed me about how incomparable the ’15 Royals are:

The Royals are so different from any team we’ve seen recently that comparisons are silly in the first place. Who do you compare them to? I can’t think of a team quite like this, even the 1976-85 Royals who were similar in tailoring their game to their stadium.  If we win this, there will be a lot of articles to that effect: the most unusual (and lovable) champion of recent times (who on Mets is as lovable as Sal Perez, America’s Catcher?).

’86 Red Sox footnotes

If you’re a Red Sox fan (or even a Met fan) who has endured to the end of this post, I must reward you with a few fun nuggets, a couple on the man you remember most from the ’86 Series and one from a guy who left Boston during the ’86 season (in the Seaver trade, as you may recall from many words ago).

Bill Buckner 1

We are the socksMy brother Dan was a pastor in Boston in 1986. He planned his sermon and Scripture earlier in the week and settled in Saturday evening to watch Game Six. Dan vividly recalls the next morning:

The entire congregation was the most depressed congregation I’ve ever seen (and remember, Game Seven was to be played later that day, but everyone knew it was over) — everything was flat.

Dan sat and listened as the worship leader and congregation read responsively from Psalm 19. No one noticed this passage but Dan:

Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

Sometimes pastor has to lead a congregation in healing. Dan continues:

I got up immediately after and said with great intensity and passion, ‘The Word of God has spoken to my heart today: “O Lord, who can understand his errors!”‘  Everyone laughed a cathartic laugh, and after that we could have church!

I don’t think the healing started by that laughter was finished until 2004, but this is (usually) a Yankee blog, so enough about that.

And since Dan helped out on this post, I should include a plug for his latest book, We Are the Socks. I asked Dan if he had a misspelling in the title, but it relates to an anecdote about footwear.

Buckner 2

The bad knees that hindered Buckner in the field in ’86 didn’t force him into retirement because he could still hit. He played part-time for the Royals in 1989 and ’89, mostly at DH but also at first. After a double in 1988, Manager John Wathan sent Jamie Quirk, a backup catcher who stole one base in six attempts that year, in to pinch-run for Buckner. The fiercely competitive Buckner threw up his hands in disbelief when he saw who was running for him and later told reporters it was “the most embarrassing moment of my career.”

The item, of course, made the Boston newspapers. I thought the headline I remembered was the Herald-American, but the only online mention I could find of the story says it was the Globe; if you have it, I’d love to add a visual and clarify the newspaper. Bonus points if you know the copy editor’s name. Home run if you were the copy editor. But this was the headline:

We Can Think Of Another

Steve Lyons

Lyons is kind of a goofball who spent a few years doing those annoying in-game interviews from the stands for Fox Sports. In the only such interview that I can recall enjoying, he interviewed Bucky Dent during one of those Yankees-Red Sox games of the late ’90s or early 2000s and asked something like: “I’m sure a lot of Red Sox fans don’t know your actual middle name. What is it?”

Bucky deadpanned: “Earl.”

Source note: Statistics in this post come from Baseball-Reference.com.

 





Game Two was worth the wait for my sons and me

25 10 2014

Sometimes the anticipation of a wonderful event results in a letdown when it actually happens. Not Wednesday night. My three sons and I experienced a return to Kauffman Stadium that we will always cherish.

As a family experience and a baseball experience, it was worth the dozens of high-fives we exchanged throughout the evening.

I was too busy Thursday and Friday to blog about it before now, but I have to wrap up the story I started last week. As I recounted when the Royals won this year’s American League championship, when I decided to take Mimi to Game Two of the 1985 World Series, I promised our disappointed oldest son, Mike, that I’d take him the next time the Royals were in the World Series.

For seven seasons from 1985 to 1991, I took Mike and his brothers, Joe and Tom, to more than 100 Royals games, usually in pairs but sometimes all four or five of us. Though I regaled them at the ballpark with tales of Yankee glory, they all became loyal fans of the team they were watching. We moved away and over 28 seasons since that championship year, my sons cheered a few winning teams that fell short and way too many losers. But they stayed loyal.

When the Royals made the World Series this year, I knew I had to take not just Mike, but his brothers. Joe and Tom hadn’t gotten in on the 1985 promise because both were too young at the time to know how special the World Series was and to beg to be included. But Royals games became a father-son bonding experience for all of us. We needed this adult bonding experience as a foursome.

So I paid a dear price for four upper deck tickets in Section 409. We chose Game Two for work-schedule reasons, but it seemed fitting since it was Game Two that Mike missed out on in 1985. And after waiting 29 years, Mike wasn’t going to risk that the series would go six or seven games.

Joe (coming from Las Vegas) and Tom (from DC) arrived Tuesday, but couldn’t score tickets to Game One. They watched with other fans in the Power & Light District. That was a tough game for Royals fans, a 7-1 rout that was never close.

Mike (coming from the Twin Cities) and I (from Baton Rouge, La.) arrived at the airport midday Wednesday, a little over an hour apart. He was waiting for me in the rental car. He had told me he had a cap that was a little too big for him. It was too small for me, but it fit in a Lou Piniella kind of way.

Mom with, from left, Tom, Joe and Mike.

Mom with, from left, Tom, Joe and Mike.

My mother lives in an assisted living home in Lee’s Summit. We met Joe and Tom there and visited Mom briefly. Though she’s a lifelong Cubs fan, the Royals became her second baseball love. Alzheimer’s has robbed her of her baseball memories, but she was happy to see family and to wear my cap for a photo with her grandsons in their Royals gear.

Then it was off to our favorite Kansas City barbecue joint, Fiorella’s Jack Stack. (Just like Kauffman was Royals Stadium back in the day, Jack Stack was Fiorella’s Smokestack when we became fans of Kansas City sports and barbecue. I might call them Royals Stadium and the Smokestack more than I call them by their current names, but I’m an aging creature of habit. The boys – and when we’re at the ballpark together, they’re still my boys, even if they’re all in their 30s – don’t correct me.)

We tailgated with the barbecue, then headed into the Stadium, whatever you call it. We all wore Royals hats. Mike and Joe wore jerseys honoring Alex Gordon. Tom sported a Mike Moustakas shirt.

First we found our old seats, behind the home dugout, and found a friendly fan who’d take a picture:

Mike, Tom, Joe and me.

Mike, Tom, Joe and me.

Then we connected with my cousin, Doug Worgul, who took another photo.

Joe, Tom, me and Mike, visiting cousin Doug in Section 110 before our visit to the Royals Hall of Fame.

Joe, Tom, me and Mike, visiting cousin Doug in Section 110 before our visit to the Royals Hall of Fame.

Next we visited the Royals Hall of Fame, with nice displays honoring this year’s team as well as the Royals of yesteryear and other stars from the Monarchs, A’s and other Kansas City baseball teams. I picked up a Royals World Series t-shirt to pull over the long-sleeved denim shirt I was wearing (but Mike wouldn’t let me pay for it).

Note to the Royals: Bo Jackson needs to be in the Royals Hall of Fame. His career was short and he did get injured playing for the hated Oakland Raiders. But Bo provided some of the best highlights of the years between World Series. Time to give him his due. Other than George Brett, what Royal was as famous as Bo?

Speaking of Brett, they honor him in the hall with a sculpture of 3,154 baseballs, one for each of his hits, arranged in the shape of his uniform number, a huge 5. The bat in the middle of the sculpture isn’t the famous Pine Tar Bat (that’s in that other Hall of Fame in Cooperstown), but the bat he swung for his 3,000th hit (and it has a lot of pine tar).

George Brett's Royals Hall of Fame sculpture.

George Brett’s Royals Hall of Fame sculpture.

Brett also has a statue in the outfield plaza area, along with Frank White, eight-time Gold Glove second baseman and a Kansas City native now running for political office, and Dick Howser, manager of that 1985 team.

Brett poised to swing for hit number 3,155.

Brett poised to swing for hit number 3,155.

The statues are behind the fountains that remain a beautiful and distinct feature of one of baseball’s most beautiful ballparks.

The view of Kauffman Stadium from behind the fountains.

The view of Kauffman Stadium from behind the fountains.

Eventually we made our way to Section 409, Row KK. Not the farthest seats in the stadium from the action, but a few rows in front of those seats. We proved what people have always said about that ballpark: There isn’t a bad seat in the house. We missed a couple routine catches in the leftfield corner, but most of the action unfolded right in front of us.

No point in recounting the action in great detail a couple days later. Our hearts sank with Gregor Blanco’s leadoff homer. After the 7-1 Game One drubbing, it was a sobering reminder that this great experience could turn quickly to bonding through shared misery. But Royals designated hitter Billy Butler tied things up with an RBI single in the bottom of the first. The ballpark came alive and was boisterous for the next eight innings.

I always love a close game. But it’s great fun watching a big inning for your team. We got a taste of both: a 2-2 struggle through five innings, then a five-run 6th inning, with Butler delivering the go-ahead single, Salvador Perez doubling home two runs, then Omar Infante driving a two-run homer to the back of the Royals’ bullpen beyond the leftfield fence.

In Mike’s video at the top of this post, you can see the boys and me celebrating the homer. We were so busy high-fiving that we missed the start of the short fuss when Hunter Strickland, the Giants’ gas-can pitcher who gave up the double and the homer, started yelling at Perez.

Even teammates struggled to explain Strickland’s tantrum.  This was the fifth homer Strickland has given up this post-season. I enjoy a good baseball fight. It’s always good to see the players jog in from the bullpen ready to join a brawl (as the Royals did, but the fuss was over with no punches thrown by the time they reached the infield). You understand why a batter gets angry when hit by a pitcher. But if you’ve given up a homer — especially if you’ve given up five in one post-season — you need to shut up and ask the umpire for a new ball and hope the manager leaves you in to throw it. Royals fans, including those of us in Section 409, were too busy expressing loud appreciation for Infante to give Strickland the scorn he deserved.

I used to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the boys on our way to Royals Stadium, not to mention during the seventh-inning stretch. We didn’t sing on the way to the park this time, but we sang with gusto in the seventh-inning.

The Royals’ amazing bullpen of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland wasn’t really needed with a 7-2 lead. But Herrara came into the tie game in the top of the sixth. And the others needed a little work. So they mowed through the Giants and gave the fans more to cheer.

When Holland retired the final out of a 7-2 win, we soaked it in for a while before heading for the exits. You’re not going to beat the crowd from Section 409.

A win in Game Three in San Francisco returned home-field advantage to the Royals. The series will return to KC for Game Six unless the Royals sweep in San Francisco and return with their second World Series trophy.

We’re all back at our respective homes, high-fiving (and critiquing Ned Yost’s managing moves) by text message. But Wednesday night was the perfect return to Kansas City: quick visits with a couple other family members, healthy helpings of barbecue, plenty of time to wander a favorite place, wonderful father-son-brother time, exciting baseball action, lots of high fives and a Royals victory.

We’ll cherish this night as long as we waited for it.

This lonely 1985 trophy in the Royals Hall of Fame needs a companion.

This lonely 1985 trophy in the Royals Hall of Fame needs a companion.