For the second straight season, the Royals claimed the AL West title. This time, rather than clinging to the lead as the season wound down like they had in 1976, they ran away with it, opening up an 11-game lead in September. Kansas City made it official by scoring early and often in a 7-3 thumping of the Angels at Anaheim Stadium on Friday night.
Kansas City got to work right away. With one out in the first, Hal McRae doubled against Angels starter Wayne Simpson. George Brett drew a walk, and Al Cowens doubled to drive in both runners for a 2-0 lead.
Brett led off the third inning with a single and stole second. Cowens doubled to drive him in and John Mayberry followed with his 23rd home run of the season for a 5-0 lead.
The Royals added two more runs in the fourth. With one out, McRae singled. Second baseman Jerry Remy kicked a Brett grounder and both runners were safe. Cowens doubled to score both and the Royals had a commanding 7-0 lead.
That was plenty of support for Kansas City starter Dennis Leonard. California got two walks and a single in the first three innings, but Leonard retired 11 hitters in a row at one point. The Angels finally got on the board in the seventh. Bobby Bonds led off with a walk and Don Baylor singled. With one out, Dave Chalk doubled to score Bonds. Willie Aikens grounded out, with Baylor scoring to cut the Royals’ lead to 7-2. Leonard struck out pinch-hitter Tony Solaita to end the inning.
California would score one more run, as Baylor led off the ninth with a home run. Chalk singled with one out, but Leonard struck out Aikens and Carlos May to end the game and bring the AL West race to a close. That gave Leonard 19 wins for the year.
The Royals improved to 96-55 with the win. They led Texas by 10.5 games. Although the AL East championship was still up for grabs, there was a definite sense that the Royals wanted another shot at the Yankees, who had defeated them in the ALCS in 1976.
“I don’t have any preference about who we play,” Brett said. “I think we’ve become the best team in baseball with the most momentum.”
And then he added, in a quieter voice, “But we’d like to boot some Yankees in the playoffs.”
Box score and play-by-play:
1977 baseball news: Although the defending World Series champions, the Cincinnati Reds, had been eliminated from winning the NL West, one player had something to celebrate. George Foster hit his 50th home run of the season in the Reds’ 5-1 win over Atlanta. Foster became the first NL player to hit that many since Willie Mays in 1965; the last AL player to do it was Roger Maris in 1961. And no one else would accomplish it until Cecil Fielder in 1990.