With the Houston Astros shifting to the American League this year (allowing us to beat up on the Astros to put .500 within our grasp!) there is now going to be at least one interleague series at all times during the Major League season. This weekend, its the Royals' turn as they head to Philadelphia for a re-match of the 1980 World Series.
The 1985 Royals ballclub gets remembered forever because flags fly forever, but the 1980 team gets wildly overlooked. It was a 97-win team (as opposed to the 91-win 1985 team) that ran away with the division by fourteen games. The team was pretty balanced, finishing fourth in runs scored (as opposed to the 1985 club which finished second-to-last in runs scored) and fifth in runs allowed. They led the league in stolen bases with an amazing 185 swipes, but they were also third in on-base percentage, and sixth in walks. While they were ninth in home runs, they were third in doubles, and led the league in triples (Willie Wilson led the league with 15 triples). They had guys like Wilson and UL Washington who could swipe a bag, but also guys like George Brett, Willie Aikens and Hal McRae who could hit one out or at least plug one in the gap.
The team had a solid righty-lefty duo at the top of the rotation with Dennis Leonard (20-11 3.79 ERA) and Larry Gura (18-10 2.95 ERA) with good depth behind them with Paul Splittorff and Rich Gale. They were managed by Jim Frey, a former Orioles coach under Earl Weaver. Frey had come in to replace Whitey Herzog after Herzog had butted heads with General Manager Joe Burke. Frey would manage the Royals just that one pennant-winning season, and 70 games into the strike-shortened 1981 season. He would be fired in August, with the Royals in first place (in the second half for the strike-format standings) and replaced with Dick Howser.
The 1980 Series was a very close series, with the only game that was decided by more than two runs being Game 6, which Philadelphia won 4-1. Every key Philadelphia hit seemed to land just inches from a Royals defender's glove. Every key Royals at-bat seemed to end in a hard-hit ball right at a Philly defender. Bob Boone drops a foul pop-up - but Pete Rose is fortuitiously there to catch the rebound. It was a series in which everything seemed to go right for the Phillies, and if things are different by just a fraction, the Royals are perhaps 1980 Champions. They would be the ones remembered forever. Instead, all we remember is Willie Wilson striking out about a million times.
Its not Steve Carlton vs. Dennis Leonard this afternoon, but Kyle Kendrick vs. Wade Davis is pretty close.