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.
Seemingly everything the 1985 Royals did on their way to a World Series title was accomplished by the slimmest of margins. Nothing came easy for them. Down 7.5 games in the standings in late July (when there was no wild-card berth to bail them out), then down 3-1 in the ALCS, then down 3-1 in the World Series after losing the first two games at home…it was an improbable run.
That title never would have happened without the Royals winning the most crucial series of the regular season. After fighting back from that 7.5-game deficit to take the division lead in early September, they fell back into second after being swept at home by the lowly Seattle Mariners. For ten excruciating days, they were either tied for first or in second by one game or less. They came home for the last week of the season on a three-game losing streak but just one game behind the California Angels. Conveniently, the first four games of the week were against the Angels.
Kansas City won the first game, climbing into a tie for first, but lost the second game. They took the field for the third game on October 2 in what was as close to a must-win as possible. A loss and the Royals would be two games out with only four left to play.
Starting pitcher Bud Black retired the Angels in order in the top of the first. Angels starter Ron Romanick found trouble in the bottom of the first, though. Lonnie Smith led off with a bloop single to left, then stole second. Romanick hit Willie Wilson with a pitch. The Royals now had great speed on the bases and their best hitter at the plate. Brett hit a ball off the end of his bat into right field. Juan Beniquez charged in and attempted a shoestring catch.
That was a bad idea. Beniquez missed the ball and went tumbling to the turf as the ball bounced to the wall. Despite holding up to see if the ball was caught, Smith and Wilson scored easily. Now, if you didn’t see Brett early in his career, you might not know, but he had been pretty fast himself, leading the league in triples three times before 1980. But at age 32, and with a bit of an injury history behind him, he was now more of an average runner. Still, he had made it to third by the time center fielder Gary Pettis had tracked down the ball. Brett charged around third and headed home, sliding just under catcher Bob Boone’s tag.
“It’s one of those plays where you do or die, and he didn’t do,” Brett said after the game.
After scores of 3-1 and 4-2 in the previous two games, a 3-0 lead seemed huge. And it turned out to be. The run support seemed to bolster Black, who had been poor down the stretch. He went on to pitch a complete-game shutout, striking out five and allowing just three singles and two walks. The Royals tacked on a late run for a 4-0 win, moving back into a tie for first. They would win the next three games to clinch the division title (spoiler alert: you’ll see that later on in this series) before losing a meaningless game on the final day to finish one measly game ahead of California in the standings. The inside-the-park home run, the third of his career, ended up being the cornerstone of Brett’s three home run, seven RBI series against the Angels, and could have been the difference in the division title race.
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