50 Greatest Kauffman Stadium Moments, #30: Brett’s Cycle Helps Royals Win Marathon (May 28, 1979)

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.

The Royals did not have a Memorial Day doubleheader scheduled, but they nearly provided the 34,677 fans in attendance on this night with one. George Brett hit for the cycle, then added the game-winning home run in the bottom of the 16th, bringing the longest game in franchise history (to that point) to a sudden end after nearly five hours with a 5-4 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Brett’s cycle was the first one of his career, the second one ever accomplished at Royals Stadium, and just the third in franchise history. He also set a team record with 14 total bases as he collected five hits and an intentional walk.

One of Brett’s two outs happened in the first, when Orioles starter Dennis Martinez got Brett to fly out to left. But in the third, with Baltimore holding a 1-0 lead, Willie Wilson led off with a single. He advanced to third when Martinez made a wild throw on a pickoff attempt, and Brett tripled to tie the game. Darrell Porter hit a sacrifice fly for a 2-1 lead.

The lead quickly vanished as Baltimore picked up two runs against Royals starter Marty Pattin in the fourth. Martinez ended the fifth with another Brett fly ball, and the Orioles took their 3-2 lead into the eighth. Steve Braun singled with one out, and Brett followed with a home run, his fifth of the year, for a 4-3 lead.

But again the Orioles responded, as Ken Singleton led off the ninth with a home run off Pattin to tie the game. Pattin would leave after Pat Kelly’s single with one out, and Al Hrabosky escaped a bases-loaded jam by getting Kiko Garcia to ground into a double play. Kansas City left two runners on in the ninth, and the game moved to extra innings. 

Brett singled off Don Stanhouse in the 10th, but Porter grounded into a double play. In the 12th, Wilson led off with a single, then stole second and reached third when the throw from catcher Rick Dempsey went into center field. Stanhouse, who was nicknamed “Full Pack” by manager Earl Weaver for the amount of cigarettes his pitching caused Weaver to smoke, lived up to his moniker by walking Amos Otis, then intentionally walking Brett to load the bases. But the strategy paid off, as Porter bounced into another double play, leaving runners at second and third. After yet another intentional walk, this one to Pete LaCock, Stanhouse escaped when Joe Zdeb hit a popup.

In the 14th, Brett doubled off Orioles reliever Tim Stoddard with one out, giving him the final piece of the cycle. But still the Royals could not get the winning run home. After an intentional walk of Porter, Stoddard got grounders from LaCock and Zdeb to end another scoring chance.

Royals reliever Larry Gura had allowed a single to the first batter he faced, then retired 12 straight as the game moved into the 16th. Brett gave the veteran lefty a well-deserved win with his second home run of the game, a blast into the right-field seats, off Sammy Stewart to lead off the bottom of the 16th.

The big day meant that Brett had raised his batting average almost 80 points just since May 11, when he ended the day with a .244 mark. The star third baseman had been hampered by problems both mental and physical, as he was sorely missing hitting coach Charlie Lau, fired in the offseason due to a clash of hitting philosophy with manager Whitey Herzog, and had been limited to about 10 days of spring training after surgery on his right thumb to remove bone chips. Brett had now hit .471/.532/.900 in the last 16 games, giving him a season mark of .323/.382/.552.

“I depended on (Lau) for five years and didn’t know how to take care of myself…I would go into the on-deck circle and think ‘I’m gonna pull this guy’ or ‘I’m going to go the opposite way with him.’ Now I’m just going up there and looking for the ball…trying to hit it where it’s pitched.”–Brett, quoted by the Associated Press, May 29, 1979

Brett pointed out that his home run in the eighth was a great example of this approach.

“The count was 3-1 and he’d thrown me four fastballs on the outside corner. But I had the self-discipline not to look for another fastball on the outside corner of the plate.”–Brett, quoted by the Associated Press, May 29, 1979

Brett’s second home run brought an end to an epic contest that lasted four hours and 58 minutes, ending about 12:30 am in Kansas City. The poor Orioles had now lost two 16-inning games in four days, with a Sunday doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Tigers following their marathon in Detroit on Saturday night. This was also Baltimore’s 10th straight loss in Royals Stadium, dating back to June 4, 1977. The Orioles refused to allow reporters in the locker room after the game. Brett was as relieved as Baltimore was frustrated.

“We had so many chances earlier and we didn’t do it. I was hoping I wouldn’t keep getting more chances.”–Brett, quoted by the Associated Press, May 29, 1979

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