The Royals recovered their midseason form, just in time for the playoffs. Kansas City looked much more like the team that went 75-38 from May through August than the team that went 8-18 in September as they trounced Minnesota, 17-1, on a Saturday night at Royals Stadium in the regular season’s penultimate game.
Twins starter Roger Erickson struck out Willie Wilson to start the bottom of the first, but that was the only out he would record. Hal McRae singled and George Brett walked. Singles by Willie Aikens and Amos Otis each scored one run. Jamie Quirk walked to load the bases. A wild pitch brought in Aikens before Clint Hurdle drove in two runs with a double. Reliever Fernando Arroyo had to pick up the pieces, which he did by getting a groundout and striking out Wilson to end the inning.
But the Royals weren’t done with Arroyo. In the second, Brett singled with one out and took second when right fielder Hosken Powell booted the ball. Aikens singled to score Brett for a 6-1 lead.
Kansas City blew the game wide open in the fifth. Otis led off with a single and stole second. With two outs, the hit parade began again. Frank White singled to score Otis. Rance Mulliniks walked. Wilson singled to score White. After Wilson stole second, McRae belted his 13th home run of the year. All five runs came at Arroyo’s expense and gave Kansas City an 11-1 lead.
The Royals then enjoyed three-run innings in the seventh and eighth. Dave Chalk began the first rally by reaching first on shortstop Lenny Faedo’s error. Mulliniks singled. Wilson, who set a major league record at this point with his 700th at-bat of the season, singled to score Chalk. That also gave Wilson 183 singles on the year, an American League record at the time. McRae hit a sacrifice fly, Brett singled, and Aikens hit another sacrifice fly for a 14-1 lead.
In the eighth, Quirk and Hurdle started the proceedings with singles. Chalk struck out, and Mulliniks hit a grounder that moved the runners up. Wilson drove in both runners with a single, then scored on McRae’s double.
The beneficiary of all this offense was starter Dennis Leonard, who cruised to his 20th win of the year. He limited the Twins to six hits, didn’t walk anyone, and struck out four in eight innings before Dan Quisenberry got in one final tuneup inning before the playoffs.
The Royals improved to 96-65 with the win. They kept their 13-game lead in the AL West, as well.
George Brett watch: 2-4 with a walk and two runs scored. Season stats: .390/.454/.664
Box score and play-by-play: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/KCA/KCA198010040.shtml
1980 baseball news: Two teams finally joined the Royals as division champions. The New York Yankees captured the American League East title by winning the first game of a doubleheader against Detroit. That set up a fourth Royals-Yankees clash in five years in the ALCS. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies returned to the postseason after a one-year absence as they defeated Montreal. Mike Schmidt hit a two-run home run in the top of the 11th to give the Phillies the lead. The Phillies and Expos had started the last weekend of the season in a tie for first. Going into the final day of the season, the only race to be settled was the NL West, where the Dodgers had twice fought off elimination by beating Houston. The Astros had begun the weekend with a three-game lead and needed just one win in Los Angeles to capture the first division title in team history.
Today’s birthdays: John Wathan (1949), Charlie Leibrandt (1956), Tony Ferreira (1962), Chris James (1962)