It had been apparent it would happen for months, but the Royals made it official as they clinched the AL West title in a doubleheader split with the Angels on a Wednesday night at Royals Stadium. Kansas City won the first game, 5-0, before dropping the second game, 7-4, but still had a raucous celebration in their locker room afterwards.
Dennis Leonard’s complete-game effort in the first game put the Royals in the postseason as Kansas City became the first team in either league to earn a division title. Leonard improved to 19-9 as he limited the Angels to three hits and two walks and struck out nine. California didn’t even have a runner reach third base.
The Royals gave Leonard all the runs he needed in the first inning. Willie Wilson singled off Angels starter Ralph Botting to lead off and U L Washington walked. The runners pulled off a double steal ahead of Hal McRae’s sacrifice fly. Although Amos Otis followed with a walk and he and Washington pulled off another double steal, the runners were stranded at second and third.
The Royals then added two more runs in the fifth. Willie Aikens walked with one out. Singles by John Wathan and White brought Aikens around to score. Pinch-hitter Clint Hurdle singled to score Wathan.
From there, it was all Leonard. After a single in the fourth, he retired 16 straight hitters. That streak ended when he walked Carney Lansford in the ninth, but Leonard struck out Jason Thompson to end the game and give Kansas City its fourth division title in five seasons.
Between games, the crowd of 25,908 got a special treat. A group of fans paraded through the lower deck while carrying Yankees pennants. That brought some loud boos, but those changed to cheers when another fan grabbed one of the pennants and set it on fire.
The good feelings didn’t last long in the second game, however, as Royals starter Larry Gura allowed three runs in the first inning. Lansford drove in the first run with a single, and Brian Downing added another single worth two runs. Lansford drove in California’s fourth run in the third inning with a sacrifice fly after Rod Carew walked, stole second, and took third on catcher Darrell Porter’s throwing error.
The Royals fought back against Angels starter Bob Ferris. Hurdle walked with one out in the fourth and scored on a two-out double by Rance Mulliniks. In the fifth, McRae led off with a double and scored on an Aikens single. After Aikens took second on a groundout, he scored on a Wathan single. And then Kansas City tied the game in the sixth. New pitcher Dave LaRoche walked Washington with one out. Wilson singled, advancing Washington to third. Wilson stole second, and catcher Dave Skaggs threw the ball into center, allowing Washington to score easily. Wilson took third but was stranded there.
But Gura walked Skaggs, the number nine hitter in the Angels’ lineup, to start the seventh. He then hit Dickie Thon with a pitch. A bunt moved the runners to second and third, and Gura intentionally walked Lansford. It almost worked, as Gura struck out Dan Ford. But Downing lined a double into the left-center field gap, bringing all three runners home.
The Royals got runners to second and third in both the seventh and eighth innings but couldn’t capitalize, and also failed to take advantage of a walk and single in the ninth.
The outcome of the second game mattered little to the Royals, who celebrated their division title anyway with a champagne celebration. Scenes included Dan Quisenberry spraying Muriel Kauffman with bubbly, and Ken Brett and his brother George sneaking up on each other and pouring champagne down the backs of their pants.
With the split, the Royals sat at 90-56 on the season. They led the AL West by 16.5 games.
George Brett watch: There was more good news for the Royals, as Brett returned to the lineup in the second game. Despite missing eight games with a sore wrist, he showed little rust. Brett singled his first two times up, but that was it as he went 2-5 with a stolen base. Season stats: .396/.462/.664
Box score and play-by-play (game one): https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/KCA/KCA198009171.shtml
Box score and play-by-play (game two): https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/KCA/KCA198009172.shtml
1980 baseball news: The sale of the Oakland A’s was officially approved by American League owners. In a unanimous vote, the owners approved the $12.7 million transaction, as the team was transferred from Charlie Finley to three men: Walter A. Haas, Jr., the chairman of Levi Strauss Co., his son Walter J. Haas, and San Francisco attorney Roy Eisenhardt. Also at the owners’ meeting, Ed DeBartolo, Sr. made an informal presentation regarding his desire to purchase the Chicago White Sox.