With his team on a four-game losing streak, and really having struggled since early in the season, Royals manager Whitey Herzog decided it was time for a lineup shakeup. And it paid off, as three reserves played key roles in Kansas City’s 3-2 walkoff win over the Texas Rangers at Royals Stadium.
Catcher Darrell Porter, first baseman John Mayberry, and center fielder Amos Otis were all fighting slumps and nagging injuries, so John Wathan, Pete LaCock, and Dave Nelson got starts in their place. With third baseman George Brett still suffering from an elbow injury, this was a makeshift lineup. But, as so often happens in baseball, the unexpected happened. The Royals pounded out 11 hits against Rangers starter Bert Blyleven, who had won six straight starts against the Royals.
The new lineup paid off right away, as Nelson, serving as the DH, singled to start the first inning. He reached third on two outs, and scored on an Al Cowens single.
Royals starter Larry Gura retired the first 10 Rangers he faced, until Bert Campaneris reached on a bunt single. He then took second on a groundout and scored on a Willie Horton single.
Texas took the lead in the fifth. Bump Wills led off with a single but was erased on a Jim Sundberg grounder. With two outs, Claudell Washington singled, and then Campaneris singled, and the Rangers had a 2-1 lead.
A two-out rally in the sixth tied the score again. Cookie Rojas, playing third base in this game, doubled. Wathan brought him home with a single.
Blyleven was still on the mound when the ninth inning started. Wathan hit a popup that was dropped by second baseman Wills. Freddie Patek drew a walk, just Blyleven’s second of the game. Frank White hit a grounder back to the mound, and Blyleven was able to get a forceout at third. But Nelson ended the game the way he started it, with a single to center field. This one brought Patek home with the game winner.
Gura’s effort on the mound shouldn’t be overlooked, either. He held Texas to seven hits and two walks in 7 ⅓ innings while striking out four. He gave way to Mark Littell, who picked up the win, in the eighth inning after Horton singled. Littell walked the first batter he faced but recovered nicely by getting the next two hitters. He then worked around a two-out single in the ninth to keep the score tied and set the stage for Nelson’s heroics.
With the win, the Royals improved to 16-15. They were tied for fourth in the AL West with Oakland, with both teams four games out of first place.
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Today’s birthdays: Juan Beniquez (1950), Ryan Bukvich (1978), Taylor Clarke (1993)