The Royals held a workout at Royals Stadium ahead of their playoff series with the New York Yankees. Manager Whitey Herzog revealed his pitching plans for the first two games of the series, set for Wednesday afternoon and Thursday night in Yankee Stadium. With that ballpark’s short porch in right field, Herzog planned to use lefthander Paul Splittorff in Game One, then follow up with southpaw Andy Hassler if the Royals won, or yet another lefty in Larry Gura if the Royals lost. Herzog’s hope was that the lefties would neutralize New York’s left-handed hitters: Chris Chambliss, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Mickey Rivers. However, since August 1, the Yankees had gone 20-3 against left-handed starters.
“This is the biggest start of my career,” Splittorff said. “But the way I’ve done against the Yankees, I think I deserved to start. It’s an honor, something I wanted.”
Splittorff had gone 2-0 against the Yankees in the regular season, albeit with a 4.13 ERA in four starts. He had also held them to four hits in 5 ⅔ innings in the Game Two of the 1976 ALCS, although a relief appearance in Game Five didn’t go as well (three hits, three walks, two runs allowed in 3 ⅔ innings).
Meanwhile, Yankees manager Billy Martin had selected a pair of left-handers, Don Gullett and Ron Guidry, to start the first two games. Gullett had plenty of postseason experience after pitching for the “Big Red Machine” Cincinnati Reds teams, but Guidry was at the end of his first full season in the majors.
Martin also picked this juncture to stir the pot, telling reporters that if the Yankees won the series, his contract (which was in the first of three years) should be renegotiated.
“If we win everything, I think it’s a must for George (Steinbrenner) to come up with another contract,” Martin said. “If he doesn’t, I would have to seriously think about asking permission to talk to other clubs.”
Steinbrenner was less than pleased.
“What’s Billy doing coming up with something like this at this time?” the owner asked. “We’re facing a hell of a fight with Kansas City. This is a tough team we’re going against. Whitey Herzog has done an outstanding job putting this team together. It’s a smooth unit without many weaknesses. We’ll have to bust our necks getting through this series. That’s what Billy ought to be concentrating on. This kind of talk at this stage is absolutely ridiculous. If he thinks he is going to intimidate me or intimidate (Yankees president) Gabe Paul, he’s got another think coming.”
In a scheduling oddity, the series would be played on five straight days, with no off-day for travel as the teams moved from New York to Kansas City.