This Date In Royals History–1977 Edition: June 3

The Royals made a valiant comeback attempt after falling behind by six runs, but couldn’t quite get there. Instead, they lost 7-6 to Baltimore on Friday night at Royals Stadium as the Orioles ended the game with a triple play.

Baltimore took a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth after roughing up Royals starter Doug Bird. The Orioles scored twice in the first inning; Al Bumbry and Billy Smith started the frame with singles before Ken Singleton walked. With one out, first baseman John Mayberry dropped Eddie Murray’s popup, allowing all runners to move up a base. Pat Kelly singled to drive in another run, although Bird recovered well to get the next two hitters.

Bird seemed to be on his way to completing the fourth inning by getting the first two hitters. But Bumbry singled, stole second, and scored on Smith’s single. After Singleton walked, Lee May homered and the Orioles suddenly had a 6-0 lead.

Facing Orioles starter Ross Grimsley, the Royals got one run back in the bottom of the fourth. Two-out singles by Freddie Patek, Buck Martinez, and Frank White produced the run.

Kansas City got a bit closer in the fifth. Hal McRae led off with a home run, followed by an Amos Otis double. With one out, Al Cowens singled to cut the lead to 6-3.

And the Royals kept creeping closer, adding another run in the sixth as George Brett reached on an infield single with two outs. McRae walked, and Otis greeted Orioles reliever Dyar Miller with an RBI single. Now the Royals trailed, 6-4.

The Orioles picked up a run in the seventh. Reliever Steve Mingori walked Kelly to start the inning. With one out, Brooks Robinson reached base on an infield hit. Mingori then made a bad pickoff throw to first, allowing the runners to move up a base, and Mark Belanger hit a sacrifice fly for a 7-4 lead.

Cowens led off the bottom of the seventh with a home run, and the Royals were once again down by two. Miller would walk two batters in the inning, but Tippy Martinez emerged from the Baltimore bullpen and got Cookie Rojas to ground into an inning-ending double play, keeping the score 7-5.

Martinez was still on the mound when the bottom of the ninth began. Cowens started the inning with a double. Pinch-hitter Dave Nelson drew a walk. Patek singled and the bases were loaded with nobody out. And then it got weird. Pinch-hitter John Wathan hit a fly ball to right. Cowens tagged up and scored, while right fielder Kelly threw to second. The base had been left uncovered, and Patek started towards it. Belanger grabbed the throw on the run and was able to beat Patek to the base, trapping him in a brief rundown. After he tagged out Patek, Belanger realized that Nelson had hesitated rounding third. Belanger charged at him and, after a brief rundown, was able to tag him out as well, ending the game.

“I just messed up,” Nelson said afterwards. “I should have stayed at third. I was the tying run and the worst it would have been was two outs with the tying run at third.”

“I was just tagging anybody in blue,” Belanger said. “I think I tagged the umpire twice. It’s the first triple play I’ve ever been involved in.”

Bemused Royals manager Whitey Herzog, who had now seen his team hit into two triple plays in the first 46 games of the season, said of this play, “I bet there’s never been anything like it in the history of baseball.”

With the loss, the Royals dropped to 22-24. They were back in sixth place in the AL West, 7.5 games out of first.

Box score and play-by-play:

1977 baseball news: Cleveland’s Dennis Eckersley failed to record back-to-back no-hitters, but he came darn close. Seattle’s Ruppert Jones hit a home run with two outs in the sixth inning, ending Eckersley’s attempt at history just four days after he held California hitless. Reliever Jim Kern took over for Eckersley at the start of the seventh inning and didn’t allow a hit either in the Indians’ 7-1 win. Eckersley came within two outs of tying Cy Young’s record of 23 consecutive hitless innings.

Today’s birthdays: Jim Gaudet (1955), Nelson Liriano (1964), Bryan Rekar (1972), Yordano Ventura (1991)

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