When play resumes in a few weeks, 2021 will be the 53rd season of Royals baseball. Having been fortunate enough to see them all, I thought it would be an easy project to put together the ten most important moments. It wasn’t. After starting with a list from memory, I expanded it with some internet research and eventually came up with 22 games, plays, and special moments. It also revived a lot of memories. George Brett was a special player. Bo Jackson was a special player. Those 2015 Royals were a joy to watch and Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer always seemed to be present in the biggest moments. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did putting it together.
Let’s start with the honorable mention, in chronological order:
April 8, 1969 - The first Royals game
Joe Keough slaps a 12th inning single to rightfield, scoring Joe Foy and giving the expansion Royals their first victory, 4-3 over the powerful Minnesota Twins. No one in Kansas City knew what to expect from their expansion team. The fans had grown used to the losing while the Athletics had been in town. Starting left fielder Lou Piniella had just been acquired a few days earlier in a trade. No matter. Piniella led off the Royals first with a double, the first hit in franchise history, and when Jerry Adair followed with a single, Sweet Lou came around to score the first run. The powerful Twins, led by Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, and Graig Nettles, would go on to win the American League West with a 97-65 record, but this day belonged to the Royals.
October 9, 1977 - George comes up swinging
In the bottom of the first inning of the deciding Game 5 of the ALCS, with one out and Hal McRae on first, George Brett lashes a triple over the head of Mickey Rivers. As Brett slides into third, Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles kicks Brett, setting off a massive brawl. I loved this play for several reasons. One, unless you lived through it, it’s hard to understand the intensity of that rivalry. The Yankees had a bit of Evil Empire bully vibe going on and this play showed that the Royals were not going to take any crap from them. Two, I love the way the late Thurman Munson fought his way into the scrum to lay on top of Brett to protect him from the mob. Maybe these guys didn’t hate each other as much as we thought? I also love the sight of Billy Martin and Fred Patek standing outside the scrum with Martin’s arm draped around Freddie, telling Patek not to get involved. And no one got ejected. They just dusted themselves off and went back to playing ball.
October 6, 1978 - Uno, dos, tres - Game 3 of the 1978 ALCS at Yankee Stadium
George Brett, batting a rare leadoff, blasts three consecutive solo home runs off Catfish Hunter. I remember driving home from college that afternoon and listening to the game on the radio. The fifth inning had just ended, and Fred White said, “at the end of five it’s New York three, George Brett three”. Unfortunately, the Yanks would win this game when Thurman Munson hit a monster home run off Doug Bird in the bottom of the eighth to put New York ahead for good. The home run would be the last post-season homer of Munson’s career as he tragically died in a plane accident the next summer. Goose Gossage came on to get a three-out save in the 6-5 New York win. The Yankees would win Game Four, and the series, the next day by a score of 2-1, but all everyone remembers is the Brett onslaught and the Munson shot into Monument Park.
August 17, 1980 - Brett eclipses .400
In the bottom of the seventh with the score tied at two, in front of almost 31,000 sweltering and delirious fans, George stroked a double into the left-center gap, scoring Frank White and John Wathan and pushing his season average to .401. Brett went 4-for-4 that afternoon, with five RBI in leading the Royals to an 8 to 3 victory. Brett tipped his helmet and held his arms up in a “V” while the fans gave him a standing ovation. Brett’s average would peak at .407 after an August 26th game against Milwaukee when he thrashed the Brewers with a 5 for 5 performance. He would finish the season at .390, but in August of 1980 many of us thought Brett would be the next man to hit .400.
October 11, 1985 – Brett carries Royals past the Blue Jays, Game 3 of the ALCS
George turns in a 4-for-4 day at the plate, including two home runs and three RBI to lead KC to a 6 to 5 victory. George also made a huge play in the field in the third inning. With one out and Damaso Garcia on third, Lloyd Moseby hit a hard chopper to Brett. Brett made a spectacular stop behind the bag and in one motion whirled and fired a strike to catcher Jim Sundberg, who applied the tag to Garcia. Bret Saberhagen then picked Moseby off first to end the inning. If Brett fails to get Garcia, the inning, game, and series might end differently.
August 26, 1991 - Sabes twirls a no-hitter
From the moment he arrived as a 20-year-old in 1984, Bret Saberhagen quickly became the Royals ace. He won two Cy Young awards and pitched the Royals to the 1985 World Series title. On the evening of August 26th, in what was his last season in Kansas City, Saberhagen was almost perfect. He shut down the Chicago White Sox that night to record the only no-hitter of his career and the last by a Royals pitcher.
The only flaw on the evening was a fifth-inning error charged to left fielder Kirk Gibson on a ball hit by Dan Pasqua. The deep fly grazed off Gibson’s glove and was initially ruled a hit, but the official scorer, Del Black, ruled it an error after watching a replay. The game took two hours and thirty minutes to complete and scored a 90. Saberhagen would only make six more starts for the Royals before being shipped to the New York Mets in the off-season. Saberhagen also threw a no-hitter in the California High School Championship game in 1982 at Dodger Stadium.
October 12, 2015 – Royals keep the line moving, Game Four of the ALDS against the Houston Astros
The Astros led this game 6-2 going into the top of the eighth inning thanks to back-to-back home runs by Carlos Correa and Colby Rasmus in the bottom of the seventh. With the Astro’s holding a two-games-to-one lead in the best of five series, it looked bleak for the Royals. I had taken a long lunch break to watch the game and going into the eighth slipped into the bathroom to freshen myself up for a dispirited return to the office. When I came back to the TV, I noticed something amazing was happening.
Alex Rios led off with a single. Alcides Escobar singled. Ben Zobrist singled. Now the bases were loaded for Lorenzo Cain and he delivered with a single scoring Rios. Tony Sipp came on to pitch. Eric Hosmer greeted him with a single, scoring Escobar. 6-4 Astros, bases still loaded, no one out. I thought, as long as Ned doesn’t call for a bunt, we can do this!
Kendrys Morales stepped in against Sipp. Morales hit a tailor-made double-play ball up the middle, but the baseball Gods intervened. Somehow, someway, the ball took a magical hop over the glove of the normally sure-handed Correa and bounded into center field. Zobrist scores! Cain scores! I nearly hurt myself dancing with joy. Jarrod Dyson came on to run for Morales and promptly stole second! Moose went down swinging, but Drew Butera had a great at-bat and worked a walk. Butera! Alex Gordon hit a ground-out to second, which scored Hosmer with the final salvo of the inning. Kansas City 7, Houston 6! In the top of the ninth, Hosmer slammed a two-run home run, just to make sure there was no doubt about who the daddy was in this game. Wade Davis came on for the save and the Royals lived to play another day.
October 14, 2015 – Kendrys puts the trash can bangers on ice – Game Five of the ALDS against Houston
Coming off their emotional rescue win in Game Four, who knew what Game Five might bring? Would Houston recover? Would Kansas City keep riding their momentum? 40,566 roaring fans packed into Kauffman that evening as Johnny Cueto took the mound for the Royals. Houston jumped to a quick 2-0 lead, but the Royals cut it in half in the bottom of the fourth. Kansas City took the lead in the bottom of the fifthon a Rios double and a Zobrist sacrifice fly. Going into the bottom of the eighth, it was still 4-2 Kansas City but with the Astro’s potent lineup, a two-run lead felt precarious. Dallas Keuchel came on to pitch the 8th for Houston. Escobar led off with a double to right. Cain drew a one-out walk. With two outs, Kendrys Morales stepped to the plate and on a 2-2 pitch slammed a low-breaking ball into the left-center stands for a three-run home run and the party was on. Wade Davis came on in the ninth and when Paulo Orlando made a nice running catch of George Springer’s drive to right for the final out, the Royals had completed an unlikely comeback.
Next week: Great moments #10 through #6