Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
If you’ve been paying attention to this little corner of the internet, you know that I am also currently doing a daily rundown of the 1977 Royals. That team remains the only one in franchise history to reach 100 wins. The fact they won the division by a healthy eight games makes it sound like they were a juggernaut that coasted to a title. But the reality is a bit different.
The Royals went 10-15 that May, a 65-win pace. Even a 17-12 June only moved them up one spot and 3.5 games in the standings. The Royals were 5.5 games out at the end of July. And they were in fourth place, although just two games out, on the morning of August 17.
At which point they absolutely caught fire. They won 10 in a row, then had a brief hiccup where they lost three of four, and then won 16 in a row. That included two straight days with a doubleheader sweep, necessitated by two straight days of heavy rain in Kansas City. On September 15, the Royals took the field for the second straight day of doubleheaders against Oakland. They were nine games up with 19 to play, so the division title was essentially wrapped up. The Royals had long since passed the previous franchise record for a winning streak (an eight-game run in 1976), so it was simply a question of how much longer the streak could go.
In the first game, it looked like the streak would end at 14. The A’s scored two runs in the first and two more in the second. And while Oakland was fighting the expansion Seattle Mariners to stay out of last place, they still had a terrific pitcher on the mound in Vida Blue. But the Royals got single tallies in the third and fourth innings to cut the lead in half. Oakland scored one in the sixth, but the Royals came up with three in their half of the inning when Blue suddenly lost his control and issued three walks and two wild pitches.
The teams traded runs in the seventh, but the game remained tied until the 11th. A rookie named Willie Wilson picked up a one-out single, then stole second. After an intentional walk, Pete LaCock sent a line drive into the left-field corner, easily scoring Wilson to run the streak to 15.
The second game followed a similar script. The Royals scored one run in the first, but Oakland had a 4-1 lead by the time the sixth inning rolled around. Kansas City rallied with three runs in that frame, with Al Cowens driving in the first two and scoring the tying run.
This game also remained knotted up until extra innings. Cowens led off the 10th with his 23rd home run of the season, and the Royals had their 16th straight win.
Although the streak would be snapped the next night, the Royals followed that loss with another eight wins in a row. So, from August 17 through September 25, they went 35-4. Four. Not a misprint.
Even though the Royals wouldn’t officially clinch the division for a few more days, their 16-game winning streak was the crowning achievement of the best team (by record) in franchise history. That streak is still the franchise record, too; the closing argument in the 1977 team’s case as best team in Royals history.