Coming off their historic comeback in the American League Championship Series, the Royals would now face a team that they often aspired to be - their cross state rival the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals had been a model franchise for years, having previously won nine World Series titles. The 1985 Cards had vanquished the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Champioship Series in six games and were anxious to face the Royals.
There were numerous story lines for the series. Among them:
· Royals manager Dick Howser had broken in as second baseman playing for the Kansas City Athletics in 1961. That rookie season was Howser’s best as a professional, he hit .280/.377/.362 with 172 hits and 92 walks. He made the All-Star team and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Now he was trying to bring a championship to the city where he got his start.
· In what was possibly the greatest postseason injury ever, Cardinals rookie star Vince Coleman, who had stolen a league leading 110 bases and was the fastest man in baseball, got rolled up in a tarp moving two miles an hour during a rain delay in Game Four of the National League Championship Series, breaking his tibia, causing him to miss the World Series.
· The Series was dubbed the I-70 Series or the Show Me State series. It was the second all-Missouri series. In 1944, the Cardinals had defeated their crosstown rival, the St. Louis Browns in six games.
· Cardinal Manager Whitey Herzog helped build the Royals dynasty during his time managing in Kansas City from 1975 to 1979. Herzog also played three seasons for the Kansas City Athletics (1958-1960).
· There was a considerable amount of cross -ollination between the two teams. Besides Herzog, the Cardinals featured former Royals catcher Darrell Porter, outfielder Steve Braun and pitcher Andy Hassler. Kansas City had former Cardinals Lonnie Smith and Dane Iorg. Jamie Quirk had played for both teams, Kansas City first, then St. Louis, then back to Kansas City.
· Bret Saberhagen’s wife had given birth to their first child on October 26th, the day Game Six was played.
As for me, I was a newlywed in late August of 1985. My bride was not particularly interested in baseball, but soon got an introduction to the dedication of Royals nation. This series was the first where all games would be played in prime time. The games often ran late into the evening. My new bride would stand at the door to our living room, wearing her most enticing evening wear and ask me if I would be coming to bed soon. Remember this was before DVR. VHS existed, but we were so poor that we did not have a VHS player. It was either watch the game live or read about it in tomorrow’s paper. Talk about being conflicted!
For several evenings I had to inform my disappointed bride that I would be coming to bed soon, right after the game was over. I patiently tried explaining to her that this was the World Series and the Royals were in the series. I gently explained that despite Kansas City’s winning tradition, this doesn’t happen every year and we need to enjoy it. Little did I know that it would be 30 long seasons before Kansas City would made it back to the fall classic. She reminds me of that now and then. The good news is she did develop into a baseball fan and a fan of the Royals.
Games One and Two were set for Kansas City, with Three, Four and Five to be played in St. Louis, then back to Kansas City for Six and Seven. This series also marked the last year of the alternating designated hitter rule in the World Series. From 1976 to 1985, the DH was used in even-numbered years and the pitchers batted in odd-numbered years.
Game one was played on Saturday evening, October 19th. The game was, somewhat unbelievably, the first Saturday night game in World Series history. The Royals started Danny Jackson, fresh off a dominating performance in the Championship series, while the Cardinals went with veteran lefty John Tudor. Tudor had been acquired in the off-season from the Pirates and had gone 21-8 for St. Louis in the regular season with a 1.93 ERA and a league leading 10 shutouts.
41,650 fans packed Royals Stadium for the game on a cool 50-degree night. Muriel and Ewing Kauffman threw out the ceremonial first pitches from their seats by the Royals dugout.
Kansas City struck first. In the bottom of the second, Jim Sundberg drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a single by Daryl Motley. Steve Balboni, who found his batting stroke late in the Toronto series, ripped a single to left field to score Sundberg. Motley advanced to third when the throw from left got away from Terry Pendleton. The Royals tried a suicide squeeze, but Buddy Biancalana missed the bunt which left Motley in no man’s land. Motley did his best in the run down but was tagged out going back to third.
St. Louis tied it in the third with a walk, a single and a run scoring fielder’s choice then took the lead in the fourth when Tito Landrum, Coleman’s replacement, dropped a soft liner into right field and beat the throw to second for a one-out double. The next batter, Cedar Cedeno, a late season trade acquisition who was making the first World Series appearance in his 16-year career, lined a broken bat double down the left field line, scoring Landrum. The Royals threatened in their half of the fourth when Sundberg led off with a double and moved to third on a Motley fly ball to deep right field. The next batter, Steve Balboni lifted a foul ball down the left field line. Cardinal third baseman Terry Pendleton made a terrific over the shoulder catch running away from home plate. Sundberg tagged and Pendleton alertly threw home, nailing Sundberg by a good six feet.
The Cardinals only mustered four hits off Jackson in seven innings but made them count for two runs. Tudor pitched 6 2⁄3 innings, scattering seven hits, but only allowing one run. Dan Quisenberry worked a clean eighth, but the Cardinals nicked him for an insurance run in the ninth as Tommy Herr stroked a leadoff single to center and Jack Clark brought him home with a screaming double to left. Clark was one of those hitters that everything he hit seemed to be hit at 100 mph.
Hard throwing rookie reliever Todd Worrell shut the Royals down over the final two and one third innings to give game one to St. Louis by the score of 3-1.
Game Two was played Sunday evening, October 20th in front of a capacity crowd of 41,656. St. Louis started Danny Cox while the Royals went to Charlie Leibrandt. Cox had a career year in 1985, going 18-9 with a 2.88 ERA and a career high 241 innings.
The game was scoreless going into the bottom of the fourth when the Royals once again drew first blood. Willie Wilson slapped a single into right field and George Brett followed with a double to right. Wilson was running on the pitch and scored easily. The next batter, Frank White, hit a line drive into the left-center gap and beat the throw to second with a headfirst slide. Brett scored easily, making it 2-0 Kansas City. Both pitchers settled into a groove and the score remained 2-0 going into the bottom of the seventh when Buddy Biancalana drew a one out walk and advanced to second on a Leibrandt sacrifice. Lonnie Smith roped a single into left field as Biancalana motored around third. Landrum made a strong throw to Porter who applied the tag at the plate to end the inning.
Leibrandt sailed into the ninth with a two-hitter but immediately ran into trouble. Willie McGee led off with a bouncer over Brett for a double. Leibrandt retired Ozzie Smith and Tommy Herr only to have Jack Clark smoked a single to left to score McGee. Instead of going with Quisenberry, Howser stuck with Leibrandt and paid the price. Tito Landrum stuck out his bat and the ball found it and the dying quail dropped behind Balboni for a double. Clark held up at third. Leibrandt intentionally walked 34-year-old Cesar Cedeno so he could pitch to Terry Pendleton.
Howser had Quisenberry ready in the pen but elected to stay with Leibrandt. The switch-hitting Pendleton was in the second season of a very solid 15-year career and he was a hitter. He delivered, driving a ball into the left field corner for a bases clearing double and stunning the Kansas City crowd. Howser then called on Quisenberry, who intentionally walked Porter before getting Andy Van Slyke on a fly ball to center. Jeff Lahti set the Royals down in the ninth and that was it, 4-2 St. Louis and two games to nothing lead.
The Royals once again found themselves down two-games-to-nothing and with the series moving back to St. Louis, many overzealous St. Louis fans and civic leaders sensed a sweep. A large banner hung from the airport tower at St. Louis’s Lambert International Airport welcoming fans to St. Louis, home of the 1985 World Series champions. The Royals noticed. The Cardinals did too. Andy Van Slyke said, “the city and the papers and the organization made the mistake of anticipating a World Series Championship before it happened. As soon as we heard about that (the sign), a lot of players reacted very negatively, because the last thing you want to do is wake up a sleeping bear. At that point, we really felt like the Royals were not playing to their capacity.” Among the local celebrities in the crowd was heavyweight champ Michael Spinks, who was still three years away from being knocked into another dimension by Mike Tyson.
Kansas City started father-to-be Bret Saberhagen while the Cardinals went with their own 20-game winner, Joaquin Andujar. August Busch Jr. threw out the first pitch and Ozzie Smith did his patented back flip while taking his position in the first and that was pretty much all the highlights for the overconfident Cardinals. The Cardinals threatened in the first, with Willie McGee singling then stealing second. Saberhagen bore down and got the synophrys slugger Jack Clark admiring a sweet breaking curve ball for strike three while Sundberg threw McGee out trying to steal third for a nifty inning ending double play.
The game was scoreless going into the top of the fourth when Jim Sundberg drew a lead off walk. With one out, Buddy Biancalana squibbed an infield single. Saberhagen delivered a perfect bunt to move the runners into scoring position. Lonnie Smith then took revenge on his former team, delivering a double to right in front of the diving Van Slyke, scoring both runs. The Royals added to their lead in the fifth. Brett led off with a single to right which brought up Frank White. In this game, White became the first second baseman to bat cleanup in a World Series since Jackie Robinson in 1952. White delivered, driving an Andujar fastball deep into the left-center seats to give the Royals a 4-0 lead. That was all for Joaquin as Herzog pulled him in favor of Bill “Soup” Campbell.
St. Louis finally got on the board in the sixth with a Clark single scoring Ozzie Smith. Kansas City answered right back, plating two more runs in the seventh with a Frank White double scoring Brett and a Biancalana single bringing home White. Saberhagen breezed through the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and with the 6-1 win, the Royals were back in the Series. There was the obligatory griping after the game, with Herzog saying “Andujar had an 8 by 8 strike zone, and we had an American League umpire behind the plate (Jim McKean). Saberhagen’s strike zone was about 30 by 30 and they won the game.”
Game Four was played Wednesday evening, October 23rd. The Cardinals started lefty John Tudor, who had won 15 consecutive decisions in Busch Stadium. The Royals countered with their own lefty, Bud Black. The Cardinals struck first, when Tito Landrum belted an opposite field home run in the second inning. They added to their lead in the third when Willie McGee roped a Black fastball over the left field fence. 2-0 St. Louis. In the bottom of the fifth, Terry Pendleton hit a one-out triple and scored when Black threw Tom Nieto’s suicide squeeze bunt past Jim Sundberg. 3-0 St. Louis. The Royals threatened in the seventh, loading the bases with two outs, but Tudor got pinch-hitter Hal McRae to ground out to third. That’s how it stayed as Tudor pitched a complete game, limiting the Royals to five hits. The victory put St. Louis one game away from their second World Championship in the last four years. Once again, the City of St. Louis jumped the gun by announcing the planned victory parade.
Now the Royals backs were truly against the wall. George Brett said “There was no big team meeting. Everybody knew what we had to do. You just played that game like it was going to be the last game of the season. You give it all you got. The pressures on the Cardinals. They’re up three games to one. If they end up blowing the series, they are going to remember it for the rest of their lives. If we come back and win, it’s going to be one of the greatest comebacks in World Series history.”
The night before the game, Dick Howser called his daughter Jana at 11:30 and told her to meet him at the hotel restaurant. When she got off the elevator and came around the corner, she saw a sea of Garnet and Gold. Florida State fans. Dick Howser had been an All-American shortstop for the Seminoles and was head coach at alma mater for the 1979 season. Howser’s friends had organized a caravan and had driven all night from Tallahassee to St. Louis to support their longtime friend.
The Cardinals clubhouse was stocked with champagne. The score was knotted at one going into the top of the second. Sundberg hit a one-out double to get the line moving. Biancalana, having a solid series, knocked a single to right to score Sundberg. Lonnie Smith drew a two-out walk off Cardinal starter Bob Forsch bringing Willie Wilson to the plate. Wilson cleared the bases with a triple to the wall in right-center, making the score 4-1 Kansas City.
Royals starter Danny Jackson was brilliant, throwing a complete game five-hitter and saving Kansas City’s season. The Royals tacked on two insurance runs, making the final score 6-1, and more importantly moving the series back to Kansas City.
Game Six returned to Royals Stadium on Saturday evening, October 26th. 41,628 fans jammed into the stadium hoping that the Boys in Blue could extend their season to a game seven. The starting pitchers were a rematch of Game Two, Charlie Leibrandt for the Royals and Danny Cox for St. Louis.
Astronaut Sally Ride, the first woman in space, seated with her astronaut husband Steve Hawley (from Salina, Kansas) threw out the first pitch. When you ask someone to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, it can go well, or it can be a fiasco - see John Wall in 2011 or 50 Cent in 2014. Baseball history is littered with abysmal first pitches. Ride on the other hand, threw out a dandy. Nice form and a solid strike to Jim Sundberg.
The game was scoreless going into the bottom of the fourth. Brett led off for the Royals and hit a 3-2 change up deep into right field that drove Cardinal right fielder Cesar Cedeno to the base of the fence to make the catch. The next batter, Frank White, laid down a beautiful first pitch bunt and beat the throw from Pendleton. With Pat Sheridan at the plate, White took off for second. Porter’s throw beat him to the bag, but Ozzie Smith pulled up to soon and missed the tag. Second base umpire Bill Williams, blocked by Smith’s body, called White out. Nobody argued about the call even though replay showed that White appeared to be safe. Sheridan promptly stroked a single to right, which most likely would have scored White and given the Royals the lead.
Leibrandt held Cardinals hitless for five innings, and only gave up two hits over seven. Finally, in the eighth, the Cards put one on the board. Pendleton singled and Cedeno drew a walk. Herzog sent up pinch hitter Brian Harper to bat for the pitcher Cox. Leibrandt’s first two pitches make Harper look bad. With the fourth pitch, Leibrandt left a fastball over the plate and Harper spanked it into center field, the two-out single scoring Pendleton. Dan Quisenberry came on to get the final out of the eighth. Quisenberry sailed through the ninth, only giving up a single to Tito Landrum, who was proving to be a fine replacement for Vince Coleman.
Then things got interesting. Herzog brought in Todd Worrell to close out the game and deliver the championship to St. Louis. The hard throwing Worrell had been a starting pitcher in his minor league career and was switched to the bullpen after his mid-August callup to St. Louis. The first batter of the ninth was pinch hitter Jorge Orta. In his last appearance in Game Five, Worrell had tied a World Series record by striking out six Royals in a row.
He got two quick strikes on Orta and seemed poised to break the record when Orta slapped a chopper in the gap between Worrell and first baseman Jack Clark. Worrell initially broke for the ball then veered to the bag when he saw Clark going for the ball. Clark made a nice play on the ball and his underhand toss to Worrell looked to beat Orta to the bag, but it was a bang bang play and first base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe. Herzog made a sprint to first to argue but to no avail.
I met Denkinger several years ago and asked him about the call. Denkinger is a fine man, even-keeled, somewhat quiet and circumspect. Unfortunately, this call overshadowed what was a fine thirty-year career. Denkinger is a stand-up guy and has never evaded the questions about the call, though I’m certain he’s grown weary of answering them. In today’s game, the call would have been overturned and forgotten within a week.
Said Denkinger, “I can remember everything about that particular call except what was the reason the ball took so long to get to first base from (first baseman) Jack Clark? I don’t know, because I saw where the ball was hit. Then, we make a decision of where we are going to call the play. It was hit to the first baseman. I said, well, he’s going to field it and flip it to Worrell and I’m going to have a foot race to the bag. I went immediately to the bag to get what I thought was the best position to call the play. That’s where it fell apart because the ball didn’t get to Todd Worrell until he got to the bag. Now, I’ve got to make sure he catches it. So, under normal circumstances, the umpire at first base listens for the ball to hit the glove and then decides if it’s there before the hitter, and you’re not right up on top of first base. That would just be the routine way that was played. I watched him catch it. I looked down, the foot was on the bag and I called him safe. Now in the matter of time it took me to do that, obviously it made him safe and he wasn’t. I can honestly say, and I will always say, I thought I had the play right. I thought I had it 100 percent.”
Royals radio announcer Denny Matthews summed up the sequence by saying, “I must report to you in all honesty that Jorge Orta was out.”
Orta, near the end of a solid 16-year career in which he rapped out over 1,600 hits, counted his lucky stars. The next batter, Steve Balboni, took a cut at the first pitch he saw and lofted a pop foul, high toward the Royals dugout. Porter and Clark converged on the ball. Porter initially called for it then said he didn’t have it. Porter and Clark had a brief pow-wow looking at each other. Clark then made a rookie mistake and looked to see where the dugout was. When he located the ball again, it had drifted behind him. He made a couple of awkward dance steps for the ball as it bounced harmlessly on the turf.
Balboni fell behind two strikes, no balls before driving the third pitch into left field, moving Orta to second. Sitting on my couch in Ft. Morgan, Colorado with my new bride beside me, I could hardly contain my glee as the Cardinals were coming unraveled. Herzog paid a quick visit to the mound to calm his rookie reliever’s nerves as Jim Sundberg dug in. Onix Concepcion came in to run for Balboni. Sundberg and Worrell waged a battle before Sundberg laid down a nice bunt that Worrell fielded and made an even better, and gutsier throw to third to get Orta.
With runners on first and second, Howser called on Hal McRae, giving one of his best hitters a chance to deliver the Royals. On the second pitch, Porter couldn’t get his glove on a late breaking slider. The ball glanced off his glove and rolled to the backstop, moving both runners into scoring position. The Cardinals wisely elected to walk McRae, bringing Dane Iorg to the plate. Ball one, low. On the second pitch, Iorg looped a soft hit into right field for the biggest hit of his career. Concepcion easily scored the tying run. Sundberg churned around third and with a headfirst dive beat the strike from the strong-armed Van Slyke. Game. 2-1 Kansas City and the improbable comeback continues.
Game Seven was played on Sunday evening, October 27th. Trying to salvage their season and avoid the embarrassment of blowing a three-games-to-one lead, St. Louis started John Tudor while Kansas City went with new father Bret Saberhagen. In a strange twist of fate, the home plate umpire for game seven would be…Don Denkinger. The Cardinals were still blaming Denkinger for their Game Six collapse, never mind the fact that they had a catch able foul ball drop and a passed ball that put runners into scoring position. Or the fact that they came into the game hitting .161.
The party got started in the second inning. With one out, Steve Balboni drew a full-count walk. Tudor went full count on the next batter, Darryl Motley, before Motley hit a long blast down the left field line that hooked foul. No problem. On the next pitch, Motley straightened it out and deposited the Tudor fastball about twenty rows deep. 2-0 Kansas City.
The Redbird wheels came off in the third. Lonnie Smith led off with a walk. With one out, Tudor jammed George Brett with a high fastball that Brett tried to hold off, but it hit his bat and rolled toward third base good for an infield single. Frank White quickly fell behind no balls, two strikes. The Royals pulled off a double steal with Lonnie Smith beating Terry Pendleton to the bag, negating a perfect throw from Porter. White worked Tudor for a walk, loading the bases. Herzog started losing it, barking at Denkinger about the strike zone. Tudor became a one-man rain delay, working slowly, unable to find the strike zone. Jim Sundberg drew a walk, bringing home Smith.
Herzog made the slow trek to the mound and called on Soup Campbell to quell the insurrection. Steve Balboni wasn’t having any of it, driving a sharp grounder into left field, scoring Brett and White. 5-0 Kansas City and Royals fans everywhere were starting to celebrate. Meanwhile, Saberhagen was cruising, holding the Cardinals to two hits in the first five innings of work.
St. Louis imploded in the bottom of the fifth. Sundberg led off with a single to right. Herzog replaced Campbell with Jeff Lahti. Balboni punched yet another single to left. Darryl Motley, feeling it, stroked a single into center field scoring Sundberg. Biancalana struck out. Saberhagen dropped a bunt that forced Motley at second. Lonnie Smith, still sticking it to his old team, ripped a double past Pendleton and into the left field corner, scoring Balboni and Saberhagen. Willie Wilson beat out a chopper to second, scoring Smith. Herzog gave the ball to Ricky Horton. 9-0 Kansas City.
George Brett greeted Horton with a first pitch single, moving Wilson to third. Horton fell behind Frank White, two balls, no strikes prompting Herzog to bring in the combustible Joaquin Andujar. White battled Andujar then coolly looped a single into left, scoring Wilson. 10-0 Kansas City. Andujar started jawing with Denkinger about the strike zone. Andujar missed on an inside pitch and threw his arms up in disgust setting off one of the more bizarre arguments in World Series history. Herzog decided he needed some of it and got himself tossed. Andujar stayed for one more pitch, which was ball four, walking Sundberg, before he too blew up and got tossed. For a moment it looked like Andujar was going to physically confront Denkinger before teammates intercepted him. Bob Forsch came in to relieve Andujar and promptly threw a wild pitch, scoring Brett. 11-0 Royals. Forsch mercifully got Balboni on a fly ball to center ending the inning. The Royals had sent eleven men to the plate, scoring six times and for all intents and purposes, put the dagger into the Cardinals.
The remainder of the game was anti-climactic, ending when Andy Van Slyke lifted a fly ball to right field that was corralled by Game 7 hero Darryl Motley. Saberhagen was in total control, holding St. Louis to five hits in a complete game shutout while delivering the Royals their first World Series Championship.
The Royals became the first team in the 82-year history of the Fall Classic to lose their first two games at home and come back to win the series. For the series, the Royals batted a robust .288. They only hit two home runs, but they were both huge, the Frank White blast in Game Three and Motley’s bell ringer in Game Seven.
Bret Saberhagen was awarded the MVP, tossing two complete game victories and only giving up one run. The Royals staff was excellent, finishing with a 1.89 ERA. Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Charlie Leibrandt carried the staff, throwing 50 of the 62-total innings. Of the regulars, five hit well over .300 in the series (Brett, Balboni, Wilson, Motley and Lonnie Smith).
As for St. Louis? Despite the constant carping about the Denkinger call, the Cardinals only had themselves to blame. Their staff ERA was 3.96 and they gave up 68 hits to the Royals. Their hitters weren’t any better, posting a team batting average of .185 and only collecting 40 hits in the series. They blew the chance to end the series at home by losing two games at Busch Stadium and didn’t help themselves by only scoring two runs in the final three games of the series. Credit must be given to the Royals pitching staff for their efforts in shutting down the Cardinal bats.
President Ronald Reagan made a congratulatory phone call to the Royals clubhouse after the game and inadvertently called Dan Quisenberry, Jim. When the Royals later visited the White House, Reagan apologized to Quisenberry for the mistake. Quiz replied, “that’s okay, Don.”
Given the level of success the Royals enjoyed from 1973 to 1985, who would have thought it would be thirty years before the team made it back to the playoffs? Not me. Royals fans of that age grew accustomed to winning.
There’s been a lot of changes since that 1985 title. Royals Stadium is now known as Kauffman Stadium. The ballpark has been remodeled and expanded, but the bones remain the same. The beautiful sloping upper deck and the center field scoreboard look just as they did in 1985.
The Royals clubhouse has been rearranged, with the pitchers now on the side closest to the field. The Royals lost Dick Howser to brain cancer less than two years after the title. Dan Quisenberry was lost to cancer in 1998. Darrell Porter and Joaquin Andujar are both gone, Porter in 2002 and Andujar in 2015.
The championship was the culmination of a long and often frustrating climb from their expansion roots in 1969. The Royals had to overcome the Oakland A’s dynasty of the early ‘70’s and outlived the Yankees dynasty of the mid ‘70’s only to lose a heartbreaking series to the Phillies in 1980 and then ran into the Detroit Tigers buzz saw in 1984. For Royal fans, the teams of the ‘80’s will always hold a special place in their hearts. “That was the best group of guys I ever played with.” said Steve Balboni.