K.C. Had A Blast

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Post Season Archives
 

November 4, 1985

K.C. Had A Blast

by Ron Fimrite


In the second inning of Sunday's final game of the 1985 World Series, The War Within the State Darryl Motley, Kansas City's stocky rightfielder, whacked a fastball thrown by St. Louis lefthander John Tudor deep into the leftfield seats at Royals Stadium. Deep but foul. Motley, frustrated because there was no score — the count was 3 and 2 at the time and there was a runner on base — slammed his bat hard into the dirt at home plate. He could tell by the sound of it, even above the thunderous din of the home crowd, that he had broken it. He called for another. That bat boy gave him a choice — a light bat or a dark one. Motley took the dark, stepped back into the box and hit Tudor's next pitch into the leftfield seats. Deep and fair. The Royals, seeking to make a comeback unprecedented in World Series history, were ahead 2-0.

In a Series in which so few runs had been scored (30 by the two teams combined in six games). Motley's blast seemed of incalculable significance. Actually, it was just a drop in the bucket. Before this night would end, the Royals would score nine more times, humiliating the proud Cardinals 11-zip, and take, as their manager, Dick Howser, likes to say, "the whole enchilada."

What was to have been a pitching duel between the staff aces, Tudor and the Royals' Bret Saberhagen, had become an embarrassment for the Cardinals and the crowning triumph of a memorable week for the wispy 21-year-old Saberhagen. The win was his second in the Series and his second complete game. He had allowed but one earned run. He was unanimously voted the Series' Most Valuable Player. And, most important to him, the day before his wife, Janeane, had given birth to the couple's first child, a nine-pound, three-ounce boy named Drew William. On the other side, Tudor, who at his most engaging might charitably be called grouchy, was so enraged by his shabby 2 1/3 innings (five earned runs and four walks) that he took a poke at an electric fan afterward and had to be packed off to a local hospital for repairs.

Motley, who started it all, was keenly aware of what he had wrought. "I knew," he said in a riotous Royal clubhouse afterward, "that we were making history." And so they were. The World Series championship was the first in the 17-year history of the franchise. The Royals became the first team ever to lose the first two games of a Series at home and win, and they were only the fifth team — the 1979 Pirates were the last — to trail in a Series three games to one and win. And their magnificent young pitchers had held the Cardinals, the National League's batting and scoring champions, to just 13 runs in seven games — a mere six runs in the five games played last week — and to the lowest average, an appalling .185, ever in a seven-game Series. Said St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog, "The Clydesdales have been on second base more than our runners." So few Cardinals reached base that a team that had stolen 310 bases during the season was held to only two in the Series. "With pitchers like those," said an astonished St. Louis coach, Red Schoendienst, "that team should've won 140 games."

 Ozzie Smith

1979:
St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith displays his defensive wizardry

photograph by
Manny Millan


Actually, Kansas City won 91 in the regular season and eight more in the playoffs and World Series, almost all but the last one the hard way. The Royals must now rank as one of the great comeback teams in baseball history. As late as July 21 they trailed the California Angels by 7 1/2 games. By the last week of the season they were still a game back. Then they beat the Angels three out of four and won the division. They lost the first two games and three out of four to Toronto before winning three in a row and the American League pennant. And they did exactly the same thing to the bewildered and angry Cardinals. The Cards' anger came to the surface in an ugly way during the Royals' six-run fifth inning in the seventh game. With the score 9-0 against him, Herzog, for reasons known only to himself, called on Joaquin Andujar, a failed starter in the third game, as his fourth pitcher of the inning. Andujar didn't last long. After plate umpire Don Denkinger, an American Leaguer who had proved a Cardinal menace the night before, called an obvious third ball on Royal catcher Jim Sundberg, Andujar flew into one of his patented tantrums. Herzog rushed out to restrain him and ended by arguing so vehemently, Denkinger ejected him. He thus became the first manager to be tossed out of a Series game since Billy Martin got the heave in '76. Herzog was not exactly displeased by his dismissal. "I'd seen enough," he said later in street clothes. "That wasn't a damn ball game. Like Casey says, 'Ain't no sense livin' in misery.'" The next pitch by Andujar was also obviously a ball, a call that prompted another shouting confrontation with the umpire. Andujar became the first player to be tossed out of the Series in 15 years. "I'm not sorry for nothing," he said. It was the first time both a manager and a player had been ejected from a Series game in 50 years.

The Cardinals were truly a sorry sight this night. Only a few days earlier they had seemed certain Series champions. Now they were exiting as buffoons. And it was only the day before that they had been this close to the title in a game as sublime as the finale was ridiculous.

The sixth game Saturday had that magical combination of excellence, luck, foolishness, irony, courage and gut-wrenching suspense that seems to find its way into this great sporting event year after year. But not since the sixth game of the '75 Series between the Reds and the Red Sox (won on Carlton Fisk's 12th inning homer) had all of these ingredients been present in such rich abundance. On the mound for the Royals was Hard Luck Charlie Leibrandt, who had carried a 2-0 lead and a two-hitter into the ninth inning of the second game and then lost 4-2 to a chain reaction of heartbreaking bloopers. On Saturday Charlie was once again hooked up with the Cardinals' glowering Danny Cox. It was a meeting that seemed a replica of their first in nearly every jarring detail. Leibrandt pitched a perfect first five innings, and he had another two-hit shutout entering the eighth. The Royals, meanwhile, were pecking away steadily if futilely at Cox. By the eighth, they had seven hits, but they didn't have any runs to show for them.

George Brett, Kansas City's Lochinvar, had killed a couple of rallies on his own, hitting into a double play in the sixth and striking out with a runner on in the eighth. In what appeared a sad piece of irony, the Royals' best chance to score came in the seventh when Leibrandt himself came to bat with two outs and runners on first and second. Before this Series Leibrandt had not batted since his National League days three years ago, but Howser refused to pinch-hit for him, and he struck out miserably on three pitches. It was deja vu for all the second-guessers, who had said that the second game was lost because of Howser's reluctance to lift Leibrandt in the ninth. Now they were saying fidelity to Charlie was again jeopardizing the cause. Howser was unmoved. Charlie was pitching too well to be taken out. The manager had obviously forgotten the dark cloud that hangs over poor Charlie, the only one around in Missouri skies so warm and crystalline.

With two out and runners on first and second in the Cardinal's eighth, Herzog sent Brian Harper, a virtually unused utility man, to bat for his pitcher, Cox. Harper hit a fastball into shallow center for another damaging bloop single off Leibrandt. The first run of the game scored. "I guess you could say it was my biggest hit ever," said Harper, who would enjoy a Warholian 15 minutes of celebrity. Charlie stared long and hard at the mound. "Why," he asked himself, as the Cardinal dugout erupted, "can't I get the third out?"

The Cardinals had not blown a ninth-inning lead all season, and no team had ever rallied in the ninth from the brink of elimination to win the Series. But wait. In the ninth Howser sent lefty Jorge Orta to bat against the Cardinals'righty reliever, Todd Worrell, who had struck out six straight Royals in the fifth game on Thursday. On a two-strike count, Orta hit a nubber off the end of his bat that bounded between Worrell and first baseman Jack Clark. Clark fielded it and flipped to the pitcher, who, the replays seemed to show, beat Orta to the bag. First-base umpire Denkinger (that man again) called him safe. Whitey roared from the dugout, spewing expletives that would continue for the better part of two days. Worrell said that Orta had actually stepped on the heel of his foot, clear enough indication that he'd gotten there first. "It's bleeping unbelievable," Whitey snarled, hurling a beer bottle into a wastebasket after the game. "We're gonna win the bleeping World Series and he boots that play."

Now it was the Cardinals' turn to boot one. On the next pitch, Steve Balboni lofted a stratospheric pop near the Royals' dugout that Clark, looking everywhere but at the ball, lost. By Whitey's figuring, his team should have had two outs by now. Balboni fouled off another pitch, then hit a single in the hole to left. Sundberg, up to bunt, fouled off two attempts, then, surprisingly, put a third one down fair. But Worrell was able to force Orta at third. Hal McRae, relegated to the bench in this non-year for the DH, now came in to hit for shortstop Buddy Biancalana, who had outplayed his Cardinal counterpart, Ozzie Smith, both offensively and defensively. McRae likes to swing at the first pitch when he's pinch-hitting, but he held off long enough for Cardinal catcher Darrell Porter to drop a slider for a passed ball that advanced the runners as neatly as a sacrifice would have.

By now, Dane Iorg was warming up in earnest for his anticipated appearance as a pinch hitter. "I was the only lefty around," he reasoned. Iorg is such an inveterate warmer-upper and clubhouse bat-swinger that he has become a case study for clubhouse attendants Joe Caronia and Pat Fetters, both of whom have passable impersonations of him — Swish. "Jeez, I've got my stroke." . . . Swish. . . . "I've got my stroke buck. Jeez." With first base open after the passed ball, McRae was intentionally walked to load the bases. Iorg came in to hit for relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry. "It's a situation you dream about as a child," Iorg said later. "Coming to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and a World Series game on the line. . . ." Iorg is no stranger to World Series heroics, though. In '82 he hit .529 as a designated hitter for . . . who else? . . . the Cardinals.

Iorg took one fastball inside, then swung at the next one. It was a handle hit, a broken-bat looper, hardly an epochal clout, but it dropped safely in rightfield. Two runs scored, the second on a magnificent headfirst slide by Sundberg underneath Porter's tag at the plate. A phalanx of Royals players headed by 230-pound pitcher Mike Jones charged after Iorg, their hero. Jones barreled into him with such force, he bloodied Iorg's nose. "I'm a lucky man," said Howser. Willie Wilson, waving a cigar, shouted almost incoherently, "Shocks the nation, shocks the bleeping world!" Said Leibrandt, reprieved for once, "I wasn't crying, but I sure felt like doing it."

The win may not have shocked the world, as Wilson suggested, but it did leave the Cardinals so stunned they never recovered. The Series was actually won in this game of high tension. And all night long on the streets of Kansas City, many horns were blowing in celebration.

It was a scene in sharp contrast to the one that had greeted the Royals in St. Louis after the opening two losses to the Cardinals. Now the Cards had only to win two of three at home, their average for the season, to wrap the Series up in a bright red ribbon. They were virtually hailed as champions the day they got back in town. A noontime rally downtown the day before the first home game had all the elements of a coronation, and the banners thrust forward by fans — TURN OUT THE LIGHTS, THE FAT LADY IS SINGING — bordered on the complacent. Then there was the red motif, which dictated that everyone in St. Louis, from schoolgirl to bank president, dress as ketchup bottles. Busch Stadium itself looked like a bowl of cherries, and when they trotted out the ancient Gussie Busch, team owner and Braumeister, behind his team of Clydesdales before the home opener, the scarlet hordes rose as one to hail him and what he stands for and to clap to the tune of the Budweiser song, Here Comes the King. The city was in a high old mood. Victory was inevitable.

The rub, though, was that the Royals were the looser of the two teams, although "loose" is a term Howser disparages. "I think the players use it loosely," he stated firmly. "What we are is confident and relaxed." The most confident and relaxed of the Royals seemed to be expectant father Saberhagen. He beat the Cardinals 6-1 in Game 3, allowing only six hits and one walk while striking out eight. Frank White, unaccustomed as he was to batting cleanup, drove in three runs, two with a homer off Andujar in the fifth, and Brett reached base in all five plate appearances — three walks and two singles — to tie a Series record. By the eighth inning, Saberhagen was in such control that he could mug for the ABC cameras. He asked his wife over the air, "Is the baby still there?" and then signaled for her to hold on until he could join her in Kansas City.

In Game 4, the Royals had to face Tudor, and they were no match for his artistry on this night. He gave up only five hits and a walk in the 3-0 victory as Tito Landrum and Willie McGee hit solo homers off Bud Black. But Tudor did have one scary moment in the seventh when McRae, pinch-hitting, stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two out. McRae, a notorious first-ball hitter, did just that. Only he hit it on the ground to third. The Cards had a home victory. Saberhagen, however, was cavalier. "They've fallen right into our trap," he said. "We've got them where we want them."

On Thursday afternoon, workmen were creating a television platform in the Royals' clubhouse before the game when second baseman White arrived. "They were making all the preparations for interviews in the losers' clubhouse," said White. "They were getting ready for all the long faces." Over in the Cardinal clubhouse, lockers were draped in plastic in anticipation of the champagne that would flow.

But the Royals won so easily that night, 6-1 behind Danny Jackson's five-hitter and Wilson's two-run triple in the second, that the play of the game was credited to coach Lee May, who caught Brett and prevented the K.C. star from being seriously injured as he was sliding out of control into the visitors' dugout while chasing Terry Pendleton's foul pop.

Brett, of course, survived his fall, although he was poked in the eye by May. He had four hits in the final game, giving him a Series-leading average of .370, three percentage points better than Wilson's. And it was he, awash in the bubbly in the winners' clubhouse, who most eloquently expressed the true meaning of the Royals' extraordinary triumph. Shouted Brett above the celebratory clamor, "I know, I know, people were saying, 'God, we've got this damn all-Missouri Series. Who cares?' Well, do you think I wanted to be drafted by Kansas City, this little town in Missouri? I'm from L.A. and I wanted to play for the Dodgers. But I'll tell you something: I'm proud, very proud, to be a Kansas City Royal." He laughed. Then he said, "And you know what it is we did, don't you? We showed 'em."


 

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