For the first time in two weeks, the Royals won consecutive games. All it took was superb pitching from Paul Splittorff and a daring steal of home by Freddie Patek to get the 2-1 win over Minnesota on Saturday night at Royals Stadium.
Kansas City had not managed two straight wins since June 4-5 against Baltimore. Like those, this was a one-run game. Unlike those 14-13 and 4-3 wins, this was a game with very little offense.
Splittorff held the Twins to four hits over seven innings, although he did issue three walks. Minnesota had two runners on in the third inning, but Splittorff retired the Twins’ number three and four hitters, Larry Hisle and Dan Ford, to escape. Even in the fifth, when the Twins scored, Splittorff was hardly pitching batting practice. Glenn Borgmann and Bob Randall started the inning with bloop singles, but Rod Carew, Hisle, and Ford all grounded out, with Borgmann coming home on the Hisle one.
After finishing his outing by retiring nine of 10 hitters, Splittorff gave way to Mark Littell, who worked a perfect eighth but provided some drama by allowing a leadoff double to Rich Chiles in the ninth. Pinch-runner Rob Wilfong made an ill-advised attempt to take third on Roy Smalley’s grounder to shortstop and was thrown out. Two more ground balls and the game was over.
Kansas City struggled offensively against Twins starter Bill Butler, a member of the 1969 expansion Royals who was making his first major-league appearance since 1975. Butler pitched six innings and allowed only three hits, although he also issued three walks.
But the Royals used two of those hits and one walk, plus some daring baserunning, to pick up their two runs in the second inning. With two outs, John Wathan and Patek singled. Frank White drew a walk, loading the bases. White then beat the throw to second on Joe Zdeb’s grounder, allowing Wathan to score. With George Brett at the plate, Butler jumped ahead 0-2, but Patek timed his windup perfectly and raced home just ahead of the pitcher’s hurried delivery. Although Patek had stolen 292 bases in his career before this, it was his first steal of home.
It was a good thing Patek took the chance, as Brett grounded out to end the inning. The Royals did not have another runner reach third base, either.
With the win, the Royals improved to 30-31. They stayed in fifth place in the AL West but pulled to within five games of the Twins.
Box score and play-by-play:
1977 baseball news: There was never a dull moment with the New York Yankees under manager Billy Martin, but this was one of the most notable demonstrations of that. With the Yankees facing the Boston Red Sox in a nationally-televised game at Fenway Park, Martin and star outfielder Reggie Jackson nearly had a fistfight in the dugout for all the world to see. The trouble began in the sixth inning, when Jim Rice hit a ball to right field. Jackson appeared to get to the ball slowly, allowing Rice to reach second. Martin chose this moment to change pitchers, and also to send Paul Blair in for defense, despite the Yankees trailing by three runs. When Jackson returned to the dugout, an irate Martin greeted him, yelling at him for the perceived lack of hustle. Coaches and players had to separate the manager and player.
Today’s birthday: Russ McGinnis (1963)