It was all set up for the Royals. They took a 3-2 lead to the top of the ninth in Game Five of the World Series. They had the American League saves leader, Dan Quisenberry on the mound. If they could get three outs, they would head back to Philadelphia in command in the Series, needing just one win in two games there to earn their first World Series title.
But baseball proved it is a game of inches, as two close calls helped the Phillies score two runs in the ninth inning and pick up a 4-3 win on a Sunday afternoon at Royals Stadium.
The inning started with Mike Schmidt sending a hard grounder down the third-base line. Earlier in the Series, Schmidt, the National League’s home run leader, had attempted a couple of bunts. As a result, third baseman George Brett was playing about even with the bag and didn’t have the extra second of reaction time he would have had playing at a normal depth. Brett dove to his left but the ball glanced off his glove and Schmidt was safe with a single. Pinch-hitter Del Unser doubled into the right-field corner, with Schmidt scoring to tie the game. Keith Moreland bunted Unser to third. Quisenberry got Garry Maddox to ground out, with Unser holding at third. Manny Trillo hit a line drive back up the middle that bounced off Quisenberry’s glove and away from the pitcher. Brett scooped it up but his throw to first was late and the go-ahead run scored.
The Royals did not go quietly in their half of the ninth. Phillies closer Tug McGraw returned to the mound for his third inning of work. Frank White led off with a walk. McGraw struck out Brett, but Willie Aikens also drew a walk. Hal McRae grounded into a forceout at second, but Amos Otis walked to load the bases. With right-handed John Wathan available to pinch-hit, Royals manager Jim Frey stuck with
left-handed right-handed hitter Jose Cardenal to face the southpaw McGraw. Frey’s rationale was that Cardenal, a long-time National Leaguer, was more familiar with McGraw than Wathan was. But the move didn’t work, as McGraw struck out Cardenal to end the game.
Royals starter Larry Gura deserved better. He held the Phillies to four hits and one walk in 6 ⅓ innings, and one of Philadelphia’s two runs was unearned. That came in the fourth, when the visitors broke a scoreless tie. With one out, Bake McBride tried for a bunt single. Gura pounced on the ball and his throw to first was good, but Aikens simply missed touching the base with his foot. Schmidt then homered just over the center-field fence, giving the Phillies a 2-0 lead.
Kansas City had two men on base in the third and fourth innings but could not score. It wasn’t until the fifth that the home team broke through. Facing Phillies starter Marty Bystrom, U L Washington and Willie Wilson started the inning with singles. White bunted the runners over, and Brett’s grounder scored Washington. But the Royals could not add to their total, giving them seven runners left on base in the first five innings.
However, Otis homered to lead off the sixth, tying the game at 2-2. Clint Hurdle and Darrell Porter followed with singles. Ron Reed replaced Bystrom, but Washington hit a sacrifice fly to put the Royals in front. Kansas City could possibly have had more runs, though. Wilson doubled off the bullpen fence in right field, and McBride and Trillo combined on a great relay throw to cut down Porter at the plate. White popped up to end the inning, leaving Brett on deck; he would have had a chance to bat with a runner at third had Porter been held.
Still, the Royals had the lead. After a walk and single in the seventh, Quisenberry took over and got two grounders to end the inning, then worked around an error in the eighth. That put the Royals on the verge of their third straight win and a chance to clinch the title in Philadelphia. Instead, Kansas City faced the prospect of needing to win two games on the road, and defeating Steve Carlton in one of them, to win it all.
Box score and play-by-play: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/KCA/KCA198010190.shtml
Bonus YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvPznX8K6dM. Apologies if you enjoy the pregame chatter; this version begins with Gura winding up to throw the first pitch.
1980 sports news: Probably unnoticed, the Chiefs picked up their third straight win. This time, they overcame a 14-3 deficit to beat the Broncos in Denver, 23-17. Quarterback Steve Fuller threw two touchdown passes, with a 46-yarder to Henry Marshall putting Kansas City on top for good. The win snapped Denver’s eight-game winning streak against the Chiefs and left both teams with 3-4 records.