Almost six months to the day the New York Yankees broke their hearts, the Royals got a small measure of revenge with a 5-4 win in 13 innings in Kansas City’s home opener.
In the 1976 ALCS, Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss ended the proceedings with a walkoff home run in the fifth and deciding game. This time, it was Royals first baseman John Mayberry with the honors, as he singled to score Freddie Patek with the game-winning run. Patek started the rally with a leadoff walk from Yankees reliever Dick Tidrow. After a Frank White sacrifice bunt and intentional walk to George Brett, Tidrow got Hal McRae on a fly ball. Mayberry narrowly missed a walkoff home run of his own, as his line drive actually hit the top of the right-field wall. It was only a single in the scorebook, but it still sent the sellout crowd home happy.
Royals reliever Mark Littell, who had surrendered the Chambliss home run, earned the win and some redemption with four scoreless innings in relief of starter Paul Splittorff.
The Yankees scored a quick run with two outs in the first, as Thurman Munson doubled with two outs and Jim Wynn singled. Kansas City responded immediately in the bottom of the inning, as George Brett led off with a single against New York starter Dock Ellis. Brett reached third on two groundouts. Amos Otis hit a grounder to shortstop Bucky Dent, who made a bad throw to first. That let Brett score, and Darrell Porter followed with a double for a 2-1 lead.
Kansas City added a run in the second, as Pete LaCock led off with a double. Patek singled and White hit a sacrifice fly to increase KC’s lead to 3-1.
Reggie Jackson took Splittorff deep in the fourth inning with his first home run as a Yankee. The solo shot cut the Royals’ lead to 3-2. New York then retook the lead in the fifth. Dent doubled with one out, and a two-out double by Roy White tied the score. Munson singled for a 4-3 Yankees lead.
Again the Royals responded immediately. Mayberry started the fifth with a single and scored on another double by Porter.
The Royals had an excellent chance to take the lead in the seventh. Hal McRae led off with a single, and Mayberry doubled with McRae stopping at third. Ellis issued an intentional walk to Otis, but escaped the jam by striking out pinch-hitter Cookie Rojas (hitting for Porter), then getting Al Cowens to ground into a forceout at home and pinch-hitter Buck Martinez to fly out to left.
Neither team mounted a serious threat until the Royals finally broke through in the 13th.
The nationally-televised game didn’t begin until 7:40 pm Kansas City time, and the capacity crowd was definitely fired up for the playoff rematch with the hated Yankees. At least nine fans interrupted the game by running on the field, and fans around the New York dugout were so loud that manager Billy Martin complained after the game, “I can understand fans getting excited and yelling, but you don’t have to get vulgar and abusive.”
The win was the fourth straight for the Royals to begin the season.
Box score and play-by-play:
1977 baseball news: In Wisconsin, Cubs owner and chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley passed away at the age of 82. Wrigley had suffered from gastrointestinal bleeding while at his resort home in Lake Geneva. As an owner who preferred to be neither seen nor heard, Wrigley rarely entered the locker room or interfered in baseball decisions. But he did have some moments of foresight. He helped found the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, and he also allowed WGN-TV to show home games, at a time when few teams would do such a thing for fear of “giving away the product for free.” Wrigley’s son, William III, took over the operations of the team.
Today’s birthdays: Bret Saberhagen (1964), Steve Scarsone (1966), Joe Vitiello (1970), Todd Dunwoody (1975), Andres Blanco (1984)