In their first game against an AL East team, the Royals staged an epic comeback, scoring five runs in the ninth to upend the defending World Series champion Detroit Tigers. The game was played at Tiger Stadium in front of a crowd of 8,497, which included Royals owner Ewing Kauffman, who had flown to Detroit on his private jet for the series.
Not only did Kansas City overcome the champions, they did so by defeating their star pitcher, Denny McLain, coming off a 31-win season. Despite a Chuck Harrison RBI single in the second and a Lou Piniella home run leading off the seventh, the Royals came to the plate in the ninth facing a 6-2 deficit. Ed Kirkpatrick started the rally with a double. Piniella walked, and with one out Bob Oliver singled to load the bases. Jerry Adair bounced into a forceout at second, but beat the throw to first to keep the game alive. Harrison singled to make the score 6-4. Dick Radatz replaced McClain on the mound, but pinch-hitter Hawk Taylor hit a Radatz offering into the upper deck in left-center field, and the Royals had a 7-6 lead.
The drama wasn’t quite over. Wally Bunker, who had worked a perfect eighth inning in relief, began the bottom of the ninth with a strikeout, but Gates Brown singled. With two outs, Bill Freehan singled and Willie Horton walked to load the bases. Moe Drabowsky was summoned from the bullpen and picked up his fourth save by getting a Jim Northrup groundout.
The late-inning heroics picked up Royals starter Bill Butler, who had been selected from Detroit in the expansion draft the previous fall. Butler did not have a good game against his former organization. He didn’t make it out of the fifth inning, surrendering five runs on seven hits and three walks.
The win improved Kansas City’s record to 14-11 and also put them just 2.5 games out of first place in the AL West.
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